Take a stately home with an impeccable pedigree and season it with a meticulous renovation. The result honors the history of the property yet offers a comfortable, updated space for contemporary living and entertaining.
The white clapboard exterior with its imposing portico of eight 22-foot-tall columns makes an impressive statement to passers-by on Asylum Avenue. Inside, spacious rooms that are rich in architectural detail occupy three stories of living space. Architect Edward T. Hapgood, known for commissions such as the Travelers Insurance buildings, the Connecticut State Library and two neighboring homes, designed the house which was built in 1911.
When prospective buyers Jay Morton and Michael Phillips first looked at the house, it was “in shambles,” Morton recalls. “This house begged for renovations.” Morton, who built a career in real estate and has renovated about a dozen homes, knows a house with “good bones” when he sees one. “The nice thing about this house is that for 7,300 square feet, it’s very livable,” he says. “That was what I liked about it.”
The couple bought the home in 2010 and embarked on a full renovation and restoration of the property. They opened up the interior space, preserving original details such as brass doorknobs and nickel chandeliers and installing central air conditioning. Outside, they removed an off-center swimming pool in the backyard and rebuilt three exterior columns that had rotted.
Morton and Phillips, who love to entertain, retained the original floor plan but made subtle changes to create a better flow on the first floor. Pocket doors closed off the dining and living rooms, which flank the entryway, from the main foyer. The arches supporting these doors measured just six feet, five inches – only two inches taller than Morton. He removed the doors and raised the arches to eight feet, matching the arch that separates the foyer from the back hallway and the main staircase.
Stepping inside from the front door, a visitor can look through the foyer to the back of the home and, thanks to a new window-paned back door, beyond to the large backyard. The foyer’s main arch also frames a magnificent bridal double staircase, its white twirled spindles contrasting with the dark stained treads and railing.
The dining room, spacious enough to accommodate both a baby grand piano and a dining table to seat eight, has its own fireplace, one of five marble-faced hearths in the home. Built-in china cabinets and decorative columns in the dining room plus the living room’s decorative paneling surrounding the fireplace and original woodwork framing the windows add visual interest to these elegant spaces. The rooms lend themselves to entertaining large groups of guests. “We’ve had a Hartford Symphony quartet in the dining room and 74 people from the Decorative Arts Council [of the Wadsworth Atheneum] for dinner here,” says Morton, who is Gov. Dannel Malloy’s representative to the museum.
A cozy den and television room behind the living room opens into an all-season sunroom. The former owners had walled off the den from the sunroom but, fortunately, left the original glass doors in the basement where Morton found them. Now, even if the doors are closed, the sunroom floods the den with light.
The oversized kitchen features a separate room for the refrigerator, washer, dryer and storage cabinets. The space that originally served as the household staff’s dining room remains the eat-in area but became part of the kitchen when Morton removed the doors separating the space from the rest of the kitchen. An island with furniture-style cabinetry is topped with juparana rosa granite, while the glass doors on the upper cabinets contribute to the room’s airy feel.
The home has five bedrooms – three on the second floor in addition to a handsome library and two on the third floor. The master bedroom features two dressing rooms with original glass knobs on the cabinetry and closets. The master bath has a large glass and tile shower, while the sink sits on the original nickel legs. A second full bath for the guest rooms has a large soaking tub, double vanity and wood cabinetry.
The same paint color used throughout the house unifies the space. Called Tenaka, the custom-blended paint contains 12 pigments. Its color “changes through the day” from a creamy yellow to pale cantaloupe and provides a neutral but complementary background for the couple’s art collection. “I’ve used it in three other houses,” Morton says. “It’s just very warm, and looks good with art and faces. It makes you look healthy.”
For those familiar with historical landmarks, the house resembles Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home built in the 1700s, although Morton can point out more desirable features in the Asylum Avenue residence. He notes that Mt. Vernon is a smaller house with lower ceilings. “This home is more formal looking,” he says.
After only four years and so much effort expended on refurbishing work, Morton and Phillips are not selling their home by choice. Phillips is the new president of Cigna’s Midwest market, and the couple is moving to Chicago where they are restoring an 1883 brownstone in the city’s Gold Coast. They have mixed feelings about leaving Hartford.
“What’s difficult about leaving Hartford is that everything we’ve done here has been associated with the Wadsworth Atheneum,” says Norton who is Gov. Dannel Malloy’s representative to the museum. “Everyone who came [to the house] was related to the Atheneum, and the Governor is very supportive of the museum. That’s what I will miss.”
The couple also enjoyed living and entertaining in the home. “The house is really comfortable,” Morton says. “I love being across from [Elizabeth Park], and [the couple’s dog] Joey and I go there twice a day. I love that you’re six minutes from downtown Hartford, and it’s also nice to be in the West End because we’re surrounded by beautiful architecture. It’s really a pretty and peaceful neighborhood.”
For more information on 1430 Asylum Avenue or to schedule a showing, contact John Lepore of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties at 860-798-7844, email@example.com.
Architect: Edward T. Hapgood
Year built: 1911
Price: $1.195 million
Style: Colonial Revival
Baths: 4 full, 1 half
Square footage: 7,305 square feet
Acreage: 1.43 acres
Tax rate: 74.29 mills
Best feature: A magnificent double bridal staircase caps three floors of gracious living in this historic home.
Contact: John Lepore, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, 860-798-7844, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally Martino is a freelance writer based in Old Saybrook.