May 2009 Issue
A Nod to the Past
A Findlay Queen-Anne-style Victorian home gets a makeover that respects its design, but adds rich new colors and details.
When Allen Beck closed up his Southern California flower shop and moved back to northwest Ohio to be near his aging parents, he chose to settle in Findlay, a city he characterizes as “a fairly prosperous community” endowed with plenty of old-fashioned hometown charm. The 56-year-old Fulton County native wanted a house just like the city: a place that was in good shape and big enough to accommodate his lifestyle, but not so big that he’d get lost in it.
“I didn’t want to get into major renovations — I’d just remodeled my home in California three or four years earlier,” Beck explains. “I had antiques that I used at my business. I had furniture and antiques in my home. I wasn’t ready to part with a lot of things.”
Beck found exactly what he was looking for in one of Findlay’s many well-preserved Victorians, an 1888 red-brick Queen Anne built during the local oil and natural-gas boom. Previous owners had installed a modern heating-and-cooling system, oak kitchen and two and a half baths. And the 5,000-square-foot structure was loaded with architectural amenities that made up for its missing tower (the third owner removed it in 1934, reportedly because birds pecking at the finial kept him up at night) and porte-cochere. The exterior boasted an abundance of sandstone and wood trim, the latter now painted a creamy light yellow with accents of light sage green and ruddy brown. Inside, the selling points included a split chimney, original tile and lots of beautiful woodwork, including a magnificent curving entry-hall staircase of varnished cherry with an oval landing.
“This house felt like it could be a home,” Beck recalls.
But the rooms were dripping in more “flower-on-flower-on-flower” wallpapers, borders and fabrics than a man could appreciate. The front entry and dining room, in stark contrast, were simply painted white. Over the next three years, Beck created a more masculine version of Victorian decor by using deep, rich colors, more substantial furnishings and a truly eclectic mix of accessories.
“I really didn’t worry as much about whether something was Victorian as I did whether I just liked it or not, whether I wanted to live with it or not,” he says.
Beck began his transformation by removing wallpapers, carpets and window treatments. Simple plaster accents flanking fireplace chimneys and doorways were faux-finished by a friend to resemble burled wood, and Amish craftsmen were commissioned to make French doors with beveled-glass insets to replace those missing between the front parlor and music room. After numerous online searches and antiquing expeditions, Beck finally found brass hardware to match that on the existing pocket doors in a Los Angeles antique-hardware store.
“I spent a year and a half agonizing over matching this,” he says as he fingers an elaborate door pull.
The decor was inspired by colors in the Oriental rugs Beck laid on the freshly buffed hardwood floors. He chose an olive-green paper striped by burgundy panels for the dining room walls and a light greenish-brown silk dupioni stitched in a diamond pattern for the window treatments. The finishing touch: a period bronze chandelier with alternating frosted globes and daffodil-shaped glass shades that once hung in a New York City mansion. Beck added a decorative ceiling medallion made by Fypon’s Archbold plant and had it painted to match the marble faux finish on the frame of a mirror hanging on the wall. He found smaller-but-similar bronze chandeliers at Century Antiques in Cleveland to hang in the entry and upstairs halls.
In the front parlor, Beck achieved a tone-on-tone effect on the walls by painting them an oxblood red, then striping them with an eggshell-finish paint in the same shade. The music room was painted a deep brown. Aside from the wicker ensemble in the downstairs sunroom, new furniture was limited to a Yamaha baby grand piano and pair of wing chairs for the music room and a pair of matching Empire-style settees for the front parlor. Nothing was reupholstered.
“I’m not a stickler for matching colors,” Beck declares. To illustrate his comment, he points out that the red upholstery on two armchairs in the dining room don’t match the burgundy panels in the wallpaper. “I like to play tones off tones.”
The most challenging space to finish was the entry hall, a task made even more vexing after Beck discovered the wallpaper he had his heart set on wouldn’t work. “The woodwork just got lost in the paper,” he explains. He finally picked a dense gold scroll pattern on a weathered black background, a selection that made the curving staircase pop into the foreground. The scrollwork was repeated in an arched art-glass staircase window featuring a golden urn of irises and lilies of the valley as well as in a transom over a door to a covered porch upstairs. The window, inspired by flowers blooming in the garden and made by Bigelow Glass in Findlay, replaced a bungled 1970s restoration of white glass shot with red that Beck still refers to as “the bleeding window.”
It was sheer coincidence that the urn design matched that in the fretwork panel over the pocket doors to the adjoining dining room. Beck found the intricately carved panel, together with the fretwork panel and base around the parlor entrance, in the attic shortly after he moved into the house. But it was only after he installed the pieces, repaired and refinished by Architectural Artifacts in Toledo last May, that he noticed the similarity.
“It really is a lot more ornate than what I like,” Beck says. “But I’m so proud that I restored it and gave it back to the house that I’ve kept it up.”
Upstairs, the hall was papered in the same scroll design with the exception of a single wall facing the top of the stairs, which was covered in a coordinating stripe. The original master bedroom, with its bay window, was painted white and turned into a study. Beck turned the bright-pink room next door into his private sanctuary with Ralph Lauren-brand Riding Coat Red paint and a gold polyester-blend fabric laced with deep-red vines bearing appliquéd velvet flowers. The material was used to make both the window treatments and the duvet cover on the massive tobacco-leaf bed.
Despite all the work Beck has done on his home, there are still projects to tackle. Replacing a bad mid-century tile job around the dining-room fireplace, replacing light fixtures in the front parlor and music room, and installing a new runner on the entry hall stairs are on his to-do list. He even talks about wallpapering the music room.
“Once people decorate an older home, they tend not to change it,” Beck observes. He then pauses, realizing the trap he’s created for himself. “But I don’t know that I’d change this,” he concedes. “I’m very happy with the feeling it has.”