This article is one of a special GOOD Morning Wilton series to highlight A Better Chance (ABC) of Wilton. GMW is a proud sponsor of the ABC House Tour on Friday, June 7, and the Preview Party, on Sunday, June 2. To purchase tickets for the Tour, stop by Comstock Community Center on Thursday, June 6 between 11 a.m.-2 p.m., or on Friday, June 7, between 9-11 a.m.. Anyone who has already purchased a ticket, can pick it up at Comstock beginning Thursday.
A Better Chance (ABC) of Wilton has been transforming lives through educational opportunity since 1996. The program provides academically talented inner-city students with ‘a better chance’ by placing them in some of the nation’s finest independent and public schools, including Wilton High School. Providing an environment that encourages academic excellence markedly improves their college acceptance chances, and lays the foundation for an improved future–for our scholars, our community, and our country.
This year’s ABC House Tour features five of Wilton’s most unique and beautiful homes. GOOD Morning Wilton got an opportunity to speak with two of the homeowners who have opened up their homes to the public to benefit ABC. What we discovered was that not only will guests get an up-close look at extraordinary design and architecture, but that what really makes these houses truly special are the connections and love that reside inside. The warmth and love fill what’s inside the walls, far outshining any decor that adorns them.
In their words, we let them explain why they’ve felt it was important enough to help ABC in such an open, revealing way. What they share is that by opening their doors to the community, and allowing strangers to connect to what’s inside their homes, it helps ABC Wilton open doors to deserving students, allowing these scholars make connections that will change their lives for the better.
Home Owner 1: Tracy Castelli
I grew up in Wilton, and I’ve lived here since I was 15. I’m going to be 45 next week, so that’s a long time. About three years ago, we had a very huge family crisis. My brother-in-law passed away at age 43, and I adopted my niece, Juliana. Juliana came into my home with my two biological daughters and became a huge part of my family. Her best friend, Yanny, is in the ABC program. So not only did my life get enriched and more beautiful having Jules as basically my third daughter, Yanny became part of our life too. If Yanny forgot something or needed something at school, she would call me. And we’re Italian. So Juliana calls me Zia, which is ‘aunt’ in Italian. And Yanny calls me Auntie Zia. So, she’s like one of the girls.
I love Yanny, and because my niece has been with me almost four years, I’ve gotten to see so much of the ABC program and meet Yanny’s mom. The girls are having a collective graduation party. So me, Yanny’s ABC host mom, and Yanny’s mom are all throwing a party together. ABC is very, very close to my heart.
These girls are both missing dads in their life. So the other thing, too I have a house full of women all of the time. So I think about what my house is like compared to other Wilton houses–it’s a very different house, and the girls are always comfortable to land there and there’s always food. Yanny’s from the Dominican Republic, my mom and dad were born in Italy. So there’s a sense of culture and family that she feels like she’s at home.
It’s just the way we were raised. [My friend] ABC House Tour Committee Member Lana Taubin, who asked me to put our house on the tour, her significant other started Crossing Thresholds, and they build schools in Kenya. I’ve done some work with him, so we also have an eighth grade ‘daughter-ish’ that we sponsor in Nairobi. So it’s just part of what we do and the fact that there’s an interest for people to come and look at our house and walk around our gardens for a cause that’s close to my heart, it’s like a no-brainer. Absolutely.
I have a degree in horticulture and I’m a landscape designer. I’ve had a consulting business for the last 22 years. I think my favorite thing about my house is the land and how the house was sited in the early 1800s when it was constructed. It’s the way the light comes in, it’s the way it sits on the land. It’s the way that the trees are kind of in a bowl that surrounds the house. It’s a very old property. There’s a hand-dug well, there’s an old water tower that used to be a wind mill. They used to pump water up into a basin. It’s got a lot of history.
The other thing I love about my house is the doors are always open and it’s a very relaxed place for people to come. I feel like homes and connection and gardens are very healing, and I want my house to always be that type of house. It’s like a sanctuary, and it was like that before I got there. We just fixed it up and made it new. But the people that were selling the house 22 years ago had lived there for 37 years. And his wife had passed and she was a very big gardener, and he was heartbroken and he was concerned that nobody would know how to take care of the gardens. So the previous owner sold the house to us because of my degree in horticulture. So it’s not just a home, I feel like I’m the steward of the land. We moved everything and got rid of invasives and we redid the gardens, but a lot of what’s there was there from the previous owners.
