A collector’s treasures glam up an antique house
Photographs by Tim Geaney
Walking into Mary Tucciarone’s antique house in South Wilton, one could easily assume she comes from a long line of collectors. Vintage trophies line the mantel in her living room, mercury glass vases fill an antique cabinet, and elegant glass and crystal chandeliers hang from ceilings in many rooms. These treasures represent just a fraction of the collections she has amassed over the years. As the holidays approach, Mary pulls out all the stops. Down from the attic come carefully labeled boxes of vintage ornaments, tinsel trees, costume jewelry, and other accessories she uses to create seasonal eye candy in her home.
“I’m the black sheep in my family—the only one who appreciates old things. My grandparents, parents and siblings weren’t collectors,” Mary admits. Instead, she has spent years canvassing flea markets, estate sales, and antique shops for bits of history. She started buying old trophies because she liked their shape, but admits she’s equally drawn to the inscriptions. Two of her favorites include one she found at Minks to Sinks for $1, inscribed “Best Bird in Show 1924,” and another that bears the inscription, “Best Household.”
With her affinity for the old, it is no surprise she lives in an antique house. Built in 1877 by Mr. Abbott for his wife Martha Jane, it has simple, yet refined bones, and provides the perfect showcase for her collections. “The house was a real fixer-upper. It needed a tremendous amount of work,” recalls Mary. “The grass was waist high, the driveway pulled right up to the front door, there was a cinder-block chimney that crumbled to the touch.” After buying it 26 years ago, she and husband embarked on an extensive renovation, but were careful to preserve many of the original details including the wide plank floor boards, glass doors, and moldings.
After the renovation was completed, Mary took her time decorating. “I didn’t want to go to a furniture store and buy everything I needed to fill the house immediately. I waited until I found just the right piece—something I loved; then I would buy it. Sometimes it would be an older chair I’d found at an estate sale; I’d have it recovered to give it new life. Or a crystal chandelier from an antique shop, perfect just as I found it, or vintage ornaments that I used to make the wreath now hanging on my dining room mirror,” she explains. Her eclectic style—which has been described as Edwardian with a 1950s department store glitz—is evident in every room. She has grouped a pair of vintage love seats with a Lucite ottoman covered in liquid leather in a sitting area. An elegant vintage champagne bucket filled with fresh flowers sits on a Lucite table next to an antique chair in the living room.
During the holidays, Mary’s house receives an extra dose of sparkle and glamour. She creates her own decorations by deconstructing and repurposing objects from her collections. She perches a silver glittered bird on top of a vintage tinsel tree, and embellishes its neck with a rhinestone collar. She displays a trio of miniature Christmas trees on the Lucite ottoman; she made one by wrapping multiple strands of rhinestone, pearl and beaded necklaces around a cone, and another by covering a tree form with pieces of costume jewelry. That process is time-consuming and sometimes painful, as each bauble must be secured to the form using a hot glue gun; invariably Mary burns a few fingers along the way. She drapes different size busts with multiple rhinestone and pearl necklaces, and fills silver antique bowls with vintage ornaments, topped with a silver glittered bird. “I love shiny, sparkly things,” she confesses.
One thing you won’t find in Mary’s house is traditional red-and-green holiday decorations. “Maybe it’s because these colors are used in all the new ones,” she explains. Her home’s interior color palette, soft browns, grays, and blues, complements the silvery patina of the urns, mercury glass, trophies and other treasures on permanent display, and the holiday decorations she adds to every room. Despite her proclivity for multiples of objects and ornate decorations, her house never feels cluttered. She carefully edits everything so as not to overwhelm the eye. And after Christmas, the decorations are deconstructed, carefully packed back up in their boxes and taken back up to the attic.
Mary’s design sense is intuitive, not trained. She has a degree in physical education, and works part-time as a physical education teacher at the Children’s Day School of Wilton. Because of her sense of style, she is often asked by friends to help decorate their homes. And now that her three children are grown, she is opening a store, Tucci Design, in Stonington. “It will be open during the spring and summer, and weekends through December,” she says. “I’ll sell jewelry I’ve created by deconstructing and reconstructing elements from vintage costume pieces.”
When asked how she was able to raise three sons in a collection-filled home, and how they survived the holidays surrounded by so much sparkle and bling, she laughs. “This is all my sons have ever known. Treasures have gotten broken over the years, but that’s okay. When my youngest son’s friends come over, they often say ‘Mrs. Tucciarone, your house is so cool’. Then my son will give me a look as if to say, ‘yeah, I guess it is’.”