A Couple Falls Hard for a Mediterranean Revival
Floral Design by Earth Garden
Photos by by Jeff MacNamara
Once upon a time, Lucy and Mel Seiler were searching for the perfect home. They hunted for over a year and toured countless houses with no luck—all lacked the character the couple craved. Then, just as they were ready to call it quits and remodel their existing Ridgefield Road home, their realtor called and said she had something special to show them. The property was located in a very desirable south Wilton neighborhood where houses rarely became available. In fact, it hadn’t yet officially gone on the market. Driving up to the Mediterranean style home, the couple knew right away that they had found what they had been looking for. It was love at first sight. As they pulled into the driveway, Mel exclaimed, “Go in and give them their price. This is where I want to live.” He proudly recalls, “We had the house that day.”
The stately dwelling is located in the Chestnut Hill enclave known as the “The Meadows,” an upscale neighborhood developed in the late 1920s and early 1930s as a country escape for wealthy New Yorkers. The colony was home to writers, artists, and aristocrats, and is a coveted address to this day. Described as a “gentleman’s retreat,” the original price tag for the home was $67,500. The average cost of a new house in 1931 was $6,790, a clue that this was an extraordinary home for its time.
Set among English Tudors, French chateaux, and Cotswold cottages (many designed by Frazier Peters, noted local builder and architect), the Mediterranean Revival was, and still is, unique for the neighborhood and for Wilton. Manhattan architect Frederick S. Stone and his brother, William, incorporated elements from both Italian and Spanish architecture. Distinctive features like the Ludowici barrel tile roof, stucco exterior, and three-bay arcade tower set the place apart.
The exterior of this grand house is stunning and the drama continues inside. An original circular mosaic depicting cherubs inlaid in the foot-deep plaster walls greets visitors by the front door. The breathtaking two-story entryway features exposed hand-hewn wood beams, cathedral windows, and an intricate wrought-iron staircase. It’s easy to understand why the Seilers were smitten. A sparkling period chandelier, purchased by Lucy, and a down-filled leopard-print chaise (a family piece) grace the hall.
Off the entry, the living room with its soaring ceiling is equally as impressive, done from top to bottom in chestnut. A chestnut blight in the early 1900s resulted in numerous felled trees, making the native species readily available. Original peg floors here and in the dining room, along with the living room’s wood-paneled walls, millwork, and hand-hewn ceiling beams are all burnished chestnut. The 19th-century fireplace mantel is from Germany. It is in this room where the family sets up their Christmas tree and spends winter days in front of the fire. The light-filled dining room features another imported stone fireplace, this one from Italy.
Cathedral archways between rooms create a wonderful flow. Calling to mind the Gatsby era, this is the perfect party house. The Seilers fondly reminisce about the annual Halloween celebrations they hosted for many years, welcoming neighbors and co-workers dressed in elaborate costumes into their magnificent home.
As majestic as the house is now, it was being sold “as is” when the Seilers bought it. The structure was sound but the well no longer functioned, the septic system needed to be replaced, and the furnace was giving out. To get the home up to speed, the electrical needed to be upgraded and all 75 windows in the 5,000-plus square foot house had to be replaced. Central air conditioning was added, although the foot-thick plaster walls helped keep the house cool. All five ensuite bathrooms were remodeled with tile and fixtures in keeping with the period and style of the home.
The kitchen received a facelift, too. Once the coldest room in the house—the previous owners sacrificed a radiator for cabinet space—the kitchen is now a gathering place, with radiant heat floors, custom cabinetry, granite countertops and top-of-the line 21st-century appliances.
The Seilers transformed an open-air sleeping porch off of the master bedroom into an inviting sunroom. They added heat and wood floors and replaced the screens with new windows. This is Lucy’s favorite room, the perfect spot to read, relax, and craft her miniature furniture and house designs. Mel’s preferred place is in the sun-drenched solarium on the first floor. Flanked by two stone terraces, it can be enjoyed year-round. Visitors and grandchildren love the novelty of the bell tower, accessible from the third floor. From this vantage point, one can look out over the magnificent grounds of the two-acre estate.
Despite its grandeur, this home is far from being a museum. The homeowners’ lighthearted personalities are apparent everywhere. As avid collectors, artwork is on display inside and out. “I like whimsy,” says Lucy with a smile. Drawn to “reinterpretations of classical themes,” some of Lucy’s favorites are humorous take-offs of famous sculptures and paintings (think the Mona Lisa in curlers). Mel, a social-anthropology major in college, has his arresting collection of African Ashanti tribal masks on display in his study. Each piece the couple owns, whether serious or playful, tells a story that they happily share.
The Seilers consider themselves lucky to have had the privilege of living in and caring for this special home for 23 years. As “caretakers” they have lovingly restored the property to its glory days. Now ready to pass the torch, Mel says, “This house needs a new generation.” Their hope is that the next homeowners will fall in love, as they did, and preserve and honor this architectural treasure.