Lost & Found: A Victorian Restoration Tale

A lovely Victorian house with history goes through decades of ups and downs, and finally, fulfills a family’s dream.

Photos: William Wright

William Wright

The American Heartland, says commentator Ronald Brownstein, comprises those states “that don’t touch an ocean.” Bloomington, Illinois, in the middle of the heartland, has a wealth of 19th-century architecture. One is the Behr Home, built 1884–85 for successful dry-goods merchant Henry Behr and his four children. Originally just a modest frame house, it was enlarged in 1897 in the Queen Anne style and given a three-storey tower. 

After Behr descendants left in the 1940s, the grand Victorian went into decline, eventually becoming a nursing home covered in asphalt and aluminum sidings. The interior was institutionalized, with original details either torn out or covered as rooms were partitioned. The original double entry doors went to a salvage yard. The lovely staircase was blocked and the second floor unused for years; floors were covered up.  

In 2001, two local businessmen recognized the house’s potential and began a two-year, historically sensitive renovation—updating HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems, adding insulation, and removing the later sidings. Rotten porches got new columns and railings, the roof was replaced (and clay ridge cresting added), the grand stair reopened. The businessmen sold the house to a young couple who love Victorian architecture. 

The couple lost the house, unfortunately, during the subsequent real-estate bust. Andy and Marie Streenz became the next owners. 

The wide front porch is a favorite spot; children love the porch swing, a replacement made to replicate the original seen in old photographs.

They’d dreamed of owning a big Victorian that might be run as a B&B when they retire. With four bedrooms and three full baths, 3,500 square feet of living space, and a capacious entry, this house could accommodate guests and, for now, their growing family. The couple were enchanted by the stained and beveled glass, a gorgeous keyhole window, three porches, oak woodwork (never painted), and built-in bookcases.

The Streenzes’ move-in day was not for the faint of heart; after the foreclosure, windows and screens were broken and thieves had begun to ransack the home; appliances were gone. With the power cut, pipes had burst. Andy and Marie found floor grates, locksets, and other vintage hardware disassembled and neatly stacked in the dining room, pending illegal sale on Craigslist. Plumbers stood by on moving day; as the water was turned on zone by zone, they cut holes and repaired leaks as they found them. When water cascaded down the foyer chandelier and the plaster collapsed from a burst pipe above, Andy began to doubt the wisdom of their purchase.

The dining room boasts its original, leaded-glass buffet, now filled with antique and family china.

But the love of old houses prevailed. The exterior was prepped and repainted, the previous paint job having failed due to lingering effects of the asphalt siding removal. The new color scheme is Victorian and pleasantly leafy: moss green and maroon and yellow, all in National Trust paints from Valspar.

Only the two parlors had hardwood floors, which were stripped and refinished. Reclaimed hardwood flooring was added to the dining room and upstairs hall; layers of old linoleum were peeled o bathroom floors, which were tiled. The master bath’s original marble sink had been sitting at a salvage yard since 2001; Andy found it, bought it, and put it back in the house. 

The previous owners still cared for the house, dropping by to show Andy and Marie where they’d hidden (above pantry cabinets) historic Behr family photographs for subsequent owners to find. The period images showed a pair of substantial entry doors with beveled glass, which had been replaced in the 1940s. Months of internet searching lead to the discovery of a similar pair of seven-foot-tall, oak entry doors that would just t the 56″-wide opening. Antique beveled glass windows and a bronze Victorian lockset and plates make the salvaged doors look original. 

Simple furniture suits the family. There’s a mix of handed- down antiques and local nds—including a set of fine antique china the couple stumbled upon on a walk in the woods. (It had been used for target practice by a disgruntled divorcé.) An antique desk for $50 was refinished for the library. A velvet-covered rosewood settee was found for the ladies’ parlor. 

The 1885 Aesthetic Movement gentlemen’s parlor is centered on an ornate, marbleized slate mantel. The cast-iron firebox cover features a Victorian woman with a parrot and a dog.

William Wright

Magnificent Mantels 

The homeowners believe that the hand- some replace surrounds in the two main rooms, given their stylistic differences, belong to different decades. The golden-oak mantelpiece in the ladies’ parlor probably dates to the 1897 style remodeling of the house. In the gentlemen’s parlor, the replace is likely original to the 1885 house. In the ladies’ parlor, the tile surround, insert, and cover are 100% original, at least to 1897. The insert is covered in repetitive fleurs-de-lis with a “Man of the Northwind” at the top of the frame. The original gentlemen’s parlor mantel is faux marbre: marbleizing over slate, embellished with stencils. The rebox cover is not original to this house but is an appropriate antique. “When we moved in,” Andy Streenz says, “the cast-iron cover was missing, so I bought one with similar dimensions on eBay. I had to cut the sides down and add a small section at the bottom for it to fit properly.” 

Original locksets were stripped and restored; the back door has panels with mouldings and a decorative onlay.

William Wright

Repair & Restoration
Andy Streenz is a professional locksmith who specializes in antique locks. In his house, he methodically removed and cleaned all existing locks to make them functional. Most problems with antique mortise locks stem from paint buildup, broken springs, and lack of lubrication. Here are Andy’s step-by-step instructions to help you renew and keep your old locksets.

1. Unscrew one of the knob set-screws; remove knobs and spindle from the door.

2. Remove the wood screws from the mortise lock and pull the lock body out of the door edge. If there is excess paint, pry through the spindle or keyhole to aid removal. This is a good time to strip any paint from escutcheons.

3. Carefully unscrew the case cover to reveal the mortise lock’s inner components. Important: Snap a photo of the lock to aid reassembly.

4. Remove all paint from parts, reassemble them, and apply a light spray lubricant. If you have any broken or missing springs, you may need to take the assembly to a local locksmith for fabrication or a salvage warehouse to find a replacement.

5. Reassemble the lock in reverse order. Take care to replace any shims or spindle washers that may have fallen out on removal of the lock. 

Tags: home restoration OHJ October 2017 renovation renovations restoration Victorian architecture Victorian home Victorians

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