Was that really a typical day?

Clearly I am going to have to get adjusted to what typical will mean in this house.

There were all kinds of projects underway.  The gutters are coming along but not finished.  Here are the promised after pictures:

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Late in the afternoon I noticed a couple walking past the house and taking pictures.  I was sure they were just admiring the new gutters.  They definitely catch your eye.

I went out to try to move the truck that the girls had parked in a weird angle in the driveway.  The admirers  came up and asked if I was the owner.  This question always catches me off guard.  Matt is the people person in our marriage and he is happy to talk to anyone about the house.  As anyone who knows me is aware, I am very uncomfortable talking to people I do not know. Uncharacteristically, I engaged in a conversation.  It turns out that Ashley is working on a book about Jeep. She and her sister Brittany are The Jeep Girls.  When she told me this I had to laugh because I knew they had visited the house before and I had seen her blog post about coming here when I was googling everything I could find about the house online before we bought it!  She was interested in the house because she is working on a book about Jeep (is that correct Ashley?)

We inherited more Jeep history papers, articles and pictures than house papers and history documents.  The fact that John North Willys lived here is probably the reason the house attracts so much attention.

When I realized Ashley and Fred were passing through on their way back to the west coast I invited them in for a peek at the first floor.  This was so out of character for me but honestly they didn’t feel like strangers.  I enjoyed their brief visit and hope they will stop back anytime.  Maybe next time the house will be ready for a more extensive tour, including Mr. Willys’ office in the basement.


Just another day…

Or not.  Today is crazy here!  Oldest daughter had six friends sleep over to celebrate her birthday.  The dog had a grooming appointment, plumber is scheduled and the gutters are being replaced.

At 8:30 this morning all of this happened:  (At the exact same time!)

  • Phone rings, groomer is here to do the dog.  I know his appointment was scheduled for the salon because the mobile groomer wasn’t available for another week.
  • Front Doorbell rings.  Gutter guys are finally here to put up the new gutters.  They need to know where they can plug in an extension cord.  As far as I know there isn’t an outside outlet. Surprised to see them actually.  This is about the fourth time we have been told they will be here “tomorrow.”
  • Back door opens and the other dog is barking.  The plumber is here.
  • One of the teenagers is trying to leave out the side door because she has to work.

Needless to say it was chaos.  Trying to get the dog to stop barking, sort out the mix up with the groomer, say good bye to sleepover guest and talk to the gutter guy all at the same time.

I am now down to just the gutter guys, two plumbers, contractor to undo the shower wall and three remaining sleepover guests.  Hopefully two plumbers will mean more progress on the shower, the gutters can get installed and the dog will actually get groomed today.

Will post before and after pics of the new gutters later today.  We are being very brave and put up copper COLORED gutters.  They contain no actual copper so don’t try to take them down and haul them to the recycling center for some quick cash!

Master Bath, the story under the shower.

The master bath is currently the only nonfunctioning bathroom in the house. Well, other than the horrible 1940 RV bathroom on the third floor.  That one we decided must just go away.  All of it.  We will talk about that when we eventually get up to the third floor.

The master has some issues.  Major issues.  We were unable to get water to the shower.  The shower pipes were sandwiched between the nearly one inch thick marble shower walls and a chimney.  The only way to access them was removing the marble.  We also discovered the shower had been leaking into the music room.  For years.  Maybe decades.  With more research we determined the ceiling damage was due to a leaking shower pan and not roof damage. The original marble shower was going to have to come out.  I was not entirely unhappy with this.  The shower was a small marble cave.  Floor, ceiling, walls…all marble.  No lights and no vent.  I am claustrophobic so the shower terrified me more than a little.  I did not take a before picture I am sorry to say.

We opened up the music room ceiling. We knew the ceiling that was visible was not original and expected the music room to have been coved the same as the adjoining living room.  We discovered however that the ceiling had been replaced several times.  Rather than go after the leak, previous owners had just added a layer of drywall over the bad ceiling.

The project started with this:

music room

And then this:


We found this!!:

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The original ceiling was a hand painted canvas.  The pattern is similar to what is carved in the mahogany wood work.  It was very deteriorated due to the years of water damage.

Eventually the scope of the project changed and we had to open up all of the ceiling.  This is what we found once we took back the layers of drywall:

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The original canvas is in remarkable shape except for the part under where the shower had been leaking.  I am hoping that my sister might be able (and willing) to recreate this for us and we can put the reproduction one back on the ceiling when we are done.  The corners of the room were dropped down several inches to accommodate the master toilet drain.

Next we were down to this:


Still not enough access for the plumber, so the music room currently looks like this:

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I have lived through a whole house remodel so I am not surprised by the ever changing scope of work and all the mess.  It is still hard to watch this pretty little room endure so much. I know in the end it will be beautiful again.  We hope to restore the original lines of the ceiling, redo the canvas covering and find a period appropriate chandelier. The art deco one that was there is pretty but historically it doesn’t fit.

The master bath project that started this project is a story for another day.

No, Not the Girl Scout Cookie!

