The Fire Inside
Breathing New Life into Fairfield’s Oldest Home
Photos by Adam Lerner
Owning a piece of history in his hometown became possible for Rich Pinto when Fairfield’s oldest home went into foreclosure. In 2013, after moving back home after a career in automotive design at General Motors in Detroit—where he worked on the Cadillac brand—he let his curiosity get the best of him one day when he went out to see a newly listed home in Southport. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Captain John Osborne House, circa 1674, is a center chimney saltbox, a classic example of 17th-century New England architecture.
“I really had no intention of purchasing the home,” explains Pinto. “The fact that it was so old is what really caught my attention. After spending nearly two hours walking around the property, I started to think ‘you know, this could work.’”
The unassuming saltbox was previously owned by Lowell and Nancy Hess, who decided to sell it to Munson Builders, a move that caused a stir among local groups dedicated to preserving the town’s rich history. In the end, the home ended up going into foreclosure. Empty and in need of repair, it stood waiting for the right buyer with a solid vision.
Most people would have walked away from the challenge of taking this home into the current century, but for Pinto, it just sparked his creativity. He brought back his trusted contractor Steve Edwards to look at the property. After an extensive review, Pinto purchased the home and began his roughly two-year renovation journey.
Pinto’s experience in industrial design, coupled with his deep knowledge of art history, gave him the perfect toolkit for this project. One of the first tasks was to look at the home as a whole and determine how to improve the overall flow and maximize the space inside. “Working on a house this old, where the construction techniques were different, and nothing is straight or true, requires a bit of artistry,” explains Pinto.
The home is comprised of three parts, a central base with two separate wings, which weren’t added until the 20th Century. The historic records for the home suggest the attached kitchen wing was a former tollhouse moved from the King’s Highway bridge by nearby Casco Brook. The kitchen ceiling was so low it would have been a challenge to install modern appliances. Pinto saw an opportunity to open up the space entirely, while leaving the original second floor windows to encourage natural light.
From the outside, you may imagine a bit of Old Sturbridge Village inside, but it’s the opposite. A self-described mid-century-modern design enthusiast, Pinto needed to find a way to add his signature style. “The finish work took an incredible amount of time, but that’s what happens when you are a designer and it’s your own home,” says Pinto.
For the exterior, Pinto chose a bold off-black satin paint, rather than a stain, which took 20 variants to find the right hue. The trim is painted in the same color and the cedar shake roof was left in its natural color for added texture.
The open airy kitchen was finished with clean white cabinets, black quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances. Modern track lighting lines the wood beams throughout the home, making for an unexpected juxtaposition of old and new.
The heart of the home is marked by three back-to-back hearths, the largest of which includes a working wood-burning oven that faces into his dining room. Pinto is known among friends and family for his famous pizza parties, where guests take part in the process from assembly to cooking to tasting.
“It takes a long time to get the oven to temperature, but then the pizzas cook in a snap,” says Pinto. “Everyone gets involved—especially my son, Miles.”
PERFECT SLICE of history
At a recent gathering (photo at top), Pinto and his buddies made and tasted pizzas topped with ingredients like artisanal cured meats, figs, fresh mozzarella, arugula, mushrooms, and sauce from Gaetano’s in Westport. Son Miles is the resident taste tester; he loves his dad’s margarita pizza. Guests were styled by Mollie Milano of stylespies.com in spring men’s fashion available at Mitchells of Westport.