My husband and I have a knack for ending up with old properties that are in desperate need of repair, even though we never planned on this being such a big part of our lives. Growing a business while raising a family, and starting out with nothing, forced us to find beauty in places where most people saw no value. It all started with our first home, a small Sears Craftsman House that had been taken off the market, located in the historic district of our small Connecticut town. With an addition off the back that was barely noticeable from the front, we created a beautiful space to start a family.
In 2006, we moved our small children to Italy so we could work closely with farmers and producers, and we quickly set out to find the farm we had always wanted. At the time, the market in the area where my husband was born had inflated prices, but one agent told us about a property that had been taken off the market that he thought had potential. I’ll never forget when we drove up to see it for the first time. The site of the old dilapidated barn completely drained my body of all energy. I could not imagine ever calling such a place home, but when we walked around to the back, my then 7-year-old Giulia said, “The views are amazing. This land is beautiful. We should get it Mom! Don’t worry about that house; we’ll be able to fix it up.” Kids always speak from the heart, and everyday since we moved into our newly remodeled farmhouse, I secretly thank her for her wisdom.
In 2013, our company desperately needed room to grow, so I began the search for a property. The professional advisors in my life recommended I build on an industrial lot, but I had already started the culinary getaways in Italy to test the concept of doing cooking retreats and events at our future company headquarters. I had always been struck by the beauty of a historic property called Randall’s Ordinary in North Stonington, CT, which at the time had been closed and boarded up for years. The day I went with my attorney to visit the property and make an offer, it was pouring down rain outside and inside the main house. My heart ached at seeing the destruction of a building that was built in 1685, long before the United States emerged as an independent country. This home had been a safe house to slaves who hid in the root cellar and it was recognized as part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The property was also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. My attorney begged me not to get involved, that the whole project would be a huge drain on cash, and I thought it best to listen to his advice. I returned home to Italy and cancelled the offer I had made on the property.
A year passed, the company continued to grow, and we needed to expand to a new space more than ever. I knew in my heart, I could not move forward and purchase a lot in an industrial park. The Randall property was somehow destined to be part of my life. After all, my business was built on history and traditions, and was much more to me than just a distribution center. There was really no separation between my personal and professional life. I wanted my office to feel like home. The street number for our first Craftsman home was number 41 and later at the closing of my Italian farm, I learned that number was also 41. So one day when I could not stop thinking about the Randall property, I looked up the address to find it was 41 Norwich-Westerly Rd. It had to be.
In November 2015, we moved into our new facility equipped with a warehouse and an office building that really does feel like home. The office is a timber frame building that exhibits the beauty and warmth of local Rhode Island oak and co-exists nicely with artisan-crafted pieces I brought in from Italy – steel doors handmade in Florence, a solid wood kitchen from outside of Venice, and handmade desks using reclaimed oak beams from Modena. It all blended together, just like my life in two countries, to create a space we love to work in.
This year, we set our sights on the most significant project- the restoration of the historic John Randall homestead. We have been working hard these last few years and are finally coming into the final stages of planning. We hope to unveil our plans this summer. All of the buildings have been stabilized to prevent further damage, are idle and clean, and waiting for much-needed attention. In the meantime, we are painstakingly restacking all of the historic stone walls while nourishing the soil of a newly created organic farm where we will grow our own produce.
Recently, we had the “before” images of the buildings captured because we definitely want to remember where we started once the work begins. A small barn will hold cooking classes, while the historic house will return to an inn and restaurant. This property is dear to many and after having the privilege of being its custodians since 2015, my family and our employees can confirm that something really special exists here. We are determined to find the way to do what is right, with every piece we are able to save and every piece we add. We want to create lasting beauty that will be welcoming to all and flourish for the next 300 years!
Here is the cooking barn:
And the 1685 John Randall home.
The dining rooms and hearth room on the first floor, with the hatch door to the root cellar where slaves were hidden.
The beautiful staircase to the second floor.
Future suites on the second floor.