On the Market / Seclusion awaits at this hillside European villa in Darien
Published 4:30 pm, Monday, September 11, 2017
DARIEN — If opulence had an address it might have to be 227 Old Kings Highway South. The 8,820-square-foot architectural masterpiece was built in 1936 for notable composer and pianist Frank La Forge, who was also known as a vocal coach to opera stars of the time including Lily Pons.
The term “one-of-a-kind” is often used in the real estate profession but this is a stunning estate where the term really is appropriate. Every angle of the interior and exterior resembles a work of art. Architect Wesley Sherwood Bessell imbued this Mediterranean-style Tudor house with a wealth of distinguishing features. One cannot even enter the house without first noticing the exquisite detail of the front door, where the frame for this entrance comprises red sandstone, hand-made Virginia brick, and Numidian marble.
The whole house is a statement piece filled with countless architectural and decorative, museum-quality elements in every one of its 11 rooms, in every inch of its 9,529 square feet. This home was masterfully renovated over the years and each project preserved the original details, seamlessly blended them with modern elements. There are hand-carved doors from Europe, ornate leaded glass windows with stained glass inserts, hand-painted tiles including two sets of tiles in two separate rooms that depict the story of Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha.
The story had some significance for Frank La Forge. Cathy La Forge, the granddaughter of Frank and (?) La Forge, never met her grandfather; he died before she was born, but learned from her grandmother that he had a two-volume set of Don Quixote in Spanish. La Forge, who lives in New Hampshire now, said she loved visiting her grandmother “Spanish villa” and she actually lived there for a year.
“My grandmother was romantic and you can definitely see that in this house ... It was the most wonderful, fun place to go to when I was growing up,” La Forge said. Her grandmother lived in this house for 60 years. It was definitely a different time period. “My father had to wear a coat and tie for dinner,” La Forge said. After World War II dinners became less formal, but entertaining was still done on a grand scale, she said.
ABOUT THIS HOUSE
STYLE: Mediterranean-style Tudor
ADDRESS: 227 Old Kings Highway South
FEATURES: direct waterfront property on Gorhams Pond, water views, walk to water, five-acre level and gently sloping property, pipe organ, bell tower, generator, three-story atrium with fountain, Thermopane insulated windows, multiple decks/balconies, eight fireplaces including one with a rotisserie, exterior lighting, flagstone patio, terrace, covered veranda, circular driveway, underground sprinkler, skylights, close to shops and train, professionally landscaped including specimen plantings, 11-zoned heating and air conditioning, attached under house two-car garage, hand-made tile roof, walk-up attic, partially finished basement, stone walls, five bedrooms, five full and one half baths
SCHOOLS: Tokeneke Elementary, Middlesex Middle, Darien High School
MILL RATE: 16.16 mills
She remembers dinners in the dining room “with the paintings on the walls, the long, long dining table with my grandmother at the head of the table. Places set with Tiffany silver and Wedgewood dinnerware. She had salt cellars at each place with little tiny silver spoons. She was the ultimate hostess,” La Forge said.
Despite its formality the house also allowed for child’s play, La Forge said. “My father remembered (play) sword fights on the staircase,” she said. They also played badminton in the palatial formal living room, in which an Aeolian pipe/player organ is built into the house, a wedding gift to the couple from Cathy La Forge’s great-grandmother Laura Ford MacNichol. For years a birdie remained stuck between two of the organ pipes, she said.
There were many lavish parties and concerts in that living room, which was originally referred to as the “library studio.” Opera singers, such as Lily Pons and Marian Anderson, performed from a stage at one end of the living room, which also features a 25-foot cathedral ceiling, exposed timber barn beams, an ornately carved stone fireplace and a second brick and tile fireplace - both wood-burning, and a balcony.
“They also used to give concerts on the lawn overlooking the pond,” La Forge said. This house is beautifully sited on a five-acre level and gently sloping secluded property on Gorhams Pond. Its beautiful grounds resemble a botanical garden and it has a bounty of perennials, manicured shrubbery and specimen trees.
La Forge said a large part of the stone for the house was from an old stone walls on the property, the roof tiles were all hand made, and the beams in the living room and front hall came from an old Connecticut farmhouse. Many of the decorative elements are European including stained glass from Germany and tiles from Spain.
Steel-framed glass French doors open from the living room into a three-story atrium, at one time an open courtyard but now enclosed with a glass dome. It has a radiant heated stone floor, a fountain, ionic stone columns, ornate moldings, balconies, and French doors to a covered veranda and some of the gardens that infuse this storybook estate with natural color and scent.
In the banquet-sized formal dining room there is a wood-burning marble fireplace, decorative hand-wrought iron gate to a hallway, and French doors to a Juliet balcony. A new wing houses the cavernous gourmet kitchen, which was added in 2012 and features a wood-burning fireplace, vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, white oak cabinetry, a radiant heated stone floor, and a large center island of reclaimed oak with a marble counter and a built-in knife-holder. There are also many gourmet features including the AGA cast iron range and Gaggenau steam oven. Two sets of French doors access the large screened porch, where there is a wood-burning fireplace that includes a rotisserie.
There are five bedrooms, each one with its own unique details and several of which have fireplaces and balconies. The first floor master suite has a high dome ceiling with rope lighting, a fireplace, and three sets of doors to balconies. There are two marble baths, both with radiant heated floors. One has a soaking tub and steam shower. The other bedrooms are on the second floor. One of them has stairs to the bell tower and the organ pipes.
“It is a beautiful house and I love having it as part of my heritage,” La Forge said.
For more information or to make an appointment to see the house contact Suzette Kraus or Cal Kramer of William Raveis Real Estate; Kraus at 914-582-2551nor email@example.com, and Kramer at 914-629-4434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.