This week I was reading my local paper and fell upon an article – memories of downtown’s Main Street, circa 1960. This got my attention, as it also included a fabulous map detailing the stores that lined our Main Street back then, dominated by “mom & pop” stores. This was a real snapshot of a Westport I once knew; I remembered in the 70’s Mother would spend time in the dress shops while I made my way to the remarkable bookstore.
Today I fondly dream about not only what Westport was like back then, but what my own property “Rosebrook Gardens” looked like, and its relationship to the neighborhood. Not long ago I discovered it was part of a family subdivision in the 1920’s and left untouched until 1995. A builder cleared the overgrown lot to build a new home on an old, established street. I discovered it while walking in the neighborhood, and entered the house before it was finished and on the market. I knew then that this was my home as I fell in love with the house the moment I walked in (the back door was open – ok, so maybe it needed a little push to open).
Today it’s not uncommon for people to comment how Rosebrook Gardens looks as if it were a saved “old” Westport home rather than a new home. My core casual luxury philosophy was to embrace the traditional design elements of the past and incorporate them in a new modern way. Re-use, refurbish, redesign – that’s my way to give something new the look and feel of something old, turning back time, as it were. Not a surprise to those who know me, I love time travel and anything to do with the subject.
One summer, while filming my show, I was visited by an elderly man who grew up in the neighborhood and wanted to tell me about the history of my property. I stopped production and took some time to sit with him. As his story unfolded, he would not only give me many missing pieces of Westport history – including how he used to enjoy the special strolls to old Main Street – but how the original family who owned the land had given plots to family members as wedding presents. In addition, I learned that Rosebrook Gardens was once the vegetable garden for all the families, perhaps explaining why my gardens do so well and give so many so much joy.
This connection to the history of my property brought a few tears to my eyes, as he was the missing link to the past. And just as unexpectedly as he showed up, he left. I remember that day, and how he brought me back in time by sharing his stories of being a little boy playing in the then-dirt road. Another gem I learned: the home next door was once a play-house for the girls of the families, who christened it the “Doll House”; later it was added to and became his grandmother’s house.
When I woke from the spell of his tale I realized something that forever changed my life. Just like his family before me, I was making a MARk on this property and house. I’m simply taking care of something that will hopefully be here for many to enjoy and cherish just as much as I did. My book, my gardens and my home are simply chapters that embrace this neighborhood’s past while building its future. I’ve saved that newspaper article about the 1960’s, and I’ll use it – along with my subdivision map from the 1920’s – to add to the history of this house. I’ll tuck them away within the walls when I renovate and redesign my kitchen, and will add a note of explanation, along with a modern map showing Rosebrook Gardens. It will be a nice way to acknowledge that – to paraphrase Dorothy – “There’s no place like this home.”