Newport’s Sunnyside mansion restored by owners
won Historic Preservation award
By Fred Albert
Peter and Sue Metzger have visited Newport for 40 years, either day-tripping from their former home in East Greenwich or staying with Sue’s parents. As time progressed, however, their stays became longer and longer, until one day Sue turned to her husband and said, “We should really have a house in Newport.”
Peter had no objection, so the pair decided to go house hunting. When they finished, they didn’t just buy a home — they acquired a piece of Newport history.
Designed by the legendary architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, The Edgar house — also known as Sunnyside — was a prime example of the City by the Sea’s celebrated summer “cottages.” Clad in buff-colored brick and completed in 1886, the 14,000-square-foot Colonial Revival–style home on Old Beach Road was built by William Edgar, the son of a successful importer and a founder of the New York Yacht Club.
Although Sunnyside was the first house the Metzgers looked at, it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight. “When we pulled into the driveway, I didn’t want to go in the house because the front steps were in such disrepair,” says Peter, an aviation executive. “I was nervous about what else we would find. It needed a lot of work.”
Peter ended up spending 18 months restoring the home, completing the work in 2020. He fixed not only those pesky front steps, but much of the exterior masonry, as well as the mechanical systems inside — all the while acting as his own general contractor.
Was he intimidated tackling a masterwork by the same team who designed Rosecliff and the original Penn Station? “Not so much,” he answers flatly. The homeowner says he built and remodeled a variety of houses prior to this and arrived at the project with a sound knowledge of local tradespeople.
Peter’s first task was to rejoin the two halves of the mansion, which after stints as a boarding house and apartment building had been divided into a two-family home. “When we bought the house, you could not walk from one side to the other,” he says. Although he didn’t have a set of original plans, he discovered a closet that had once served as a passageway between the two wings and restored it to its original function. “It had been closed up for at least 40 or 50 years,” Peter notes.
The home’s inlaid floors were refinished, decaying columns were restored, and woodwork was returned to its original glow. Decorative plasterwork was unburdened from decades of paint and the brass balusters lining the staircase reclaimed their golden sheen. Few of these tasks, however, proved as daunting as the restoration of the kitchen mural.
A previous owner had moved the kitchen from the servants’ quarters to the drawing room, where it basked under a ceiling mural depicting prancing putti. “The mural was painted on four pieces of canvas, and had been patched over the years,” Peter says. “The mural’s 135 years old, so it had paint flecks coming off of it and needed work.
“There are certain things that make a homeowner nervous, and that was one of them. I trusted the artisan, but I was happy when he was done.”
Among the surprises the Metzgers encountered: leaks that submerged portions of the basement under 6 inches of water. “We had like a swimming pool down there at times,” Peter groans. Some of that water came from the front porch, whose gravel paving leaked like a sieve when it rained. “When we put the new front steps in, we put granite across the whole front porch, and now we have a fabulous entertaining area in the front of our house,” Peter says. “That was a big improvement that didn’t take anything away from the house; it only added.”
The owners kept such liberties to a minimum, however, limiting most of their changes to updates (like central air and modern bathrooms) that would keep the home viable for future owners and help guarantee Sunnyside’s survival.
The Newport Restoration Foundation clearly approved, bestowing a Doris Duke Historic Preservation Award on the Metzgers for their work. Upon hearing of the honor, the great-great-granddaughter of William Edgar reached out to the Metzgers. Her mother spent many summers at Sunnyside and paid a visit, regaling its new owners with memories of growing up there 80 years ago.
The Metzgers hope to kindle similar memories in their own family, which includes three children and seven grandchildren. Thanks to their enterprising grandparents, they, too, may one day reminisce about carefree summers spent at Sunnyside.