The Obici House, reinvented

Published 6:05 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Workers have spent more than a year completing a major renovation and restoration project on the Obici House mansion at Sleepy Hole Golf Course. More than 11 coats of paint had to be removed from the front porch columns.

It once was the elaborate home of Planters Peanuts founder Amedeo Obici and his beloved wife, Louise.

After their deaths, it became a place to hold weddings and other special events. Many Suffolk residents of a certain age remember attending parties at the storied mansion by the Nansemond River.

Then the home fell into disrepair. Located beside the challenging 18th green at Sleepy Hole Golf Course, Obici House became a target for stray balls. Time and weather despoiled the exterior and eventually broke through to the interior. Paint peeled and wood rotted, both inside the home and out.

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James R. “Ronnie” Rountree now leases the home, as well as the golf course. He is renovating it to restore it to its former glory as a special events venue, as well as a pro shop and golfers’ lounge.

A look inside the house now affords the opportunity to see a rare work in progress. Slowly but surely, contractors are making headway restoring or replacing the most badly damaged parts of the house.

For the moment, it still looks like it has seen better days. Dirt covers the floor — that is, where there is a floor. Pieces of original molding lie around in piles, with numbers written on the back so they can be replaced exactly where they were removed from. Stained glass windows and chandeliers have been removed for restoration and safekeeping, leaving holes in the wall and bare spots on the ceiling.

But it’s still easy to imagine the home in its former life — fine furniture in the parlor where Mr. and Mrs. Obici received formal guests; local children playing in the large family room; the diminutive Mr. Obici washing his hands at a petite sink; Mrs. Obici sipping tea in her breakfast nook while looking out over the Nansemond River.

That’s why Rountree is trying to maintain as much of the home’s original character as possible, even if that means having wood and metal pieces custom-made to match the original Italianate detailing.

Contractors took about three months working on just the front porch area, which is nearly complete, Rountree said. They had to remove 11 coats of paint from the front porch columns and caps before repainting and reinstalling them.

Distinctive molding on the front porch and in the dining room were matched as precisely as possible. The difference between old and new is nearly indistinguishable.

That’s the way it is throughout the home as restoration continues. The kitchen and back porch were in such bad shape that they had to be demolished, but they are currently being reconstructed. The kitchen area will be expanded to provide more space to support the building’s use as a modern special events venue.

Rountree hopes to have the home finished by the end of this year.

“I’ll be tickled when I finish it,” Rountree said. “We’ve really taken a love to this project.”