When we were looking for colleges for oldest we stayed in a beautiful historic home in St. Louis.  The owner had a fleur de lis somewhere in each room of his house.  I thought it would be fun to incorporate something similar here to tie all the rooms together.  I started looking more closely at the details of our house and noticed a pattern that seemed to repeat in a lot of places, a trefoil.  I did some research and it was very commonly incorporated into gothic architecture, particularly in building cathedrals. The trefoil of course is a representation of the trinity.  I love that we have so many already here and hope to find a way to incorporate a trefoil of some sort in all 33 rooms!  Some examples:


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Then and Now

The exterior of the house appears to have changed very little in the past 100 years.  The black and white photo was taken before the carriageway was enclosed.  The landscaping looks better in the “then” photo.  Our landscaping is in need of an overhaul for sure.  At some point a “weed garden” was planted.  Actually put in… intentionally!  It has thrived and very little remains that will stay.  Our road is currently under construction so I hate working out in the yard.  The stacks of boxes still waiting to be emptied also are a deterrent to getting the outside cleaned up.  You would think with 8,300 square feet of house it would be easy to put everything away!

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There is a lovely park across the street maintained by the Women of the Old West End.  Since this is my view out the front of my house, my weeds and overgrown landscape feels less pressing.  Of course everyone using the park gets to enjoy the view over here.  I have been told that having the grass cut and some maintenance being done is a vast improvement from years past. I did bring a fair number of hosta from my extensive collection from the old house. They are all still waiting to find a home here.  All in good time…


Front “flower” bed


Front door


Side Yard


Park across the street

Dining Room Decisions

The dining room was a bit of a dilemma for us.  There was a hand painted mural there that I hated.  It was one of the first questions I had for the realtor, “Is it original?”  Thankfully the answer was no.  With a little research we learned it had been added in the late 90’s.  I am sure that owner loved it and it was painstakingly done. My dilemma was leave it or cover it up.

Due to the house being left unheated last winter several sections of the mural had pulled off the plaster wall.  What we thought was plaster damage turned out to be a much more manageable problem.  I suppose we could have tried to re-adhere the paint but since I really didn’t like the mural it seemed scraping off all the loose pieces and painting over it was the solution.

Here are the before pictures.  You can see to the left of the fireplace where the paint had come off.  It was also bad to the right of the leaded glass windows.

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Coming up with a new color scheme was more difficult.  My dining room set does not fit the room but it will be what we use for now.  The chairs were originally white (what were we thinking! We had two toddlers when we bought this dining set.) and later I recovered most of them in a red and gold but those colors seemed too dark in this room.  The wainscoting, built-ins and HUGE pocket doors in the dining room are wormy chestnut.  The wood is beautiful but dark.  I am not sure if it always was this dark or if this is the way this wood aged.  The fireplace is a dark red brick. I felt like we needed something in a cooler color to brighten up the room.  This is also the north side of the house and there isn’t much natural sunlight.

I don’t know how most people go about choosing paint but I started with the rug.  I started searching on line for something with no clear color palette in mind.  Since we have been here I have decided I don’t want the house to look like a museum or to have the rooms feel like they are stuck in 1900.  I have decided clean lines and more contemporary furnishings will let the beauty of the original features be the star of each room and be comfortable to live with.  I ended up choosing a blue/gray and ivory wool rug. (Hopefully sister in law will approve!)

From there we tried several paint options.  All were too blue or too light or too silver.  Matt called me from work and said go to the big box store and buy a gallon of paint.  Make a decision.  It was going on the walls when he got home.  I didn’t like any of my samples enough to commit to them.  Youngest daughter and I went to the fabric store and chose a new fabric for the dining room chairs.  From there we headed to get paint and had them match the gray in the fabric.  I was still not sure about the paint but true to his word, Matt painted that evening.  We are happy with the results and now I need to find time to do the dining room chairs.

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Fact and Fiction

The history of the house is part of the charm.  There are a lot of stories about the home and we have been trying hard to determine what is fact and what is fiction.  We feel it is part of our job as good care takers of a historic home.

Construction began in 1901 for Alvin B. Tillinghast.  He was a bicycle manufacturer, licorice tycoon and patron of the arts. The house is an eclectic mix of Tudor half framing and French gothic architecture.  The attention to details is over the top. Mr. Tillighast frequently visited the construction site to inspect the quality of the work and rumor has it he went bankrupt while building the house.  The original plan for the home was 30% larger than it is now.  Whether it wasn’t built due to bankruptcy or just down sized during the construction is unknown.  We were told Mr. Tillinghast  never lived in the home but city records show the family was living here in 1909, the year the construction is presumed to have been completed.

The construction company did retake possession of the house and sold it to John North Willys, founder of Willys Overland which eventually became the Jeep Company.  Another unsubstantiated fact is the home was traded to Mr. Willys in 1909 for twelve Pope automobiles.  Mr. Willys lived in the home until the death of his wife in 1921 when the home was purchased by Mr. Arthur Bell.

