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There is a very unique house in Hartford that is not all that it seems - unless you take a closer look. NBC Connecticut's ongoing series 'Hidden In Plain Sight' reveals the story behind the Austin House on Scarborough Street.
A sprawling lawn leads up to what appears to be large white and gray home. It was built in the 1930s for A. Everett "Chick" Austin, Jr., and his wife, Helen. Mr. Austin served as director of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art from 1927 to 1944. According to the museum, Mr. Austin wanted his house to be modeled after a grand 16th century villa that he photographed near Venice, Italy.
Austin recreated the villa in Hartford's West End on a very different scale.
"Chick has a great quote. He said 'My house is like me, it's all facade'," said Brandy Culp, who is the Richard Koopman Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
The dimensions of the home are quite remarkable. Though the front of the Austin House measures 86 feet, the home is a mere 18 feet deep. While it may appear to passerby that this is a mansion, an up-close view shows that the home is much smaller.
"The realistic picture is this really small dwelling house that is only one room wide and approximately four rooms long," said Culp. "He's employed a lot optical illusions to make spaces look much larger than they are."
Walking in the front door, visitors begin to get a sense of the true size of the structure.
"It's jewel-like on the interior and it's a surprise when you walk in the door," Culp said of the baroque-style, rooms with silk-covered walls and gilded and painted furniture. Upstairs are the bedrooms and a dressing room with an unexpected modern feel.
"It's his stage for life," Culp said of Austin. "It's the stage in which he played out his life with Helen and his two children."
Mr. Austin died in 1957. Helen Austin died in 1986. The Austin family donated the property and most of its furnishing to the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1985.
The Wadsworth Atheneum offers tours through the home.
"Once they're inside, there's this gasp and a 'wow' because it is so special and unique," said Culp.