41 Neptune Dr_HIGH RES 028.jpg

You’d be forgiven for mistaking the home’s rear area for a seaside resort. An in-ground pool, two decks, patio, fire pit and direct access to the water offer plenty of options to play and relax. 

ctmagGrotonHouse-0194.jpg

At the front of the house, a flying pig weather vane is a reminder that on-the-water living once seemed out of reach.

A flying pig weather vane sits atop the cupola of Ron and Arlene Zappile’s house overlooking Mumford Cove in Groton. While it adds a bit of whimsy, there’s a story behind it. For years, the couple and their two children would visit family and friends at the Jersey Shore. It was the perfect place to relax, and it was during those years the couple fell in love with the idea of one day having a waterfront home. But, they thought, “Yeah, when pigs fly.”

“I consider us very blessed as far as good things coming to us in our lifetime,” Arlene says. “But there was a time when I was working as an RN and Ron was working, sometimes two jobs, and having a waterfront home seemed like a dream.”

Today, the couple splits time between their home in Groton and their residence in Simsbury. Starting in early May through October, they live full time at the shore, welcoming their two now-grown children and their spouses as well as three grandchildren. The goal: recreate those days at the Jersey Shore where they would all come together at a family-friendly place.

ctmagGrotonHouse-0024.jpg

Arlene and Ron Zappile and their custom-built home perched above Mumford Cove in Groton, overlooking Bluff Point State Park.

“We’re very fortunate,” adds Ron, who’s retired for the third time, and now says he’s done, having worked for United Technologies in 12 different roles spanning three continents over 32 years, owning a consulting company and then co-founding and selling a real estate data analytics company. “It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.”

While waterfront living is new to the Zappiles, having a summer home is not. Prior to buying the property in Mumford Cove, the couple enjoyed a cottage at Crescent Beach in Niantic. Built in 1900 and located about a block from the water, the house was lovely and served them well for 12 years, Arlene says, but it started to feel too small as the family expanded with grandkids. But they started looking seriously for a new place when she fell down the stairs. “I’m sight impaired, so the little narrow staircase was not going to be very good for me anymore,” she says.

As soon as they saw the Mumford Cove property on just over a half-acre, they fell in love with the location. While the 1964 Cape Cod-style home there was fine, Ron says, the couple knew they would need to do extensive renovations. Before closing on the property on their 42nd wedding anniversary on Oct. 10, 2012, they consulted with Jack Kemper, principal of Kemper Associates Architects in Farmington, and project manager Rich Craine, who both designed their main home in Simsbury, to see if their plans were feasible.

During the design phase it became clear that it would make more sense to tear down the original house rather than move forward with renovations. Kemper says that the builder, Nick Uccello, principal of Uccello Development in Rocky Hill, recommended a teardown. Costs to renovate added up quickly: taking the interior down to the studs, removing and replacing all windows and siding, redoing the roof, and taking down the chimney that jutted from the middle of the floor plan. Also adding to the total would be anchoring the walls on the old house and installing wind shear-control features to comply with the building code for being within the state’s wind-borne debris zone. When looking at the overall cost of the project, it was less than a five percent difference to build a new house. 

“If we were to renovate, a piecemeal demolition by hand with all new siding, all new windows, and trying to preserve the wood frame versus just knocking it down with an excavator and carting it away, was about the same cost as the framing labor for the new building,” Uccello says. “But the big thing for me was that the original house had ceiling heights of about 7½ feet and building new allowed us to go to 9 feet on the first floor and a full 8 feet on the second floor. When you add 18 inches to a ceiling height on the first floor, it’s like night and day. It allowed us to make the house so much more livable, prettier and just overall better.”

41 Neptune Dr_HIGH RES 094.jpg

Perhaps the biggest benefit of starting fresh with a new house was raising the ceiling height from the original 7½ feet to 9 feet on the first floor. All the better for larger windows and upgraded water views.

The original house also didn’t take advantage of its waterfront site. So, bringing the outside into the house and allowing it to meld with its location guided the design, Kemper says. “The previous kitchen was its own room with no view of the water,” he says. “Opening up the kitchen to the living room so that you could stand in the kitchen and see the whole living room/dining room to Mumford Cove was important. The open floor plan allowed for taller ceilings to let more light in, bigger banks of windows, and just making it work for today’s living.”

41 Neptune Dr_HIGH RES 089.jpg

The dining room and living room are effectively one space, connected by a central fireplace and those luscious cove views.

Along with all new impact-resistant windows and stainless steel hardware to offer storm protection, Uccello installed a 31-foot steel beam running along the center of the house from the living/dining room to the kitchen to act as the home’s structural spine. “There is so much glass on the building that we needed to increase its structural integrity,” Uccello says. “Any perforation in your walls where it is not plywood causes structural deficiency.”

41 Neptune Dr_HIGH RES 102.jpg

The kitchen in the original home was a closed-off space with no sight line to the nearby cove. That was rectified with a design that flows into the living room, offering added brightness and better views.

The 3,582-square-foot new build for the most part stayed within the original footprint. The only additional footing required was to expand a two-car garage to a three-car space. And there were some “surgical additions,” Kemper says. “We bumped out the front a bit to make room for the kitchen and added space to the master bedroom at the other end.”

Looking like a one-story house from the street, the 1,011-square-foot second floor is designed to minimize the mass of the house. It’s more subdued to keep a respectful presence in the neighborhood, Kemper says. With three bedrooms and a full bathroom upstairs, the area is used for guests only. The Zappiles enjoy 2,571 square feet of main-floor living with a combination of kitchen, living room/dining room, office, den, sunroom, laundry room, mudroom and master bedroom suite.

41 Neptune Dr_HIGH RES 017.jpg

The original intent was to do away with the pool, but Arlene laughs, “Once the grandkids found out that there was a pool, that was the end of that.”

Outdoors, two decks, a patio and fire pit area offer a number of places to sit and relax. All the blue stone from the old house was used for the patio next to the in-ground pool and for the front walkway. And while the original intent was to do away with the pool and fill it in with construction debris, Arlene laughs, “Once the grandkids found out that there was a pool, that was the end of that.”

41 Neptune Dr_HIGH RES 112.jpg

A compass rose laid into the hardwood floor at home’s front entrance holds special significance. Both of Arlene and Ron’s fathers were welders in Navy yards during World War II. The rose “is a way for us to honor them,” Ron says.

While the pool might excite the kids the most, the overall shoreline experience is the big draw for the Zappiles. “When we had the house in Niantic, I would find that as soon as I got halfway down Route 9, I felt like I was on vacation,” Ron says. 

“It’s just so beautiful,” Arlene adds. “I think it’s the air flowing constantly. There’s something about living near the water that just makes you feel good.”

This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.