Actress and comedian Jenny Slate often reminisces about growing up in Milton. In interviews, she’s told the story of her father glimpsing the ghost of an old sea captain in their home, recalled inviting her crush, Michael Dukakis, to her birthday party after seeing him at the Boston Pops, and in 2016, coauthored a book of essays about her childhood home, “About the House,” with her father, author and poet Ron Slate.
Now, the yellow Colonial in which Slate spent her formative years is for sale. With six bedrooms, three full bathrooms, and nearly 5,000 square feet of living space, 648 Canton Ave. is grand — and historic. Daniel O’Keeffe, a cousin of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, built it in 1898. The painter spent weekends there during her year in New York in the early 1900s, and later, in the 1950s, a fund-raiser for John F. Kennedy’s Senate run was held in the living room. The Slates bought it in 1980.
Jenny and Ron’s book about the home, published by Concord Free Press, offers a look at Jenny’s upbringing, as well as the memories and quirks within the walls of the place. From stories of pesky groundhogs to messy bedrooms, the book — and the house itself — acts as a rich and fitting tribute to the Slates’ family history.
“The house is meant for people who have an appreciation for layers of lives,” Jenny said.
While they’re reluctant to leave, Ron said it’s the right time to sell the 4.5-acre property, now that his three daughters have grown up and moved out. He and his wife, Nancy, plan to relocate to their home on Martha’s Vineyard later this year.
“We’re looking forward and we’re looking backward and we’re also stopping to breathe and to look at this place very closely, and go outside and wander around,” Ron said. “We’re also leaving at the very point where all the leaves are coming out and all the perennials are coming up, and the grass is green. This is my favorite time of year here in Milton.”
The scent of apple blossoms in springtime is something Jenny says she’ll miss about the place.
“One of my favorite things about the house is that it has huge, huge windows, and when you open them, the house immediately fills with the sweetest, freshest air,” she said.
She encourages prospective buyers to relish the home’s little details, like the rainbows that its amber-colored doorknobs make on the walls in the sunlight, and the duck painted on the low ceiling leading into the basement, warning people to duck down or risk banging their head.
“There’s a type of person who loves little cabinets and loves little windows. If that person is out there, this house is a real gem for that,” Jenny said. “There’s so many sweet little, very functional drawers and small closets. There’s this small closet under the front staircase that we always kept board games in. There’s just tons of precious little places in this house. It’s just beautiful.”
The Slates have made numerous improvements and additions to the house over the years. They built a three-season porch in the late 1980s, and more recently, renovated the kitchen, installing new appliances, including double ovens. A room in the back of the house now boasts a steam room, an infinity pool, and a hot tub. There’s also a pottery studio upstairs, as well as a study and a master suite with a fireplace.
Ron explained that the porch is one of the most special places in the house.
“Pretty soon we’re going to be taking the windows out of our three-season porch and putting in screens. And when that happens, that suddenly becomes my favorite space downstairs,” he said. “You just walk out of the kitchen, out to this porch, and you can go out to the herb garden or the backyard.”
Outside, the roughly 4.5-acre property abounds with lush plantings and trees. The grounds include a thriving vegetable garden and tennis court, which the Slates installed in 1990. Concord grapes Jenny planted grow on the fence near the court — and they’re just one of her touches that will remain on the property. (In the chapter about her bedroom in “About the House,” Jenny writes: “At the appropriate point, I really leaned into being a teenager. I would shut myself in the closet with my flashlight from camp, a handful of colored pencils, and write my secrets and grievances on the walls.”)
Doodles and inscriptions aside, Jenny said she hopes the home’s new owners will make the house their own.
“It’s a house that is surrounded by live things and was filled with many people — and it is made for that,” she said. “The house is made to be filled with a family. And so while I’m sad, I think it’s time for somebody else to use it in the proper way.”
Marlene Wise of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage has listed the property for $1,950,000.
“I think I’ll leave a nice little letter somewhere in the house, just tuck it in somewhere and not tell anyone where it is,” Jenny said. “The owners of the house can find it. It won’t be much more than a welcome to the house and a bit of a blessing.”