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A Taste of Tuscany | By Frances Hasty

When Frank H. Stedman’s home was completed in 1925, it was no doubt considered a Fayetteville showplace.

Situated on a spacious parcel of land on Morganton Road just west of Haymount, it was unique with its peach-colored stucco exterior set off by white Corinthian columns – a rare example of the Italian Renaissance Revival style in a city where the more traditional Colonial Revival style prevailed among families of means.

One can imagine prominent citizens of the day arriving at the porte cochere to enjoy the hospitality of the respected banker and his wife, Marie Teresa, or their three lovely daughters descending the elegant freestanding staircase to greet their beaux.

Fast forward to 2009. The house is still a unique showplace, still the scene of gracious entertaining as the home of Dr. Richard and Susan Shereff. Under their loving care, the house has aged gracefully while moving into the 21st century. These days, visitors won’t find the porte cochere, instead there’s a brick porch with an artfully designed round brick hot tub – one of the updates and changes that reflect the contemporary tastes of the couple. The Shereffs bought the house in 1979. A dermatologist, Dr. Shereff had been in the military and served at Fort Bragg before beginning his private practice in Fayetteville.

They had searched for a house for two years, Susan said, before their Realtor told them about the Stedman house, which was just coming on the market. They peeked through the windows, and, “We fell in love with it.” The Shereffs made an offer without ever stepping inside.

The house was designed by Fayetteville architect Stiles Dixon and built by Reinecke & Dixon. Ernest Reinecke is remembered for building some of the most outstanding homes in the area as well as for his work at the Elizabethan Gardens at the Outer Banks. Dixon was associate architect for the Cumberland County Courthouse built in 1926 and the Prince Charles Hotel built 1924-1926.

The home, the only example of the Italian Renaissance Revival style known to exist in Fayetteville, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In papers prepared for its nomination to the register, it is stated that the style was introduced in the United States in 1883 and that the house is a notable work of Dixon, representing his knowledge of national trends and styles.

The Shereffs bought the house from the second owner of the house, J. Warren Pate, who, like Stedman, was involved in banking in Fayetteville. The land was subdivided by the Pates to allow homes to be built on the property by their children.

Today the house stands on just over an acre, set amid Southern magnolias, tall pines and oaks interspersed in springtime by flowering dogwoods.

When the Shereffs bought the house, it was white with green shutters. Years later, sandblasting to correct problems with the stucco revealed the original peach color. And for them it was something of a shock. As they returned home late one afternoon, they thought, “They’ve painted our house.” The sun was setting, reflecting on the newly unveiled hue. It was striking, they recalled, evoking thoughts of “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

An antique English fountain in the same color is a focal point of the front lawn. An arcade supported by two Corinthian columns makes a dramatic front entrance. The door and side windows have clear leaded glass repeating the lines of the upstairs balcony and were added by the Shereffs in the 1990s. The two light fixtures are original.

The interior of the house is described as Colonial Revival with a center hallway flanked by the living and dining rooms. Throughout are fine details – plaster crown molding, wide baseboards above oak floors, archways, a Federal mantel with rich detailing in the living room, French doors with original hardware. But the centerpiece is the oval hallway and the curving “flying” staircase that has no visible means of support. A custom rug centered with a large oak leaf picks up the design in the Van Luit wallpaper hanging above walls painted in a shade of terra-cotta.

Susan describes her decorating style as eclectic, blending contemporary pieces with antiques. Objects she and her husband have collected on their extensive travels as well as their art collection add interest to the décor.

Self-described “foodies,” the Shereffs enjoy cooking with emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. They have transformed the 1920s kitchen into their dream kitchen equipped with a six-burner, two-oven stove, stainless steel appliances, white cabinets and counters covered with granite. Cupboards with glass doors are patterned after the original. The floors in the kitchen are heart pine. Dr. Shereff noted that in the time the house was built pine was considered inferior and was used in the kitchen and bedrooms upstairs while oak was used in the public areas. A couple of reminders of times past remain in the kitchen: A small opening for debris to be dropped into the basement and buttons to summon the servants.

The kitchen opens into a breakfast room added by the Shereffs. Indoor plants thrive in the room filled with light coming in through French doors and windows and a skylight.

“In here we feel like we’re eating outdoors,” Susan said.

The downstairs also includes a sun room off the dining room and a screened porch accessed from the living room.

The second floor is designed around the large landing highlighted by an arched window over the stairs. There are five bedrooms, one of which the Shereffs converted into an office. It is lined with walnut-paneled walls and bookcases and includes a new fireplace. Three bathrooms are upstairs. The master bath was completely remodeled, but others have original features including mosaic tile floors, plaster walls and fixtures.

At the rear entrance of the house, the couple added a pergola, now covered with muscadine and scuppernong vines, that leads to the parking area and garage apartment. The tiles on the garage came from a Raeford Road home that was razed. The Shereffs allow the apartment to be used as guest accommodations by the Cape Fear Regional Theater.

When work was being done on the rear yard, an old well was discovered below ground. Round in shape, it is some three feet in diameter and lined with brick. It is thought that the well was built for use by an earlier house east of the orignal Stedman house. Standing guard over the well are the Shereffs’ beehives.

With its spacious rooms and grounds, the house is ideal for entertaining. The Shereffs are active in the community as supporters of the arts and other causes and have opened their home through the years for charitable events, most recently a dinner to benefit the CARE Clinic.

They acknowledge that living in a historic property is a lot of responsibility.

“There’s always something to be done,” said Susan, a member of the Historic Resources Commission.

To them, it’s worth it.