On the kitchen walls of a home in Darien is white horizontal paneling called shiplap, which is “very popular” right now, according to Darien resident Heather Raker, chairman of the fifth annual Darien House Tour: Homes with Heart. 
The self-guided tour is a fundraiser run by the First Congregational Church of Darien. Over the past five years, the tour has raised over $300,000. 

“The money that they raise goes toward helping people get into their own homes,” Raker said. “It goes to the disadvantaged — those who need food, clothing, shelter, and job training.”

This year, the tour — which was taken on June 6 by more than 500 people — raised over $60,000 to benefit Liberation Programs, whose mission is to empower people and their families to be free of addiction. The tour also benefited over 20 local nonprofits. For a complete list, visit

Selecting the homes
The tour featured six homes, all located throughout Darien
“We hear about houses through friends and members of the [Homes with Heart] committee, and we reach out to the homeowners,” Raker said. “We go to each house and interview them.” 
One hundred volunteers helped with the tour. 
The houses are selected on design and a feeling of “hominess,” according to Raker.
“We look for homes with warmth and charm and personality,” she said.
They’re in a large variety of architectural styles, ranging from a 1930s French Normandy to new construction to a Tudor.
The tour cost $75 per person and $25 for lunch at The Country Club of Darien. It also featured The Mather Homestead.
Raker gave the Darien Times a tour of several of the featured homes, describing them in detail. To protect confidentiality, each home was given a name, rather than an address, to be used for its description.
Some featured homes
“Room to Play” is an 8,000-square-foot house set on a two-acre pond. 
“The design details makes this house unique,” Raker said. “The woodworking, the copper ceilings, the paneling everywhere, the leather walls — every which way you look is a detail that took planning and execution, which is what makes this house really special.”
The shiplap is “very fresh and clean, like you would see on a ship,” Raker said. “It’s traditional because paneling has been used forever, but it’s a fresh twist on the wainscoting — a fresh twist from the vertical to the horizontal.”
In the dining room, there are two wine cages that can store more than 500 bottles of wine.

The wine cages add “an architectural element, a fun element. a conversation, and a storage, element,” Raker said.
Upstairs, the teenage room is in a bold aqua color with accents of green and purple. There’s fringe on the pillows, a clear glass table filled with gumballs, a shag rug, and shimmering walls in an animal print.
As indicated by its name, the home has “room to play for everyone,” Raker said. There is a billiards room with copper leather-covered walls, as well as a turf “field” on the third floor where there is a vaulted ceiling.
“They’ve made use of the attic space by creating a field for kids,” Raker said. Games that can be played in the area include soccer, hockey and dodge ball.
In addition, the home has a walk-in closet the size of a small bedroom, which was designed by a personal styling team. The shoe rack can hold up to 35 pairs of shoes.
Another house on the tour, called “Not your Mother’s Traditional,” is a four-floor Greek Revivalist home that was “decked head to toe by by a renowned New York City decorator — nothing was left untouched,” Raker said. “No detail is overlooked.”
She said that house shows that “everything comes back around with a twist.”

“All of the popular grays are not found in this house. It’s all about wallpaper, pattern, and color,” Raker said, adding that a lot of the current houses “are all about gray, so this one is a departure and a real harkening back to the past.”
In addition, the long L-shaped corner-tufted, French blue sofa “brings a current twist to an otherwise traditional room,” she said.
The home also contains a brass cloth rug, trellis wallpaper in an aqua blue, Roman shades with aqua trim, and a metal breakfast table.
“This house is a little more traditional than some,” Raker said. “Whereas a lot of contemporary homes just blast open the whole [space], they’ve chosen to have a separate breakfast room, a separate family room, and a separate kitchen area.”
The home also contains brass antique furniture, which Raker said is back in style. 
“Everybody had previously walked away from brass to nickel,” she said. 
“I think that everything comes around again. Unlacquered brass is so suited to this very traditional home,” Raker said.
Another home on the tour, “Parlez-vous français?” is a white-washed brick castle 1931 “French Normandy”-style home with a view of Scott Cove and Contentment Island. 
“After World War I, a lot of soldiers came back to the United States from France and brought back an interest in French-inspired architecture,” Raker said. “Many of the original details have been preserved. 
She added that the home has been made contemporary by a designer.
Big windows give a view of the outside. There are navy blue big board lamps so “you feel like the ocean is coming in,” she said.
The blue zebra print on the chairs “is playful, very current. Animal prints are in,” Raker added. 
The homeowners brought an abstract red and blue oil painting from their prior New York City apartment and hung it in the living room of their current. Their designer worked around the painting “to create this room, bringing out the ocean blue, the red choral color that’s also played out in the rug and in the brick outside,” Raker said.
The home also has a 1920s brick climbing wisteria-covered terrace. 
Getting inspiration
The tour is a “win-win-win,” according to Raker.
“It gives so many local people the ability to show off what they do — artists, art advisers, architects, interior designers, contractors, lighting designers, landscapers, landscape architects, and florists,” she said. 
The homeowners “are happy to help contribute to the local nonprofits, who are also the winners,” she said. 
“It’s a good business model,” she added.
Tour-goers also benefit, she said. 
“People take the tour for inspiration. So many of these houses have details beyond what most of us can imagine in our homes,” Raker said. 
Although the homes might not be accessible to everyone, there are plenty of ideas that people can replicate “without breaking the bank,” she said.
She added, “I hope that with their own houses, they try something new, take some risks, do something different.”