At first, the only things Joan Galeotti thought she and her husband, Ray, ought to change in the Chester house they bought in 2009 were the farmer’s sink and green soapstone counter in the kitchen.
“That’s how it started,” she says, laughing.
One thing led to another, says Ray.
“The house really was plenty big,” he says, “but now it’s 6,200 square feet.”
For one thing, the kitchen did not face the river, and for the Galeottis, the kitchen is the heart and soul of their home.
They enlarged the existing kitchen into a dining room and added a new wing, pushing out the front entrance and creating a new kitchen with gorgeous views of the Connecticut River and Lord Island, along with an office, a powder room, an upstairs home theater that doubles as an overflow guest suite, plenty of storage and an attached garage.
Almost like an exuberant exclamation point, they had a wooden inlay of a nautical compass medallion set into the gleaming Brazilian teak floors.
From the river, the house looks a bit like a little village of gray clapboard Colonial homes, with a charming cluster of roofs. In fact it’s a river house, quite linear, stretched out to take advantage of the views.
At the center is the original two-story gambrel house, built around 1800 by a sea captain and minister named Asa Southworth.
“I looked him up,” Ray says. “I wanted to be sure if we had any spirits here, they were going to be good spirits.”
Clearly, the spirits are good.
“There was a reason why Asa Southworth picked this spot,” Ray says. “It wasn’t because it was the last lot left in a development. He had access to deep water, so you can get out of here anytime — and the house never flooded in 200 years.”
This part of the river is a federally designated anchorage. The Galeottis have two boat slips and a mooring across the way, and friends often visit by boat. Larger boats also can anchor in Chapman’s Pond, on the other side of the island, Ray says.
Before the Galeottis embarked on their renovation, which took about 13 months, the house already had been expanded — once in the 1960s, judging from the dates of the newspapers they found in the walls, and again in the 1990s.
The original section of their home has thick chestnut beams – with no wormholes, Ray points out, as the wood pre-dates the blight — and wide pine floors. Chestnut trees used to line the river, he adds. A little room off the living room was originally a birthing room, connected directly to the former kitchen; it now serves as a lovely place to read.
A solarium and a chic and comfortable family room were added in the 1990s, along with a new master suite upstairs. The Galeottis enlarged the family room windows that face the river, reworked the bookshelves into wall units, and stylishly painted the walls a deep indigo blue.
“That dark color was a leap of faith,” Joan says. They decorated the family room with massive ceramic jars, a graceful metal wall sculpture of birds in flight, and paintings by local artists including Janine Robertson, Peter Barrett and others Joan has discovered at Maple Main Gallery of Fine Art in Chester, a co-op of area artists — including nautical scenes, river coves, sandpipers and landscapes.
The TV, which swivels out, is just one of the many automated features that Ray relishes. “I went nuts with the electronics,” he says. All the systems can be accessed remotely from afar, and there are 52 speakers, so people can listen to different things in different parts of the house.
There’s also a full gym in the basement with a sauna — an important feature for the Galeottis, who say they exercise a lot. They both box and do boxing conditioning and boot camp at Squared Circle Studio in Deep River. Joan spins and Ray runs.
Still, it’s at the other end of the house, in the custom, cook’s dream of a kitchen, where the Galeottis feel they really put their personal stamp on the house.
Ray jokes that “Joan managed to go over budget on an unlimited budget in this kitchen” — they both laugh — then he admits, “I was here every day, running the job, and I fell in love with the project. I kept saying, ‘What else can we do?’ “
There’s a 2-inch marble counter, a wine cooler, a microwave drawer, a warming drawer. Ray opens the door to a spacious pantry and says, “That’s not enough pantry for us — we’re Italian!” Working with Steve Hanford of Hanford Cabinet in Old Saybrook, they adapted a closet from their original plans into a second walk-in pantry.
Joan says they probably use the Miele coffee system more than almost anything in the house. “It’s like a Starbucks in the wall,” she says — it grinds the beans as needed and can be programmed for each user’s preferences.
Little wonder that the airy, high-ceilinged kitchen with its sweeping views is where people gravitate when the Galeottis give parties — make-your-own-pizza night, martini nights, parties with boating friends.
“This isn’t a bad place to chop vegetables,” Ray says.
A sign in the kitchen says, “An old fisherman lives here with the catch of his life.”
Asked how they met, Joan whispers, “Let’s make up a story!”
They were introduced at a block party in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn where they both grew up — “now probably the hippest neighborhood on the planet,” Ray says. She was 14 and he was 15. Although they lived only a block apart, they attended different schools and had never met. They “went for a walk,” as Ray recalls, and 10 years later they got married.
Now 53 and 54, they became empty nesters this past fall. Their son, Michael, is a freshman at Sacred Heart University, and their daughter, Caitlin, has graduated and now lives in Brooklyn and works in New York.
When the home theater was under construction, Ray says, one of the workers on the project remarked, “Why do this? Your kids will be here all the time.”
“I said, this guy doesn’t get it. That’s exactly what I want.”
And, even now, he adds, “The kids are here all the time, with their friends.”
The Galeottis, who started an online jewelry business in 2004, sold it to a private equity firm in 2013, and Ray says he now does “angel investing” — early-stage investing and some consulting. The family lived in a 2,400-square-foot traditional Colonial in Old Lyme for 23 years but — as Joan says, it got smaller as their kids got bigger — and they wanted something on the water. They figured they’d wind up in Old Saybrook.