“At a time of life when many couples are downsizing their living space, Ron and Joyce Delia Chiesa took the opposite tack: They moved in 1999 from a small, fourth-floor, penthouse condo in the South End to a spacious, 10-room Victorian house on the Dorchester – South Boston line.
In a working class neighborhood the couple describes as ‘once Irish, now eclectic,’ the house is a short distance from Castle Island, where they love to walk.
‘After 20 years in a condo, Ron was pretty adamant about living in a one-family home,’ says Joyce, who served as general contractor during the seven-month renovation and whose wish it was to live close to water.
Gazing upon his Victorian gem, handsomely painted in beige and putty with dark-green trim and rich in detail, Ron approves of it all, including Joyce’s override of his suggestion to cover the exterior with aluminum siding.
‘I’m glad Joyce won out on that one,’ smiles Delia Chiesa, a fixture on WGBH-FM (89.7) radio for more than 30 years and host of ‘Strictly Sinatra,’ an all-Old Blue Eyes tribute heard Saturday nights on WPLM-FM (99.1).
Built in 1880, the house offers plenty of room for the couple’s collections, most of which had been stored in boxes in the basement of their former condo. They include vintage ‘Nippers’ (the RCA Victor dog) and antique radios and microphones.
The couple’s love of music is evident everywhere. The foyer is dubbed ‘the opera hall of fame,’ for the numerous old framed prints of opera singers and composers hanging on the walls. Even the family cat, a chubby 12-year-old American silver tabby, is named Ramades, after the tenor in ‘Aida.’
The basement was renovated to include a sitting area, a soundproof recording studio, and a vast collection of music, starting with Ron’s first 78 rpm album titled ‘Rusty in Orchestraland,’ a gift from his father after World War II. Shelf after shelf of old records, tapes and CDs fill the space along with favorite photographs and awards.
A lover of good wine with a self-professed discerning palate, Joyce designed the subterranean basement wine cellar, fashioned from a former bathroom. Removal of heating pipes resulted in a perfect 62-degree environment year-round.
‘Ron thinks wine is red or white. He is getting better, though, in learning the differences,’ says Joyce, who is a cookbook collector, a teacher of Italian cooking and baking at The Boston Center for Adult Education, and an associate of Jewel’s Catering in Somerville.
Self-described ‘foodies’ who often hang out with noted chefs, the couple met, not surprisingly, in a restaurant. They married in 1986.
Looking for a creative outlet for her culinary talent, Brooklyn-born Joyce opened The Turtle Cafe in Inman Square, Cambridge.
‘Ron used to go into the Chinese restaurant next door a lot,’ she recalls. ‘One day I said, ‘Come into my restaurant.”
The restaurant is gone, but its neon sign hangs unlit in the dining room, which is accented with an ornately carved walnut mantel. The room’s pale-yellow walls make a striking backdrop for a collection of black-and-white illustrations done by Ron’s father, for a series of ‘noir’ mysteries published in the 1930s or 1940s.
In the adjoining pale-green living room, other works by Aldo Della Chiesa hang, including watercolor seascapes and primitive landscapes. Ron is especially pleased with his late father’s charcoal portraits, which are very , ‘ much in the style of John Singer Sargent. Della Chiesa hopes to put the artwork, which he discovered in the basement of his elderly mother’s Quincy . home, on display in a Newbury Street gallery.
Renovations on the second floor include the transformation of four small rooms into a master bedroom suite and a guestroom. The third floor, a former attic, is now a cozy ‘reading room,’ according to Della Chiesa, who finds it particularly delightful during snowy winter months.
Here, under a skylight, 8-year old granddaughter Tia, the child of one of his three sons who’s visiting from Arizona, enjoys watching videos with Joyce.
Calling himself a ‘dunce in the kitchen’ who doesn’t ‘know how to cook, but I like to know how things are done,’ Ron is in the midst of filming a new series for WGBH-TV (Ch. 2) featuring restaurant kitchen visits.
Joyce, a descendant of English settlers in the Bahamas, learned cooking from her Bahamian mother, ‘a great cook,’ she says. Once or twice a year, the two travel to Cape Santa Maria Bay on remote Long Island in the Bahamas, where Joyce still has family. With no television, no telephone, and 80 miles of pristine beaches, it is the perfect place to unwind, they say, or to retire.
They have traveled on numerous cooking and opera trips ‘always to Italy,’ says Della Chiesa. ‘It’s hard to get out of Italy.’
They are looking forward to their first trip to England, Wales, and Scotland in September. They plan to meet in Scotland, following Joyce’s August trip to Greece with three girlfriends.
Anticipating the Scotland trip for the wedding of WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) newsman John Henning’s oldest son, Matthew, is a great source of pleasure for the pair. Ron counts the newsman as his ‘best friend’ since their early days doing radio programs on WBOS.
Reminded that a wedding in Scotland often means men in kilts, Joyce laughs. ‘Now that is worth going to Scotland for,’ she says. ‘To see John Henning in a ‘ kilt.'”