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Historic Conn. house warms to its new inn life

Email|Print| Text size + By Ellen Albanese
Globe Staff / January 6, 2008

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. - The ceilings alone could keep a visitor mesmerized for a weekend. One is pressed tin finished in antique brass, another features burnished gold monograms in the corners, and still another depicts Victorian cupids at play on a billowing sky bordered with roses.

This attention to detail defines the Silas W. Robbins House, a building that is as much a testament to historical preservation as it is a welcoming and comfortable place to stay.

As we approached the Broad Street Green in historic Wethersfield, the house loomed before us like a lavish wedding cake, with its pale celery clapboards, deep plum accents, and expansive lawn bordered by a delicate black wrought iron fence.

The 1873 French Second Empire mansion, built by entrepreneur Silas W. Robbins, was saved from the wrecking ball when longtime Wethersfield residents John and Shireen Aforismo bought it in 2001. It opened as a B&B in November, with five elegant guest rooms, a parlor, formal dining room, and tea room, where breakfast is served fireside.

The Aforismos salvaged what they could from the building, which had been slightly damaged by fire in 1996 but more severely compromised during the ensuing years when rain and snow poured into the roofless structure. Among the most striking original pieces are the parlor's crystal chandelier and the leaded glass windows in the front door.

Shireen greeted us at the door and put our bags on an elevator. We took the larger of two walnut staircases to the Silas Robbins Room on the second floor. There was a sense of fluidity about the wide, curved banisters, and the wood was polished to a sheen.

On the way we glimpsed the kitchen with its decorative tin ceiling and passed the Music Room, where a Victorian melodian seemed to await a player.

Our quarters were a large corner room with tall arched windows made even more dramatic by the striking window treatment of padded fabric cornices in a blue and gold floral print with rope trim and tassels. The windows afford expansive views of the street and green; on the weekend we visited, horse and carriage tours of old Wethersfield rolled by. The pale cream ceiling was stenciled with bands of teal and chocolate and accented with brushed gold stylized Silas Robbins monograms and blue fleur de lis stencils in the corners.

The king bed had an ornate carved wood headboard, which matched the mirror frame above the marble-topped dresser. Two nightstands were topped with shirred fabric lampshades with beaded fringe. There was one upholstered chair (we would have liked another), a mirrored armoire, and a burled wood desk with antique inkwells.

Are you thinking Victorian overload? The massive radiators have individual controls and next to the antique clock on the dresser was a flat screen television.

Small but functional, the bath exemplified the Victorian idea that a white bathroom is a sanitary bathroom. It was well lighted, with a white, marble-topped sink and white hexagonal floor tiles. The walk-in shower had rainfall and handheld showerheads. It was stocked with wonderfully thick Turkish towels and a hair dryer. The only thing we missed was storage space for our toiletries.

Breakfast, served from 8:30 to 9:30, included coffee and juice, fresh grapefruit and raspberries, thick French toast with maple syrup, sausage patties, and bacon.

Sticking with the historic theme, we had dinner at J. Michaels, an upscale tavern in a 1787 building not far from the inn. Its spare Colonial charm only served to emphasize the opulence of the Silas W. Robbins House, a true jewel in Wethersfield's impressive historic district.

Ellen Albanese can be reached at albanese@globe.com.

If You Go

Silas W. Robbins House Bed & Breakfast

185 Broad St.
Wethersfield, Conn.
860-571-8733
silaswrobbins.com

What we liked best: The extraordinary attention to detail in the restoration of this French Second Empire mansion.

What we liked least: On a cold December night, the driveway and walkway were icy; we would have liked a little more ice melt to secure our way to the entrance.

What surprised us: How the mansion rises like a lavish wedding cake in a neighborhood of modest single-family homes.

You know you're at the Silas W. Robbins House when . . . every detail, from floor to ceiling, recalls the luxurious lifestyle of the mansion's original owner.

Rates: $195-$350 including breakfast. The Silas Robbins room was $255 in early December.

Directions: Wethersfield is 103 miles, or just under two hours, from Boston. Take Interstate 90 west (Mass. Pike) to Interstate 84 west. Take exit 57 on the left to merge onto Conn. Route 15 south. Take exit 86 to I-91 south to exit 26. Take a right off the exit and then an immediate left onto Marsh Street. Take the first left onto Broad Street. The Silas W. Robbins House is 3/4-mile on the right.

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