By Patricia Poore | Photos by Heath Moffatt
The house—in Victoria, B.C.—is Victorian, it has a history, even a name: Jolimont. And it belongs to Stuart Stark and Maggie Graham–Bell, who founded Charles Rupert Designs and Historic Style, purveyors of English Aesthetic and Arts & Crafts wallpapers, fabrics, and furnishings. Yet theirs is no museum house.
“If you study archival photographs of historic interiors, you might be struck dumb by the dense massing of furniture, trinkets, draperies, and objects that fill the rooms,” says Stuart. He says that most people are better off with a much simpler arrangement—without clutter. “Use sympathetic period colors and a few favorite antiques. Your rooms will be easier to clean, easier to navigate, and less likely to suffer damage and breakage by children and pets.”
The 1892 house was built on a hill, about six streets back from the ocean. It was described then as a “charming residence . . . commanding one of the most extensive and magnificent views in British Columbia.” Personality fills the rooms; the drawing room’s front fireplace features fleur-de-lis decoration in the leaded window that causes the flue to shift away from center. “Suitable for a house called Jolimont—which means ‘pretty hill’ in French,” says Stuart.
The heart of the house is the double-ended drawing room, “which we call the living room,” Stuart explains. The generous space is furnished with antiques as well as comfortably overstuffed couches upholstered in a new Aesthetic fabric (designed around 1886). A pair of reproduction, blue-and-white ginger jars became lamps. Artwork consists of architectural prints and an original oil painting of the house, done in 1929, which was returned by a grateful previous owner pleased to see he house being restored. In this room, the electrolier is one of three original to the house, fitted with three carbon-filament light bulbs that have been burning for 27 years. The wallpaper is ‘Vine’ by William Morris, in a gold-background version available from Charles Rupert Designs. The ceiling has a two-tone paint scheme: an encircling band of light olive green with a cream square at center, separated by a classical wallpaper border of anthemions.
The current dining room exudes cheerful welcome, yet it is also stately behind a colonnade. This space was the kitchen, pantry, and laundry until 1926, when the original dining room (now the back half of the drawing room) was made into a bedroom for the ailing lady of the house. In the 1990s, Stuart and Mag gie redesigned the room to bring it up to the finish level of the rest of the public rooms. They added salvaged wainscoting and a new colonnade, which supports the beam that took the place of the kitchen wall. The room’s drapery panels are William Morris’s ‘Honeysuckle’ in cotton with a coordinating wool border. The brass rods and finials are antique. The combination ceiling lighting fixture is new, its design and finish matching that of three originals in the house, but with the addition of four upturned “gaslights” that illuminate the ceiling papers.
The library was a recent project—and it is jaw-dropping. The owners played off the historic black, white, and gold picture tiles in the fireplace, depicting “the Waverley novels” by Sir Walter Scott. They were designed in 1878 by Moyr Smith, a famous designer for England’s Minton–Hollins tile company. It seemed fitting that the library would embrace ebonized Aesthetic furnishings with gilded Gothic motifs: a ruined, Victorian Gothic Chapter House. The ceiling was papered with hand-painted stone-block wallpaper, printed midnight-blue paper with stars, and trompe l’oeil borders with plaster flowers and shadows. The mirrored Gothic frieze surmounts ebonized, Aesthetic-style bookcases (yes, they are new).
The kitchen had been moved to the woodshed in 1926, as part of a series of changes in the house. There being nothing to restore, the modern kitchen was redesigned in 1994 to appear timeless, as if parts remained. Cabinets are in Douglas fir, the local wood, and a plain white subway-tile wainscot accommodates a wall oven. A cooktop hides in the granite countertop, and the flooring is battleship linoleum.
The master bedroom is bright with painted (since the 1920s) woodwork in a warm off-white. Its wallpaper is a new colorway of Morris’s ‘Vine’ by Charles Rupert Designs. The complementary blue and orange scheme was cued by the original blue fireplace tiles. As in the adjoining sitting room, multiple patterns work together because scale and color were carefully chosen to avoid a busy look.
Those unfamiliar with Victorian interiors might see this house as a period piece. But it is lighthearted, colorful, and uncluttered—a new interpretation of the best of the era, accomplished by a warm couple in-the-know who raised a family here.
For more information about colorful Victorians, read about Victorian exterior paint colors in a gorgeous Queen Anne restoration.Published in: Old-House Interiors May/June 2011