A Colonial Revival beauty with a unique two-column facade has been added to the roster of historic and significant homes on view at the May 21 South Orange house tour, increasing the number to seven.

According to committee chair Nina Barszcz of the South Orange Historical and Preservation Society (SOHPS) biennial house tour (May 21, 11 a.m to 4 p.m.), the latest addition is “in a location near a very popular Village spot, a home in such plain view that many have long been curious about what it might look like from a closer viewpoint.”

It is also her opinion that the 2011 tour will be “the largest, most interesting, and most successful ever, due to the diversity of houses, plus the enhancement offered by food, music, and boutique shopping.”

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After a half-year of planning and scouting, the SOHPS board and volunteers have put together “The Gems of South Orange” tour, which for the first time will showcase houses spanning four centuries. Attendees will have the opportunity to inspect construction as well as fine interior detail that they could otherwise only imagine in these homes built from the 1700s to the 2000s.

Thanks to the generosity of the homeowners, guests will have the privilege of peeking inside the architecturally-distinctive walls of these gems. Besides the seven architecturally or historically significant homes, a church rich in preserved detail will be open for the day.

Mum’s the policy, except for ‘bookends’

Following tradition, clues to the addresses of only two of the homes are made public prior to the tour. “The SOHPS tour committee has pledged to keep mum, so don’t ask,” cautions Barszcz. She continues, “Photos of the unique 1700s Squire/Redmond House, which has become known as the ‘queen of the show,’ have been published, and we’ve described its location as ‘in the valley,’ but no address, please, not until May 21.”

The “queen,” dating from pre-revolutionary days, together with a 7000-square-foot home built only a few years ago on the cliffs of the 19th-century Kernan’s Quarry, form the “bookend” homes of the tour. This 2000s house was built at the top of First Mountain, over 500 feet above sea level, and has views from Connecticut to the beginnings of the Jersey shore. If you tire of gazing at Manhattan bridges and skyscrapers, just look around at the “fabulousness”of the interior décor.

Other houses to be shown off on the “Gems” tour include a turreted Victorian with a carriage house, an unusual authentic Art Moderne jewel, a fine example of the Arts and Crafts movement, and a mountaintop Grand Tudor with unique detailing. As Barszcz comments, “This year, there is a home for every taste, but above all, we are grateful to the owners for maintaining these houses in such great condition and helping to make South Orange Village the beautiful place that it is.”

At one home, naturalistic sculptures by Gregory George have been installed for the tour.


Listen, shop, eat

As with past tours, musicians playing in a diversity of genres will entertain at the homes. World-class jazz guitarist Bob DeVos is but one of several.

As an added innovation, a shopping boutique will be open in the ticketing area, where several businesses will sell goods or display services related to home restoration, preservation and décor. The Historical Society will offer memorabilia and framed historic maps of the area.

Mouth-watering fine pastries from James Grier of Gourmet Exchange will tempt visitors at all tour homes, while Chef Bill Zucosky of the Strip House on Route 10 in Livingston will offer tastes of one of the steakhouse’s specialties. At another house, fresh from Papillon 25 on Valley Street in South Orange, Yanick Ranieri will offer small plates.

At a different location, owner Heidi Birson of Lalezar Turkish Restaurant in Montclair will serve snack-size samples from her menu. Diana herself, from Diana Hart Fine Catering, will pour tea and serve tea sandwiches at the Victorian home.

Teamwork and sponsors

According to Barszcz, “Hundreds of volunteer-hours have gone into this effort, and more than 50 docents will organize tours within the houses. But this tour could not take place without our advertisers and major sponsors, L’Entrepot -- Linda Kennedy’s antiques warehouse-emporium in Maplewood, and builder/remodeler Jason Levesque’s Levesque Homes, also in Maplewood.”

Ticket pickup at church

The Tour begins at the historic South Orange-Vailsburg Methodist Church, 150 South Orange Avenue 07079, at the southeast corner of Prospect Street. Tickets, on sale now, but which must be picked up in the church, are $20 in advance, and $25 the day of the tour.

Purchase tickets in advance through PayPal, or go to www.sohps.org  to reserve. Only cash and checks can be accepted on the 21st.