When accomplished artist and illustrator E. Boyd Smith built a handsome stucco house in South Wilton in 1910, he may have been inspired by the country homes he saw while studying fine art in France. Whatever the reason, his home, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year, stands apart from the typical New England colonial. A house that old is bound to have a history, and this one doesn’t disappoint.
After Smith’s death in 1943, his wife continued to live in the house until 1950 when she donated it to St. Matthew’s as a rectory. The next owners moved in during the 1970s and raised horses on the property. The Rowleys purchased it in 1984 as a family home and the site of the Mitten Hill nursery school. When the current owners, Clyde Phillips, Jane Lancellotti, and daughter Claire, bought the house from the Rowleys six years ago, and embarked on a renovation, they did so with an appreciation for its past. The house, now filled with their collections, speaks volumes about their own history; he is an award-winning TV and movie producer and writer, and she is editor of the premier online literary publication, narrativemagazine.com.
House-hunting in Wilton, Phillips and Lancellotti fell in love with the stucco residence immediately. “It was the first house we looked at,” says Lancellotti. “We loved the room that Smith used as his studio—the double-height windows flood the room with northern light. We loved the five fireplaces, quarter-sawn oak floors, and Arts & Crafts details. However, I don’t think either of us anticipated how much work the house needed.”
They had to put on a new roof, and install new wiring and a new boiler. They also had to re-stucco the exterior, replace all the windows, and re-insulate many of the walls, which had been lined with horsehair. “Initially, we had a bit of buyers’ remorse. We basically had to rebuild the mechanics of the house,” Lancellotti recalls. However, they left as many original details as they could intact, like the original leaded glass windows in the studio and the beautiful cast iron radiators in every room.
Although they worked with their friend John Isaacs of John Isaacs Designs, and contractor Tom Healy of Cottage Builders, Lancellotti admits they didn’t really have a detailed plan before they started construction. “John designed the porch, kitchen, and master bathroom, but we made the rest up as we went along. Every day was an adventure. We’d change something and then we’d realize it meant something else had to change,” she says. The largest projects included adding a back porch that runs almost the full length of the house, and a new kitchen, and turning what had been a second-floor sleeping porch into a master bath. “We wanted a freestanding tub there. It had to be brought up using a pulley, and we had to put new joists in the floor to support it.”
They completely renovated the 1970s kitchen, which had white Formica counters, an awkwardly placed stove, and a shallow pantry closet. In the new kitchen, they added wainscoting, open shelving, and new cabinets and counters. “Tom had some floor boards in his barn, and suggested we use them for the counters, so we did,” Lancellotti continues. The chrome and white Wedgewood stove, a rebuilt antique they purchased in California, and the center island, a French baking counter they found in an antique shop in the Berkshires, look like they have always been there. Cabinets with drawers below replaced the old pantry; the upper shelves now hold their collection of Fiestaware. “We never got around to putting glass in the doors, and now we’ve gotten used to being able to reach in to get what we need,” she laughs. At one end of the kitchen, back stairs lead up to the second floor. “We could have removed them, and have a much bigger kitchen. Someday someone might do that, but we wanted to retain as many authentic elements as we could.” Other changes they made included replacing the solid front door, and living room and dining room doors with multi-paned glass ones because as Lancellotti explains, “The light shows off the beauty of the original oak details in the foyer.”
When they lived in Los Angeles, the couple began collecting Arts & Crafts furnishings and accessories. Surprisingly, or serendipitously, Lancellotti muses, “Everything we owned in LA works in this house, even the antique Arts & Crafts sconces hanging in the foyer.”
As writers, both husband and wife also collect books. They have floor-to-ceiling shelves, jammed with books, lining the walls in their respective offices; stacks of books sit on table tops, chairs and in neat piles on the floor. Phillips’s collection of guitars are propped on stands to the right of his desk. His window sill and many of the book shelves hold a clutter of photographs, vintage typewriters, memorabilia from shows and movies he’s written or produced, and his daughter’s art projects. The shelves in Lancellotti’s office display souvenirs from her travels, an autographed photograph of her with Philippe Petit, the high-wire artist, and an original Madeline doll.
Artwork, including several original illustrations by E. Boyd Smith, plein air landscapes and a number of modern works hang throughout the house. The richly colored fabric throws and pillows are from Lancellotti’s collection of Indian textiles designed by Jeanette Farrier from recycled saris, sewn by women in the Tollygunge slum of Calcutta. One might expect the sheer volume and disparity of their collections to overwhelm the senses, but in Phillips’s and Lancellotti’s home, it works, and in doing so, reveals highly creative lives. It may also help that all the rooms on the first floor, except Phillips’s office, are painted butter-yellow, and all the second floor rooms, with the exception of their daughter’s room, celery.
“E. Boyd Smith thought this was the perfect summer house. To us, it’s the perfect winter house because of the five fireplaces. We use them all as often as we can. When I have a fire going in my office, and I’m reading in my chaise lounge, and the snow is falling outside, it’s magic,” smiles Lancellotti.