AN ESSEX HOUSE DATING BACK TO 1802 GETS NEW VIGOR FROM ARTIST MELISSA BARBIERI
Muralist Melissa Barbieri and husband Michael Hannifan have fashioned a traditional post-and-beam house into an Essex retreat, with a relaxed pace for two busy careers. According to Barbieri who maintains a full-time studio in Greenwich during the week, "We wanted a comfortable country home where we could relax and kick back and indulge in the things we love: boating, painting, reading, the outdoors and entertaining family and friends." Add the five adult children—three sons and two daughters from previous relationships—and the house serves as more than a weekend getaway. Hannifan manages his wood manufacturing enterprise from Essex.
Built in 1802 by Nathaniel Jones Pratt, the home lies within a short walk from the Connecticut River. The Pratts owned two fisheries and the estate originally comprised 12 acres and resided in the home until 1932. Barbieri, who hails from Fairfield, was attracted by its proximity to the water and its airy interiors. "We didn't want the typical low ceilings and small rooms," says Hannifan.
The long history comes to life at the glassed entry porch, which had functioned long ago as a protective structure for the well. Barbieri gleefully removes a wooden plank to reveal a deep, fieldstone-lined hole—the system remains alive, via a modern pump-and-filtration system. On a side table, a length of rope tied into a lover's knot was presented to the couple as a wedding gift. A piece of driftwood leaning against a corner reminds Barbieri of Maine; her father found this remnant of a shipwreck, ancient hand-cut nails visible and still intact. The early post-and-beam structure has distinctive charm, although it had fallen into disrepair. Much of the house has been brought back to life, with chestnut floors and wide-plank pine paneling reanimated by repeated waxing and polishing. New elements were added to lend sparkle: silver, nickel, glass and an occasional glossy, lacquered piece.