Section: Features

Cozy in Cromwell

Cozy in Cromwell

by India Amos

 

When President Sean Decatur and his family first moved into Cromwell Cottage, they did not expect an inebriated student and prospective students’ parents to occasionally wander into their home. “This is one of the warnings President [Georgia] Nugent gave when I moved in,” Decatur said. “She kind of said, ‘Yes, beware of people who sometimes kind of wander in.” Designed by Kenyon graduate Alfred Granger ’87, Cromwell Cottage was constructed between 1910 and 1914. Since its construction, Cromwell has been the place Kenyon presidents and their families call home during their time on the Hill.

Cromwell’s current residents include not only Sean Decatur, but also his wife Renee Romano, associate professor of history and African-American studies at Oberlin College, their son Owen and their two dogs, Skittles and Roo. The Jacobethan revival-style house is plenty large for the family, even when daughter Sabine, a first-year at Yale University, is home. The cottage is divided into two parts — a public half for entertaining, where Sean Decatur can host more formal parties, and a private half, complete with a family room, where the family likes to relax together. The family room was added in the 1970s when Philip Jordan Jr. was president, according to Decatur, who is especially fond of the addition because “if there’s something going on in the front of the house, like an official reception or something like that, [Owen] can actually hide back here and watch TV, and nobody knows any different.”

With nearly the entire downstairs portion of the house devoted to entertaining, the Decatur family says the divide between personal space and collegiate space is visible based on the change in furniture style, with all the Decaturs’ own furniture decorating the family room, the upstairs bedroom areas and the ballroom on the third floor, which now serves as a recreational soccer room for Owen. Romano, who loves baking, is fond of Cromwell’s four ovens, which they only use simultaneously when catering for larger events.

While the inside of the house is well-divided, the campus extends up to Cromwell Cottage’s front doors. Romano explained the boundary can be unclear for those who are not accustomed to the ambiguity. “[Sean Decatur’s mother] once asked, ‘There’s all these people sitting in your big chairs sitting out by the art gallery,’” Romano said. “And [I said], ‘They’re not really our chairs. They’re kind of the campus’’.” Now accustomed to the dynamic between the mixture of public and private that comes with living in Cromwell and his father’s public job as president, Owen likes Cromwell’s proximity to Middle Path. “I like looking at all the college students walk by,” he said. “It makes me feel important.”

Although fit for a president and his family, Cromwell is not without its quirks and limitations. The Decaturs said that, like residence halls, their home is subject to Asian beetle infestations as the seasons change. In addition, Romano said they had heating trouble this past winter and that their furnace kept breaking. As for Owen, his largest complaint about the house was about the spottiness of the Wi-Fi, since Cromwell is on the same network as all Kenyon students.

Although they have lived in a variety of locations ranging from Connecticut to  nearby Oberlin College in Ohio, the Decaturs are happy with their prime piece of real estate in Gambier. However, students should be aware when traveling on Middle Path during the weekends that Kenyon’s president and his family can hear their laughter and their conversations, for better or for worse. “You can sort of hear the transition from south campus parties to north campus parties,” Decatur said. “But beyond that, folks are very respectful of the space and the fact that we do live here.”

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