This Posh Wilmington Condo Tells Stories of the Homeowner's Long, Fruitful Life
From the grand piano-turned-bar to life-size marble statues, Roi Barnard's Park Place residence is filled with memories.
Roi Barnard is surrounded by things he loves in his Wilmington condominium.//photo by joe del tufo
Roi Barnard, bon vivant, is in residence at his Park Place condominium, surrounded by things he loves.
He obviously has a roomy, well-appointed heart. Witness the Waterford biscuit jar sparkling on a marble-topped inlaid chest, surrounded by enameled urns, a jardiniere of silk flowers and a massive crystal compote dish. A pair of pearl-handled dueling pistols are perched atop a 7-foot-tall gilded pier mirror. Leather-bound volumes are stacked on a cherry console table behind a settee upholstered in gold and burgundy stripes.
“Someone once asked me why so much furniture?” he muses. “I said it’s because I’ve had five lives.”
In his 81 years, Barnard has worked for the FBI, modeled professionally, operated several beauty salons and dabbled in real estate. His most recent endeavor is as an author, writing “Mister, Are You a Lady?” a memoir of growing up gay in rural North Carolina in the 1940s.
In a corridor, prints and paintings are hung from floor to
His affinity for objects of beauty is rooted in boyhood, finding delight in the jewel-like shimmer of broken bottles on a country byway.
“I’ve been a collector since I was a little boy walking barefoot on a dirt road and picking up colored glass,” he says. “I cut my feet, but I didn’t care. I have always had my eye on pretty things.”
Barnard and his late partner Joe Thompson bought the Wilmington condo for its abundant natural light.
“I walked in, saw the window and said, ‘We’ll take it,’” he recalls. “I knew it was the perfect spot for Jimmy.”
He is referring to his pet name for a life-size marble statue of William Tell’s son that depicts the boy after his father famously shot an apple off his head with a crossbow. It’s the work of the 19th-century sculptor Pasquale Romanelli, who first exhibited it in 1840.
“It makes me happy every time I see it,” Barnard says.
The condo’s open floor plan makes it an ideal setting for the grand piano he acquired in the 1970s, when he was taking music lessons between styling hair and modeling assignments in Washington, D.C. He took out a classified ad that read “Struggling artist desires piano to use for practice.”
“I got a call from a woman with a wonderful Russian accent, who offered me her piano if I would pay the $250 storage,” he remembers. He came home to find the piano in pieces on the floor, “and it was painted aqua.”
Barnard called a carpenter to put together the instrument. It wasn’t playable, so he mirrored the space where the keyboard would have been, stocking it with liquor and barware. It’s been repainted over the years, first white with black trim, next black with white trim. Decked out in red, white and blue, the piano served as a backdrop for a Playboy magazine feature on women in government.
His longtime partner Thompson recruited a restoration specialist from Winterthur to take on the piano, made in 1864, as a private project. Eight layers of paint were removed to reveal a rosewood top and ornately carved mahogany legs.
“People love to sit at it at parties,” Barnard says. “Conversation flows better around a piano bar.”
The grand piano-turned-bar is a popular conversation piece during parties.//photo by Joe del Tufo
He is an enthusiastic and effervescent host, setting up a buffet on a long reproduction Chippendale-style table in the dining area. Overhead is a massive brass vintage chandelier that he discovered years ago in an antiques store in Washington, D.C.
“You can see the little levers that controlled the gas before it was converted to electricity,” he says. “We found the flickering bulbs that move like the flames of gaslight at Winterthur. Expensive, but so worth it, and they last forever.”
A fluted column in the dining area once graced the window of the Woodward & Lothrop department store, part of a vignette when Edward VIII visited the American capital shortly before his abdication in 1936.
“There were two pillars in the window with a chair and a portrait of him,” Barnard says. “Many years later, when they were cleaning out the storeroom, the window dresser took one and I got the other.”
The floors in the foyer and entertaining area are paved in ceramic tile with the look of natural limestone. Various areas are defined with densely patterned Oriental carpets.
In a seating area arranged for conversation, paintings with gold-leaf frames and Asian figurines are artfully arranged on the wall above a blue damask sofa. The lady’s desk, crafted from flame mahogany with a tooled leather top, was once owned by the proprietor of Briggs Ice Cream Co.
In a home blooming with memories of a long and fruitful life, no lily is left ungilded.
“Everything in this condo has a story,” Barnard says.
Barnard’s affinity for objects of beauty is rooted in boyhood when collected colored glass. “I have always had my eye on pretty things,” he says.//photo by Joe del Tufo
When he first started making money in the beauty business, he gave his parents the gift of indoor plumbing, “which my mother said made her feel like Queen Elizabeth.”
In his own master bath, he displays a shaving brush with a Waterford crystal handle. A marble bust and figurines are arranged around the tub.
Barnard finds joy in both opulence and order. To that end, his extensive wardrobe is tucked away behind doors in a dressing area with specialized storage from floor to ceiling. There are shelves for hats and shoes, rods for blazers, trousers and shirts, dand rawers for socks, ties and cufflinks.
“It’s impossible to be messy,” he says. “Everything just goes in its place.”
That same principle applies to his collections. An array of black amethyst glass urns, plates and vases are displayed in a lighted curio cabinet. A pair of ceramic whippets stand sentry below. In a corridor, prints and paintings are hung in a gallery from floor to ceiling, “like in the Barnes museum.”
Barnard’s kitchen is the only room he has not fully embraced. He doesn’t cook. And he doesn’t want his guests to have to look at a utilitarian space, so he set up a large mirror flanked with gold draperies to block the view from the dining room.
He doesn’t need storage for food and small appliances, so the kitchen holds his collection of vintage movies.
“It’s the only drama I need in the kitchen,” he says.
TIPS FOR ENTERTAINING AT HOME
Install dimmer switches on all lighting. “If lights are bright, ladies cringe,” says Roi Barnard, an accomplished host. “Lighting also controls the sound level of your party and when people leave. When you want your party to be over, raise the level of your lights gradually. When it gets bright enough, your guests will start to clear out.”
Instead of hanging coats in a hall closet, direct guests to a bedroom where they can toss coats on the bed. You can avoid clearing out the closet, plus give guests a glimpse of rooms they might not otherwise see. “Everyone enjoys getting a peek at the rest of the house,” he says. “It makes them feel welcome.”
Hire a barkeep, rather than a bartender. The barkeep is tasked with keeping the bar stocked with libations, water, ice and mixers. Guests can prepare their own drinks “just the way they like them.”
Bring out the good china and crystal. Barnard is fond of pouring bubbly in Baccarat and Waterford flutes. He serves deli sandwiches on vintage platters rimmed in an ornate gold pattern and manufactured by Noritake before World War II. “Everyone assumes I made the sandwiches because they are on a beautiful plate,” he says. “But I buy them at Purebread.”
Take a mini vacation in your guest room. “Stay in your guest room for at least two days to get a feeling for how comfortable it is,” Barnard advises. “If there’s something you need that isn’t in the room, odds are your guests will need it too.”