“Home” has never meant as much as it does now (as we self-quarantine) or carried as much significance as a place of refuge in troubling times. With two coffee table books on the subject...
I’ve found myself reflecting back on Newport’s private homes that I’ve visited and photographed.
Few would disagree that Newport’s distinguished collection of old residential beauties exists because we (seldom) tear them down. Instead, somewhat singular to our fabled town, they are “recycled”… donated to the Preservation Society of Newport County, willed to Salve Regina University, opened to the public or turned into apartments and condominiums. But most importantly, they still endure, contributing to the architectural heritage of our City by the Sea.
One of the most impressive of these, Seafair, designed in true Louis XIV style, was built to fit the curve of its own peninsula. At the time it was completed, 1936, this expansive jewel was the last of the large pre-World War II summer houses.
In keeping with this distinction, Seafair has additionally had a dramatic and colorful history. Following the horrific hurricane of ’38 (for which she earned the nickname Hurricane Hut), her owners abandoned her, not due to storm damage but from the mental anguish of just barely escaping their home alive. She stood all but empty until the early 1950s, when the house was purchased by the son of the owner of the Hope Diamond and lived in until the 1960s.
Then began the carving up of her rooms into apartments and ultimately into condominiums. While a seeming indignity, this was a fate that befell many grand homes during that period. In 1997, a Providence businessman, Rick Bready, purchased, and began, an extensive restoration of Seafair to include consolidation of the units of a defunct condominium project; the core rooms of the house were restored to their former use. He also enjoyed his home in the style for which it had been intended, hosting a birthday party where Elton John performed and a fundraiser for President Obama (in attendance) in 2014.
Seafair had been on and off the market starting in 2013 when in late 2017 Jay Leno arrived on the scene. I’m sure that a large garage and sweeping green lawns for his overflow antique cars added to the allure of this elegant home surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.
And the particulars for this iconic residence: 9 oceanfront acres with its own cove, beach, and sunrise/sunset views.
Carriage house, tennis court…and swimming pool against a backdrop of the superb rubble-stone construction (offering a clue as to how Seafair has survived all these years through hurricanes and storms).
15,851 square feet, including grand dining room, formal entry hall with dramatic spiral staircase, ballroom, chef’s kitchen, paneled library, and sitting room.
No less than 8 bedrooms and 11 baths
And my favorite spot…the large curved solarium off the formal living room.
The price paid? $13.5 million.
Given its impressive assets, and colorful histoire, is it any wonder that I would choose to celebrate this once “white elephant’s” return to a private, single family home? Note, one condominium remains at the northeast corner of the residence occupied by another family.