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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Drawn to Perfection, Greenfield Colonial Showcases Eclectic Art and Stylish Features

Drawn to Perfection, Greenfield Colonial Showcases Eclectic Art and Stylish Features
By Mike Lauterborn
(for July/Aug issue Fairfield magazine)

Fairfield, CT - A well-appointed 3,500-square-foot three-bedroom modern Colonial on a landscaped one-acre lot. Par for the course you’d say for a residence in lower Greenfield Hill. But throughout this high-profile home is a broad collection of treasured art, stylish accents and curious furnishings, reflecting the character and unique background of its owners.

Built in 1998 by Bill Kovac of Trumbull, CT-based Sherwood Homes, the structure, perched along Sherwood Farm Road, has immediate curb appeal. Homeowner and professional illustrator Leslie Cober-Gentry explained that the home design was offered as a template, which she and her husband Eric, a doctor of pulmonary and critical care medicine, modified to create more flow and spaciousness.

Curling around from a three-car garage, a bluestone path leads to a columned portico at the center of the meringue yellow, two-story haven. Inside, an inviting foyer is grounded by white crystal marble tiles and accented with curved Murano glass sconces. A manly office with a formal Baker desk, leather recliner, mini bar and built-in shelving occupies one branch off the hallway. A small half bath with a glass basin sink serves as another branch and last checkpoint before entering a sunny kitchen.

Here, the white marble flooring extends, and plays off contemporary maple cabinetry, granite-topped counters, a center island outfitted with stainless steel bar stools with Lucite seats and a full complement of stainless steel Thermador and Sub-Zero major appliances. The real standout features here, though, are a hand-blown Venetian glass chandelier hovering above a Saarinen breakfast table with lime green Jacobsen chairs, and hand-cut white glass backsplashes.

“Designer Jo Ann Ceasrine assisted me with choosing the tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms,” said Cober-Gentry. “She has a great sense of textures.”

Sweeping right into the family room with its 18-foot high vaulted ceiling, one is treated to a host of visuals – and history – to delight the senses. On the contemporary end, large picture windows, a granite-framed fireplace, chocolate and canteloupe colored furniture and a unique Ligne Roset rug with a texture like a Rastafarian’s dreadlocks present a clean face. On the historical front, a mix of antiques, including a hand-carved carousel rooster and a candy-striped barber pole circa 1900, provide intrigue.

But it’s framed sketches of sports figures Pete Rose, Don King and Sugar Ray Leonard and a funny looking ceramic character looking down from built-in shelving that drives Cober-Gentry to mention some remarkable family factoids.

“My dad, Alan E. Cober, was a well-known illustrator who was just inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame along with Norman Rockwell and Howard Pine,” she said. “His work really changed illustration from a classic American style to a conceptual journalistic view. His sketches are featured throughout our home. While he achieved amazing success as an illustrator, in the 1980s he wanted to move into a different medium and began creating ceramic figures. These were essentially his illustrations materializing with a third dimension. He was really becoming established in this category before his untimely death at 62 in 1998.”

Besides the notable sports stars he sketched, Cober traveled with Time magazine on presidential campaigns, was an artist for NASA and accompanied Pope John Paul II on a tour of the U.S. He and his wife Ellen were also among the leading folk and American art collectors in the country.

Paintings from their collection, created by American masters of the 1800s, grace the Gentry’s dining room on the opposite side of the house. Decorated with Italian contemporary furniture, the space flows into the living room, floored with hardwood oak and dotted with Baker side tables.

A floor below, a furnished basement boasts a media room with a pool table, air hockey, sitting area with flatscreen TV and full bath. At the rear of the home, a sunroom/gym with terracotta tiled floors and French doors spills out onto a raised deck with hot tub that overlooks a gunite pool and backdrop of white pines, spruce, lilacs and other assorted trees. The top floor offers a vaulted master bedroom with a walk-in closet, Italian cherry furniture and a Togo chaise, as well as respective bedrooms, connected by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom, occupied by the couple’s two children.

