2020 Award of Excellence: The Ensign House

Mark & Ieke Scully, Owners; Crosskey Architects; Prescott Construction Management
With partners: Town of Simsbury; Simsbury Main Street Partnership; CT State Historic Preservation Office; Eversource; Webster Bank

The Ensign House is listed as the #1 Character Resource to Protect in Simsbury’s 2017 update to the Plan of Conservation & Development. A highly visible gateway to the Town Center – which had been vacant or severely under-utilized for decades – the property was purchased and restored by Simsbury residents Mark and Ieke Scully, who brought their passion and expertise in historic preservation and energy efficiency to this project.

The architectural scope of work required minimal alterations to the historic mansion. Prior to the building’s vacancy it had been used as a bank that required few interventions. First floor carpeting was removed to reveal the original wood floors that were refinished. The first floor maintains its original floor plan configuration, which is important because these are the hierarchical spaces with highly-regarded craftmanship and ornate architectural detailing.

At the second and third-floors, partitions, suspended ceiling grids, and carpeting were installed; however, the majority of historic plaster walls, doors, window and door casement, baseboard, radiators, built-ins, sills and aprons and fireplace mantels and surrounds remained untouched. Several new walls were constructed to accommodate the new unit layouts. All original historic fabric was either retained in place or reused.

The Scully’s were committed to make the building energy efficient, low-carbon, and sustainable. This goal led to several fundamental decisions, including:

  • Photo Credit: Scully-Lisa Brisson-Valley Press

    Building the highest-performance building envelope possible, avoiding fossil fuels by converting to all electric generated by renewable energy, and generating electricity via a solar array on site;

  • Promoting electric vehicles (EV), and providing bicycle parking to encourage bicycle traffic;
  • Re-grading the accessible parking and installing pervious brick paving, and introducing rain gardens as another way to capture run off; and
  • Re-grading the front lawn and planting low growing fescue grasses that demand less irrigation and mowing, as well as installing native plantings, pollinator gardens, and creating an herb garden.

The long-awaited rehabilitation of the formerly vacant building protects a valuable historic resource by combining residential and commercial use to encourage additional business development in the heart of downtown.

The second- and third-floors feature five apartments, and the basement of the annex houses Rhenium Salon and Spa. The Scully’s ensured that the ground floor is open to the public, by leasing space to one of Connecticut’s signature restaurants, Metro Bis. Pairing world class chef Chris Prosperi with this landmark building to create a one-of-a-kind dining experience has attracted diners from throughout Connecticut. Upon arrival, visitors know they are somewhere special, and this precise experience will draw people from near and far.

Check out this video on Metro Bis and the Ensign House!

The public and private sectors worked closely together to ensure the success of this critical project.

  • Purchase price: $1.6 m. Total renovations: over $3.6m
  • Town of Simsbury tax abatement: $540k plus ½ of all permit fees
  • State and Federal historic tax credits total over $886k
  • Gap financing provided via historic preservation tax credits, purchased by Eversource Energy

Simsbury Main Street Partnership guided and advised the owners every step of the way, through municipal and state processes, encouraging the relocation of Metro Bis (which was considering moving out of Simsbury). The preservation and adaptive reuse of The Ensign House is evidence of how Simsbury Main Street Partnership priorities align with Town priorities. The expertly restored jewel in the crown of Simsbury’s Town Center compliments Simsbury Main Street Partnership’s transformation strategy of creating a Wedding Destination niche in Downtown.