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A Victorian Lady Reborn

Hartford Couple Transform A Home Tarnished By Time


September 12, 2008

For Dulcie and Valerio Giadone, their home is much more than a place to live and enjoy their friends and family. It's an extension of their passion for Hartford, its people and its history.

Their beloved community is so much a part of their lives that they made design decisions with their role as hosts to neighborhood meetings in mind.

The empty-nesters live in a Queen Anne Victorian that has been the cornerstone of a neighborhood revitalization program on Ashley Street in Hartford's Asylum Hill neighborhood.

Built in 1890 and known as "The Victorian Lady," the house once was home to an affluent family on Sigourney Street, a short walk from the homes of Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The house used to be across the street from Aetna, which had used it for offices but wanted the space for parking. Instead of demolishing it, the insurance company worked with a neighborhood group to have it moved to Ashley Street in 2004.

At every step in the process of restoring the once-grand home, the Giadones have considered the house's own history and its importance in restoring Asylum Hill, a neighborhood once littered with blighted houses. HGTV featured the house on an episode of "Restore America," and the Giadones have hosted more tours than they can count.

Valerio Giadone, an architect, set out to make the house feel like a home, but a home that embraces more than just his own family.

"He made it so it's definitely a place you can have parties and community meetings," Dulcie Giadone says.

The kitchen, shaped like a wide U, "was built for me and my sisters and holidays. It was built so we would all have counter space," she says. "I'm not a chef. I built this for socialization. You have a lot of room to move around."

Through architectural details, the couple created separate spaces without erecting walls. For example, their dining area is set apart with a pair of chandeliers hanging from a soffit cut into the ceiling. When installing hardwood floors, they framed the dining area floor with a contrasting darker wood design.

"All the original design was lost," Valerio Giadone says. The former one-family home, with its brick corbelling and gingerbread trim, had been turned into a four-family apartment building and then offices, so it was basically an empty shell when the couple started.

They added dentil crown molding throughout. In the powder room, they installed a floor of small black-and-white tiles and wood wainscoting on the walls. They chose new lighting fixtures inspired by the Victorian era, including wall sconces and Tiffany-style pendant fixtures that hang over their kitchen counter.

The parlor resembles a Victorian interior, but the half wall bordering the hallway continues the home's open feel. Valerio restored a Victorian chandelier they bought at an auction for $15. Dulcie didn't care for it at first, she says, but after seeing a similar fixture at a restoration lighting store for $900, "I like it so much more."

The G-clef design etched into the shade of an antique floor lamp served as inspiration for the living room. The finials on that room's curtain rods mimic that shape. With doorknobs and hinges donated by Emtek, they infused each door with intricate, period-inspired hardware.

Valerio sought inspiration from the neighborhood to design a front porch, which his 83-year-old father helped him build. "We created our own design," he says. "It's different, but it blends in with the rest of the street."

When it came time to decide on paint for the exterior trim, the couple looked no further than their own house, replicating its original colors.

Committed To Hartford

The Giadones, who have been actively involved Hartford residents for decades, fell in love with the house when they saw a picture in a magazine and read that the house was going to be moved from Sigourney to Ashley Street.

The Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (NINA), which owned the house, works to save historic Asylum Hill houses through owner occupancy.

The Giadones have exceeded the organization's expectations, says Executive Director Ken Johnson.

"We were hoping we weren't just getting a buyer, that we were getting a partner who would help us improve the neighborhood," Johnson says. "We've gotten that in spades."

Valerio's plans for the interior had to jump multiple hurdles, including the Connecticut Historical Commission and NINA, he says. "We wanted to keep the feeling of an old Victorian, and we wanted a plan that was a little easier to live with."

Besides having a vision for the home, the couple had a passion for NINA's neighborhood revitalization goal. And they were willing to be the first to invest in restoring the street lined with brick Victorians to its former charm.

Dulcie, executive director of the Hartford Children's Theatre, is a past president of Hartford Areas Rally Together, an umbrella organization of community groups, and also worked as an aide to City Councilman Jim Boucher. Valerio, who works for Schoenhardt Architecture and Interior Design, serves on the Hartford Preservation Alliance board and as a city Zoning Board of Appeals commission member. When their house was placed on the vacant lot at 21 Ashley St., the two brick houses across the street were so blighted that "it looked like bombed-out Berlin," Johnson says.

Prostitutes walked the streets daily and the neighborhood was "a drug haven," Valerio Giadone says.

Now, his wife says, "The drugs are gone. The prostitution has been reduced to a minimum."

And young couples are buying houses nearby and fixing them up. One owner plans to paint his Victorian with five colors, Johnson says. Another recently completed an extensive porch reconstruction. The Giadones' sons bought the house across the street in 2006 and restored it.

"This community I tell everybody that I know, there's nothing like it," says Alex Giadone, who moved to Hartford from New York and likes knowing his neighbors. "You know what's going on. Everybody looks out for each other."

"It's a really eclectic group of people," says Dulcie Giadone. "It's all different people caring about each other young couples, older couples and people from different countries. It's such a mix economically. You have the long-term owners, working-class people."

Landscapers from Woodland Gardens advised on period plantings and Knox Park Foundation staff have helped residents plant shrubbery and perennials in front of their homes.

The Victorian Lady is still a work in progress. This summer, three generations of Giadone men installed a brick walkway and back patio. When funds allow, the couple plan to build a roof over their deck in the style of the porch at Mark Twain's house.

And they're already thinking of the grandchildren they hope to have. Valerio plans to build a play area on the third floor.

Meanwhile, Dulcie is scouting for an antique finial for the top of their shed and a Victorian-era mailbox.

To see photos of the renovation of the Victorian Lady, go to www.hartfordvictorian lady.blogspot.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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