While these rooms and features are well enjoyed, the space that fuels Cober-Gentry most is her studio. There, she has worked on hundreds of assignments for magazines and corporations. “This is where I do all my creating and illustration work, which was inspired by my dad,” she said. “My studio also houses my various collections – iconic advertising dolls, vintage cake toppers and toy figurines.”

Cober-Gentry concludes that her “anything goes” humorous style is echoed in the architectural highlights and artwork in her home. “Heirlooms find a comfortable balance with more contemporary works and sleek modern furniture.”

Fairfield’s Pop Rocking Kicking Daisies Poised to Break Big

Fairfield’s Pop Rocking Kicking Daisies Poised to Break Big
By Mike Lauterborn
(for July/Aug issue of Fairfield Magazine)
Revised 5/12/11

Experienced management, natural talent and a unique look are the key factors behind the increasingly successful Fairfield-based pop rock teen band Kicking Daisies. Manager Brian Murphy recently provided some background on how the group came together, their achievements and what lies ahead.

“The band formally started in January 2009,” he said, “and had their first public appearance at the Fairfield Theatre Company.” Band members include Duran Visek, 15, lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Carly Kalafus, 15, lead vocals and bass guitar; Ben Spremulli, 14, lead guitar and keyboards; and Caitlin Kalafus, 18, drummer and vocals.

Spremulli, a throwback to the guitar heroes of rock’s golden age, was introduced to Grammy Award-winning producer Mike Mangini, who has worked with everyone from Joss Stone to the Jonas Brothers. The two hit it off immediately, and began their search for a singer who could keep up with Ben’s frenetic pace and skills. Mangini helped find Visek, whose charisma, vocal chops, guitar playing and natural frontman swagger were the perfect complement to Ben’s explosive playing. The boys then spotted Caitlin Kalafus on YouTube. She had already been hailed as one of America’s fastest (and youngest) female drummers, and lived in nearby Milford. Caitlin tapped sister Carly to join in on bass.

Murphy and Mangini partnered to lead the band. Murphy, with 10 years at Time Warner Custom Music and Warner Avalon, as well as heading Fearless Entertainment, handles business and marketing. Mangini owns GO Entertainment LLC and is the band’s creative director and music producer. Rich Herzfeld, chef/owner of Chef’s Table, is the band’s tour manager. All three are Fairfield residents.

With regard to why the trio decided to work with the group, Murphy said, “There was something significantly unique and eminently pleasing about them… two guys, two girls, very good looking, playing pop music driven by guitar, drums and three-part harmony. We saw an opportunity to move outside the typical music company model on how you build a band, using the internet, broadcast and live performances to go direct to retail and consumers to drive acceptance.”

Murphy and Mangini have been busy developing the individual band members’ organic music personalities. Murphy has also been busy making connections. “In Spring 2010, Paradigm Talent Agency signed them,” he said. “That May, they appeared in the Bamboozle Music Festival. Then, in July, they went out west to meet with the executive director of talent and programming for Radio Disney, who contracted them to participate in its “Next Big Thing” annual talent contest. KD ended up winning it in September 2010.”

One of the two songs the group performed was “Keeping Secrets.” An accompanying music video was created, which, in part, was shot in Fairfield. Disney then flew the group to Florida, where they played for 20,000 people. Disney filmed the show and aired it on its TV channel.

At the same time, “Keeping Secrets” made it onto Radio Disney’s Top 30 countdown this past January and is now at number 18. Subsequently, the band has appeared on FOX, The Hub, HDNet and Music Choice and its video aired on The band will also appear on Disney Channel’s “So Random” show, airing in June/July.

Murphy said the band is “poised to break big on the national music scene” and, all through July, KD will be appearing at fairs and festivals across the country. “But what’s also interesting,” he said, “are the band’s roots in Fairfield, which is influencing a big number of local bands to step up, and creating a Fairfield County-based music explosion.”

For updated tour dates and more information, visit

Wings Over Water Lapping Up Praise

Wings Over Water Lapping Up Praise
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Magazine July/Aug 2011 issue)

Fairfield, CT – A new swim facility in an unlikely space is garnering great praise from the community, which is a credit to the vision of the property manager and enthusiasm of the business owners.

