The harbor-front home used to be the Wakeman Boys Club
Every house has a story to tell. Some just have more surprising ones. There are quite a few surprises awaiting visitors to the Southport home of Ellen and Richard Gould, the original site of the Wakeman Boys Club on Harbor Road. In celebration of the home’s 100th anniversary, and as part of the Fairfield Museum and History Center’s “If These Walls Could Talk” program, the Goulds granted Fairfield Magazine exclusive access to photograph its interior, offering glimpses never before shared in print.
First opened as the Wakeman Club on December 25, 1913, the majestic red-brick waterfront structure became a private home when it was purchased by George Platt Brett, best known as the chairman of the American division of Macmillan Publishing who secured publishing rights to Gone with the Wind. At that time, renovations were put into the trusted hands of famed architect Cameron Clark of Greenfield Hill.
“The first floor windows were originally arched, and he changed them to a rectangular style because he felt it was less institutional and more in keeping with a home,” Ellen Gould says of Clark’s work. “He definitely put some of his signature detail into the house. The moldings are all his and they don’t match. Some rooms have half moldings that just end—it’s quirky.”
Avid gardeners, both Ellen and Richard try to keep things fresh year-round. “We always try to have some surprises for the people who walk by,” Ellen says. “We may have pumpkins on vines, just things people don’t see every day, and they really appreciate it.”
Walking into the home’s grand entranceway, one’s eye is immediately drawn to a terrazzo floor, original to the home and painstakingly restored by the Goulds when they purchased the home in 2001 from the Wilbur family, who had been there since 1980.
Complete restoration and renovation of the property took six months. Among the highlights, the addition of radiant heat in all of the tile floors, a redesigned kitchen and butler pantry, floor-to-ceiling stonework around the family room fireplace, and the installation of a well-decorated elevator between the basement and third floors.
The most unique backstory of this century-old home, however, belongs to the family room. “This was the half basketball court,” Ellen says casually, referring to the Wakefield era. Indeed, the double-high ceilings could easily accommodate the height of a net. Standing there, one can almost hear the squeak of sneakers and shouts of the boys as they tangled to take their best shot. Today, the central gathering spot is both majestic and welcoming, its walls accented by an almost floor-to-ceiling panel of gray stone surrounding the fireplace. The soaring ceiling features a domed opaque “moon light” to let in just enough natural luminescence.
Adjacent to the family room is a solarium, which Ellen regularly opens up to fellow members of the Fairfield Garden Club as an all-purpose room. It can be enjoyed year-round, thanks to radiant heated floors.
Where gardening enthusiasts have replaced young basketball players, so has the home’s kitchen replaced an interesting element. “These were the Wilbur family’s locker rooms, used for all their sailing equipment,” Ellen shares, standing in an oversized kitchen featuring black granite countertops and white cabinetry. Around the corner is the butler pantry, the perfect asset for a couple who love cooking together every evening.
Also on the home’s first floor are a formal dining room, screened-in porch, and a formal living room, all of which hold special meaning for the Goulds. Intriguing artwork adorns the formal dining room, including a portrait of Ellen’s beloved Uncle Bill in a western-style Native American coat, and a painting of Richard’s mother dressed as Georgiana, the duchess of Devonshire. It was created by an Italian socialite artist, Ellen says, prompting the question of whether the painting’s subject was an actress. “No, she wasn’t an actress,” Ellen says. “But she sure was a character!”
According to the Goulds, the second floor of their home was not part of the Wakeman club, but was actually a rooming house for itinerant salesman. Decorations range from antiques to contemporary art pieces, some of which were gifts given to Ellen by illustrators during her days as an art director.
Ellen has her own separate bathroom and dressing room that more than make up for the lack of space in the master. Another highly personalized room, it features accents such as her framed baby blanket, which was hand sewn for her by her grandmother.
Climbing a tight, turning staircase to the third floor, one is treated to the biggest surprise of the home—a light filled office space reminiscent of a Soho loft, complete with dark wooden beams, exposed brick walls, and dormer windows overlooking the water. Acting as a work space for both Ellen and Richard, the room is punctuated with nautical accents, including a large brass bell-and-glass table taken from a ship’s window purchased in Nantucket. A zebra-striped area rug shows the couple’s fun side.
“I’m the chair of the Fairfield Historic District Commission, so this area is used for paperwork,” Ellen says, adding that she spends time here every day. “I also do a lot with the Fairfield Garden Club, so it is sometimes in garden club mode.”
Richard’s workspace, also in this contemporary perch, is enviable to say the least, with a direct view out the window to Long Island Sound. Indeed the view from every window is prettier than the next. “This is our vacation house. We don’t really go anywhere, because it’s too beautiful here,” Ellen says.