It’s been 22 years and every now and then I’m like, “Oh, Louise planted this.” It’s been a privilege to be able to cultivate the land and to fix the house because there was so much love already there. They had been there for 37 years, and it was a second marriage and there were multiple kids and they had a blended family and they only had to leave because she left this earthly plane. She would have still been there. So yeah, it was a privilege to be able to move there.
The thing that comes to me is connection with both history and land and this timelessness that although the house was built in the 1830s, so much of what’s happening in that house then is still happening now. It’s about connection and about life. In today’s day and age everyone’s trying to keep up with what’s in style, and the reality is there’s this timeless elegance in this house that birthed itself hundreds of years ago, yet it’s still elegant and beautiful and current because it’s all natural. Like the kitchen has a brick floor and there’s a lot of iron and wrought iron. There’s a sense of old is still beautiful and so much of what’s happening now with building, everything’s made with petroleum-based products and plastics and things that we don’t even know about–are they good for us or are they not good for us? The connection to natural and old is somewhat timeless. That’s what I love about my house, and the way the light comes in; they didn’t just clear a lot and put a house up.
A farmer used to think about when the sun was coming up and where the sun was going down. And although we’re not farming anymore just for sustenance, there’s a sense of the beauty of that, of where the sun comes up and where the sun goes down. That’s the way things were oriented, a direct connection to the natural surroundings.
Home Owner 2: Marie-Antoinette Boot
ABC is a rare organization, and this is a great opportunity to help in a small way. So I really do think it’s a wonderful organization.
My house really is not that special to be honest. My house looks like a lot of other houses in Wilton. The difference, I think, which is why they selected they house is that we did a very contemporary kitchen.
My husband is Dutch, and I was born in Italy, and in Europe you see a lot of juxtaposition of classic and contemporary. I think people are afraid to do that here. So I know that some of these contemporary kitchens and baths are becoming popular, so I thought well, it’s a way to show how you can do it because we have parts of our home that are very classic, and then parts that are extremely contemporary.
And then the third reason, we bought this house around nine years ago. What I liked was the land. It had this very peaceful energy. And shortly after we moved in here, I started getting dreams and messages about needing to build a labyrinth. So we have a labyrinth on our property, which is the other reason I think that they chose our house. One is the kitchen and the other is the labyrinth. It’s a little unusual to have a labyrinth on your property.
I have friends that are healers that live in town, and I remember one of them had come over to my home and I had asked if she felt anything and she opened the door to the backyard, and she turned and looked at me and said, “You know you have to build a labyrinth here.” I said, “I know!”
It is a labyrinth that has a very peaceful energy. What I was going to do at the ABC tour is leave a little description on what a labyrinth is, because it dates back to the 12th dynasty, 18 B.C. they’ve found pictures of labyrinths. This labyrinth is square because its based on the principles of sacred geometry and right angles are the greatest conduit of the divine. It’s very peaceful to walk it, so I was thinking of maybe leaving a little list if people wanted to come and walk it, leave me their email, maybe once I month I could open it up for people to come and walk.
GMW: That is really quite a gift. Even if you open up the house on the house tour or not, just to teach people–which really, in a way, is the mission of ABC, about teaching people a different way of life, whether it’s the scholars coming here, or the community bringing scholars in to really break down some boundaries.
The labyrinth was built by my father. I designed it and he built it, which is kind of a cool thing, too. It’s really a beautiful property. It’s a nice, very large property, and our house is a lovely home, but you’ll see a lot of homes like this in Wilton, and probably many that are nicer. But it’s very approachable.
The back patio my father built. My father is an old Italian mason. I was born in Italy. He built this patio when he was 74. At that same time he built the labyrinth.
GMW: That’s what makes a house special. It’s the love contained inside.
I agree. That’s part of the reason I’m opening it up. Anyone can do this type of thing. And just to inspire ideas, like I was saying about the traditional and contemporary. And then the labyrinth has a whole spiritual angle to it. I think it’s a very peaceful property and people do walk it for peace.
Opening up the house as part of ABC’s tour is just opening it up to the community. We’re all neighbors. It’s a little bit about breaking down barriers and helping to support a great charity.