Wings Over Water School of Swimming opened its doors January 2011 at 2221 Black Rock Turnpike, in the lower level of Old Navy, and has been flying high ever since. The facility, which includes a 60’ x 24’ indoor pool, highly trained aquatic educators, on-deck certified lifeguards and fully equipped changing rooms, offers learn-to-swim classes, stroke development, tri-athlete training and adaptive aquatics. It also accommodates a family swim, lap swim and birthday parties. Several hundred people have enrolled in its programming.

The business had been operating a facility in Brewster, NY since 2001, and while it had been doing very well, Kevin Flannery, general manager at the Fairfield location, said they wanted to expand the scope and began looking for a second center two years ago.

Enter Ken Kleban of Kleban Properties, a commercial property development and management firm, whose family built the Old Navy shopping center over 30 years ago and has managed it since.

“When Old Navy decided to vacate the lower level in Spring 2010 to consolidate its selling space from two levels to just the top floor, we removed the escalators and saw that it left two large pits in the floor, which immediately got me thinking of the idea of a pool-like facility,” he said. “I mentioned this to local broker Tommy Febbraio of Coldwell Banker, who was already working with Wings Over Water.”

Flannery said Kleban went to look at the Brewster locale “to see if we had a viable operation or were just fly-by-nights”, then the swim facility owners viewed the proposed Fairfield site.

“It was a huge open space,” said Flannery. “You could land five Cessnas in there. It was a clean palette that we felt we could work with.”

The parties negotiated aspects of a 10-year lease and presented a proposal to the Planning & Zoning Commission, which was greenlighted.

As Kleban developed the architectural and engineering plans, he wrangled with the “daunting” challenges of putting the pool in a retail space. Dehumidification, excavation, digging below the water line and providing a plan that was safe and welcoming for kids and families were all considerations.

“It never goes as planned,” said Kleban, reflecting on the project, “but we had a good team working on it and it progressed nicely, bringing a very needed swim facility to the area.”

Kleban said there’s a great open and airy ambiance to the site that aligns with the center’s family friendly focus, and that “feedback has been phenomenal.”

Summing up, Kleban added, “It’s not always about finding the deal that yields the most income. This deal was marginal at best in terms of profitability, in and of itself. However, we recognized the service it provides to the town and our center, which we will all benefit from for many years to come.”

Fairfield: A Summer Playground

Fairfield: A Summer Playground
(Fairfield Mag - We’ve Got Answers column – July Aug 2011)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Q: Has Fairfield always been a popular summer destination?

Fairfield has long enjoyed a calling as a summer playground. In the 1830s, former town residents like Frederick Marquand and Jonathan Sturges, who had made their mark in New York, built summer resorts here. Their interest in the area drew other affluent individuals like Reverend Samuel Osgood, who, in 1850, built Waldsteen, an 18-room summer home.

To attract summer vacationers, entrepreneur John Steenbergen established Fairfield House, a hotel at the northeastern corner of Old Post Road and Beach Road. It featured a ballroom, vast dining room, barrooms, billiard tables and a nine-pin bowling alley.

The beach, of course, was a prime attraction, offering horseback riding, lawn tennis, boating, bathing and excursions on the Mill River. During the high season, wealthy families placed portable private shelters along the shorefront. Common folk used a public facility called Idle Hour Baths, which stood on the site of the Jacky Durrell Pavilion.

Select Fairfield families also enjoyed the Fairfield Beach Club, built in the 1890s. For swimming, female members wore black taffeta suits and black taffeta hats with black stockings while children wore button-down navy blue jerseys that stopped at the knee.

Fairfield Beach Blast

Fairfield Beach Blast
(Fairfield Mag - We’ve Got Answers column - July Aug 2011)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Q: What present-day summer activities can be enjoyed at Fairfield Beach?

Fairfield’s beaches are among the most pleasant you’ll find along Connecticut’s southern shoreline. They also offer an abundance of summertime activities.

A key highlight is the annual July 4th fireworks show, conducted from a barge off Jennings Beach and lasting over 30 minutes. It is preceded by live band performances beginning at 5 p.m. at Jennings and 7 p.m. at Penfield Pavilion.

