Dec 6, 2013
08:41 AMStyle & Design
In Essex, One of Connecticut's Best Holiday House Tours Offers Glimpse of Shoreline Style
ESSEX — In 1809, the Female Benevolent Society laid the foundation of caring for children in need upon which the present Child & Family Agency was built. That same year, the foundation of the Hayden-Starkey chandlery store was laid, upon which the stately home known as “The Foot of Main” now stands.
The Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut’s Essex Holiday House Tour provides a unique opportunity to see what’s behind the former chandlery’s lovely exterior, and that of six other village homes, while supporting the agency’s work with local children and families.
The 12th biennial house tour Saturday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., begins at the Essex Town Hall, 29 West Ave. Most of the tour’s gracious holiday homes date back to the 19th century and have seen renovations over the years to enhance, expand or modernize the structures to fit the needs of their 21st century inhabitants. For tickets, see the Child & Family Agency website.
A home on Mack Lane, for example, although the latest home on the tour, (built in 1932), began as a 970-square-foot cottage. It was renovated with “great imagination and style,” Holiday House Tour co-founder and co-chair Wendy Reider said. The original foundation was dug by hand, and the structure met the residents’ needs. In modern hands, it has been transformed into a sophisticated and comfortable home to meet the needs of its current family.
“You never know what’s behind the door, and how artfully people live and decorate their homes,” Reider said about why she still loves the house tour even after 24 years, and co-chairing nearly all of the 12 Holiday House Tours during those years.
One of the most striking houses for Reider is “the home on Meigs Lane that was a garage with a hayloft apartment, now it’s modern, ultra-modern really, but pleasantly so, with authentic modern furniture, and a wall that undulates. It really makes the most of very little, and the design is clean and serene, and makes it a joy to be there. They took a little cottage and made it a wonderful place to live,” she added.
Some homes are decorated by their owners (some owners are also designers by profession), some with help from out-of-town designers, or local talent including Gather owner Deanna Pinette and designer/decorative furniture painter, Laura Murphy, who works with Pinette at the eclectic Ivoryton shop.
Reider became involved with the project first “when a friend settled here, and she had experience with house tours. I’m a designer too, and I thought it would be great fun, and working on the event would sponsor camaraderie,” Reider remembered. One year she even had her own house on the tour following a major house fire and subsequent renovation.
It takes quite a crew to produce a house tour of this size and scope. “We have the most wonderful team who have done this over time, and they all know what they’re doing. People have their own areas of expertise,” Reider said, adding that there are also 65 hostesses filling shifts within the homes to answer questions and to make sure the tour goes smoothly for the owners and the visitors.
All of the homes are within walking distance from Town Hall, village shops and restaurants. A small café and 20-vendor boutique will be open in Town Hall 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. featuring handcrafted jewelry, beautiful table linens, festive clothing, whimsical holiday arrangements and more.