The seaside estate of one of Hollywood’s most beloved icons finds a new lease on life for a new century.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2005, the renowned New York builder Frank Sciame was surprised by a pair of visitors to his grand Long Island Sound-front family retreat in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He happened to be sitting down for a barbeque lunch with his family, so he offered a spot at the table to his unexpected guests, who had come to have a look at the dramatic renovation he’d recently completed on the property. In short, they more than approved. Robert and Margaret Hepburn, siblings of the late legendary Hollywood actress Katharine, told Sciame – in a very validating moment for the builder – that the Hepburn family would have “absolutely loved” the painstaking work he had performed on their sister’s cherished estate.
“It was a quintessential handyman special,” says the builder, describing the condition of the Hepburn home when he first purchased it. “We set out to maintain the bones and integrity of the structure including the façade and roof, while renovating the rest of the house to bring it fully into the 21st century.” The project included raising the three-story, 150-foot-long brick home by five feet, which provided excellent protection during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, as well as installing new systems and incorporating oversized windows, coffered ceilings and built-in cabinetry. In addition, Sciame created a more open-space floor plan to bring in the light and views and make the rooms feel more expansive, all while preserving the historical integrity. For example, the main living room still includes the eye-catching original cement fireplace that Hepburn built, and now also showcases its water views to visitors from the moment they enter the home on its opposite side. “It’s very feng shui,” says William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty agent Colette Harron. “When you walk through the main door and see through to the water, it’s like looking at infinity.”
Those views are a prominent feature throughout the home. They encompass not only the Sound, but also a large pond at the back, a golf course, the Connecticut River and even the Old Saybrook lighthouse. The views, which were protected by Hepburn in a conservation easement, culminate in the upstairs master bedroom, where all of the sights can be taken in at once. “It doesn’t get any better than the master suite. The views are just phenomenal here,” notes Sciame. The bedroom is one of six, each of which has its own private bath. The 8,400 square-foot home also offers seven fireplaces, a dining room with sound and pond vistas, kitchen with AGA stove and Sub-Zero refrigerator, den, chart room, potting room, pantry and laundry room.
The end result of the renovation is a new life for a home that Katharine Hepburn often referred to as “paradise.” The Golden Age Hollywood star of such classic films as “Bringing Up Baby” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” built the residence in 1939, after putting together a model of her dream home from a set of building blocks she purchased from the toy store FAO Schwarz. Hepburn fully enjoyed the realization of that dream for the rest of her life, spending as much time here as she could and frequently hosting celebrity friends like famed aviator Howard Hughes, who landed his seaplanes in front of the house in the 1930s and 1940s. It is said that she swam in the Sound every day she was at the home, whether the forecast called for sun or rain—or even less ideal conditions: There are photos of Hepburn emerging from the water surrounded by beachfront grounds covered with snow.
In more recent years, the builder widely known for his restoration of New York City landmarks such as the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum, Central Synagogue and the Guggenheim Museum has been busy building his own memories here. “Having spent ten summers at the home now, we clearly understand why Katharine Hepburn called this paradise,” Sciame says. The borough of Fenwick in the town of Old Saybrook, the area the home is located, plays a large part in that. A unique historic district subjected to strict zoning laws and comprised of only 83 homes, Fenwick provides a strong sense of community, where many are lifelong residents and the sailing, golfing and all-borough parties beckon those seeking an alternative to the Hamptons—which are less than an hour away by boat. Harron points out that unlike a gated enclave, Fenwick is “private without being private. There is no parking unless you have a house.” She adds, “There are many who would love to discover Fenwick. You can have your family or your entourage—you can bring it all with you. You have golf, tennis, the beach…it’s all there.”
Sciame loves Fenwick so much that he hopes to stay. Neighboring the Hepburn estate’s one and a half-acre grounds are two additional lots; Sciame constructed a beach house on the east lot and is securing approvals to build another home on the west lot. The Hepburn property itself, however, is now for sale. The spectacular seaside retreat awaits a new owner who can lovingly carry its enduring legacy into the next age.
The Katharine Hepburn estate in Old Saybrook, Connecticut (Web ID: PBW3F4) is offered at $14,800,000 USD. For more information, please contact William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty agent Colette Harron at +1 860 304 2391 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Frank Sciame, owner of Sciame Construction, LLC, at +1 212 232 2200.