Another popular attraction is the combined Sand Jam Family Fun Dance and Movie Night, held at Jennings on Friday nights, July 1, July 15, July 29 and August 11. The deejay-led dance starts at 6:30 p.m.; a family-oriented movie follows at nightfall.

Yoga enthusiasts can enjoy classes at Penfield II Pavilion on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 7 a.m. in July and August, offered by Yoga for Everybody. A fee applies.

Boaters that own their own kayaks and small sailboats can launch them from points at Jennings and Penfield. Alternatively, one can rent a kayak from Fairfield Kayak Company, which will deliver a craft right to a launch site.

You can also try your luck fishing for striped bass, bluefish and fluke, available through November, at any spot along Fairfield’s shore. A fishing license is required from the CT Fish & Wildlife Dept.

Man About Town: Fairfield Senior Center

Man About Town
Senior Center: Where the second half of life begins
(column for June 15 Fairfield Citizen news)
By Mike Lauterborn

Nestled near the shore, there is an invaluable resource for the town’s senior citizens – the Fairfield Senior Center at 100 Mona Terrace. Serving the community for nearly 30 years, the facility is by no means a last stop for the town’s elder residents. It is, in fact, a gateway to a wide array of opportunities, learning experiences, crucial support and new friendships. Pausing for a moment one recent weekday morning, Director Claire Grace spent a moment to offer some historical background, an overview and a program rundown.

“The building was originally Oldfield Elementary School,” said Grace. “In 1983, during Jacky Durrell’s administration, it was renovated as a senior center. Before that, there was just a small facility for seniors at One Rod Highway, which is no longer there. Martha Plotkin Hyra, then director of human services for the town, really pushed for the new center. There needed to be a place for seniors to go and comprehensive programming.”

At the request of the first director, Eileen Milazzo, Grace came aboard in 1992. “It was supposed to have been a six-month deal, but I’ve been here ever since,” she said. “Initially, we just offered simple diversions, but soon realized seniors need a whole lot more.”

Today, the building encompasses a wide assortment of features. A library with about 500 books and magazines. Meeting rooms for various uses. An exercise room with bikes and a treadmill. A sewing bee. A computer room. Ping pong and pool rooms. A gymnasium for fitness classes. A woodworking shop. A gift shop with handcrafted items. Outdoor bocce court. TV room. A cafeteria. A social services office. It’s a world unto itself.

The building itself has not changed at all over the years and is just now getting a facelift: new paint job, rugs, sound system and remodeled bathrooms. The town is paying much of the expense – the balance comes from donations and an internal board. “Cindi Bigelow, president of Bigelow Tea, has also been a constant source of financial help for us,” said Grace.
Besides the tangible facility features, programs and services include Elderhostel courses for lifelong learners, continuing education, Medicare counseling and home visit outreach.

Another popular extension is the Pacers. “These are seniors that walk three times a week, rain or shine,” said Administrator Janet Merando. “The model airplane group, which builds and flies their own planes, is also fun, and our woodcarvers are very talented.”

A critical element for many is the shuttle bus, which runs five days a week. “The service has just logged 1.4 million miles over the past 23 years,” said Hank Steffens, the transportation dispatcher. “On average, we pick up and deliver about 15,000 seniors a year.”

Of course, patron feedback is the true measure of a center’s success, and they give it a thumbs-up. “I come to play ping pong with a tight group of friends here,” said Joyce Bernfeld. “It’s a great place to socialize and exercise.” Similarly, sewing bee participant Sandy Clabby said, “We have friendship, an opportunity to learn new skills and even take day trips. This keeps us very young at heart.”

“Seniors in Fairfield are very fortunate,” concluded Director Grace. “A lot of towns don’t have half of what we offer.”

Sadly, this would be my last Man About Town excursion, due to budget cutbacks at the Fairfield Citizen. I hope that my enthusiasm for Fairfield has rubbed off on readers of my column and I will continue to champion our town where possible in my other writing extensions. See you around the ‘hood.