Open House

Open House

A photo essay.

Editor’s Note: The address of this story’s subject has been withheld for privacy reasons.

It’s prudent to decline when a stranger invites you into his house. For some reason, I didn’t.

I could see it must’ve been a regal place once. Large, with a mansard-style roof, it had two balconies stacked on round pillars, a lacy wood ribbon arching over the top. Molded and carved, its eaves and windows—also its hulking front door—had more layers than a Dostoevsky character.

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By the look of things, it was also falling apart. The balconies were bowed, their balustrades broken. The moldings were discolored and the front railings tilted. Much of the paint had peeled.

To a potential home buyer or neighbor, it would’ve been unsightly. To a photographer, it was sightly indeed, and the fellow who invited me in—a renter, he later told me—could tell. Calling from the front sidewalk, across the street from where I was taking pictures, he thought I might like to capture more than the exterior.

He was right. Spanning 5,000 square feet and 16 rooms, the inside, too, was a mix of beauty and decay. Heavy arched doors and thick crown moldings were luxurious and impressive. So was a huge central bannister wending up three floors. Some rooms, a few with dormant fireplaces, were carefully painted or papered in lively colors and patterns.

There were also gaps in the ceilings, exposing wooden ribs. Walls marbled by compound-filled cracks surrounded a narrow, winding stairwell in the rear. One bathroom had raw wood details, as if it was never finished. Another had a rusted steam radiator that’d lost a lot of its silvery cover-up paint.

Analogous to many of the home’s scenes, the rusty radiator was yet a charming detail, amplified by a white honeycomb floor and porcelain tub, and amplifying a question in my mind: what charms lie hidden within New Haven’s many other once-regal homes?

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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