If you’re someone drawn to radiators, butler’s pantries, tall ceilings, and the occasional awkward nook, we suggest reserving a ticket to this year’s Festival of Historic Houses. This Providence Preservation Society (PPS) fundraiser offers an opportunity to explore a selection of exquisite homes and private gardens along Keene Street and Lloyd Avenue in the College Hill Historic District on Providence’s East Side.
“One could easily imagine the Metcalfs welcoming guests and entertaining in the living room, then opening the grand doors between the living and dining rooms to move to dinner,” says photographer Chip Riegel, musing about the first owners of the home he shares with wife Amanda, PPS director of development. The Riegels live in the Henry B. Metcalf House on Keene Street – a stylish Italianate circa 1855 – and one of many magnificent properties on the tour.
“It’s always fun to see how other people live, and how to adapt to these old buildings,” says Brent Runyon, PPS executive director, who is excited about the full-scale return of the event, which was postponed in 2020 and reimagined in 2021 as an outdoor Festival of Gardens tour. Runyon explains that last fall he and organizers began to discuss the possibility of a full return which was dependent on the feelings of participating homeowners and event volunteers. “By February it seemed possible,” he says. While currently there are no mandates, tickets must be purchased in advance.
According to PPS, houses in this area began to sprout up in the 1850s. By the 1870s, stately Second Empire and Italianate style houses were constructed, followed by a building boom in the 1880s and 1890s, which saw a mix of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses – all ample in size with rich architectural features, and set back from the streets with acreage atypical for city life. And just like today, the proximity to Brown and RISD attracted professors. PPS was established in 1956 to respond to the proposed demolition of a number of these houses and continues to advocate for the preservation and reinvestment of neighborhoods.
“One of our favorite aspects of this house is the tall ceilings,” says Riegel. “We intentionally added a glossy finish to the molding to highlight the height and draw your eye upward.” She notes that the curved windows surrounding the front door were one of the features that first attracted her to the house. “They just made me smile, feeling like the house was welcoming guests even before we ever stepped foot inside. Even better, the windows allow light to pour in throughout the day. We just love living here!”
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