The Bell family lived here until 1938.  The house next passed to an order of Catholic priests.  We are confident the priests lived here and we are in possession of the original blue prints converting the third floor ballroom into a chapel but which order of priests this was is still a mystery.  We have been told The Oblates (but which Oblates?)  The Society Of Oblate Fathers is one guess but I can find no order that goes by that name.  The Oblates of Mary Immaculate?  Maybe but again I can find no link to Toledo for them. This is a mystery that requires further investigation.  In any event they resided here until 1978.

Here are some facts we believe are accurate:

  • The home was intended to be 1/3 larger than it presently is
  • The front porch was originally a covered carriage driveway and was enclosed many years later
  • The stone foundation is 28 inches thick
  • the original roof was stone
  • the porch and sunroom floors are hand laid tile
  • the living room fireplace surround is made of pottery tiles from Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati
  • The stained glass and carved wood living room light fixture is original and designed for the house
  • The four brass sconces in the master bedroom are original as well as the hand carved Della robia chandelier in the dining room.  These fixtures all feature the same design of pomegranates, acorns and other fruit
  • An open window was installed in the sunroom by the priests to hear confessions
  • Two of the bathrooms have original toilets with the tanks located inside the walls
  • All four tubs appear to be original ceramic
  • The half bath, the master and the girls bathrooms have what are probably original sinks.  The beautiful pedestal sink in our sons bathroom is not original and was produced in 1954
  • The “stained glass” transom windows in the living room are peel and stick decorations available at a big box store.  To say I was disappointed to discover that fact is an understatement!
  • Many of the push button light switches are inlaid mother of pearl
  • The fairy lamp on the newel post is not original.  I am curious as to what was originally there.
  • The church pews on the front porch are not original and were probably never actually inside the house

Those are your fun facts and stories for today!

The Mysteries of a Historic Home

My summer is now spent juggling the kids summer activities and a small army of contractors rather than sitting by the pool reading.  A good friend of ours has a heating business and he came by to measure for some venting in the roof.  Apparently what we have is inadequate.  He has been by before but there is a lot to see here.  This time he noticed the crest on the side of the house and asked  if I knew what it said.  It is hard to read way up there.


Be Just and Fear Not

I knew that the crest would have been chosen by Mr. Tillinghast since he was the one who had the house built but I had no idea what the significance was of the crest.  Steve was curious and later texted me that he had found the quote he thinks it references.  It is from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII:

Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:
Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s,
Thy God’s, and truth’s; then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell,
Thou fall’st a blessed martyr!

Steve is sure that Mr. Tillinghast chose that because he built this giant, ostentatious house on a prominent corner lot in the neighborhood. (In fact, he went bankrupt building the house and a third of the home was never completed!) Perhaps the words were a reminder to not worry about the envious tongues?

Whatever the reason I am grateful to Steve for figuring out the reference and I like the stanza as a whole.  There is a lot of history in this house, much of it we will never figure out.  We still don’t know why this line was important enough to Mr. Tillinghast (or maybe to his family?) that it was placed on the crest but it is fun to try to solve the little mysteries in our historic home.

Some of the Reasons We Fell in Love….

With the house!

Hand laid mosaic tiles in the enclosed front porch and sun room

Hand laid mosaic tiles in the enclosed front porch and sun room


Beautiful leaded glass front door. Eventually the blue paint will have to go.


Leaded glass entry to the porch. The double doors remind me of a phone booth!


Concrete garden sprites carved into the bases of the arches in the porch


Stained glass details in the porch


How can you not love opening this door every day!?


The carved pillars in the entry. The story is the builder brought craftsmen from Germany to do all the woodworking details on site.


Gold leaf…


Living room fireplace with Rookwood Pottery tile surround and beautiful carved mahogany mantel.


Built in cabinet in the dining room. We now know it has a secret compartment behind the drop down back!


Dining Room ceiling. Chestnut woodwork in here.


Door to the sunroom.


Oak staircase. Our beautiful grandmothers clock is having trouble finding a place in this house. It just seems tiny wherever we try to put it.


Oak staircase.


Built in seat next to staircase, outside of the powder room. Youngest Daughter says it can’t be called a 1/2 bath in this house.

Goodbye Scary Birds!

The entry way is a huge space.  It is really a room itself, measuring 16 by 24 feet.  It has beautiful quarter sawn oak molding, beams and paneling.  The pillars that frame the living room are stunning.  We are told the ceiling is original gold leaf.  The first floor has a very open floor plan for a home built in 1901.  Most of the rooms and the grand staircase here open off this stunning entry.  The wallpaper however was scary.  Large scary birds. That seem to watch you.

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Staircase with scary bird wallpaper and lovely pink paint


Scary birds close up

The birds needed to go.  We decided to continue the stairwell paint into this space.  It makes it feel brighter and we need all of that we can get.  Our previous home had a ton of natural light.  The front of this house has a huge enclosed front porch that prevents a lot of the natural light from coming in.

The wallpaper came off easily.  I give credit to whoever put it up.  The paper pulled down in complete strips without any spraying or scraping. I was surprised to see the original plaster walls underneath.  This space has never had paint, only wallpaper.  We found remnants of two other papers under this one.  We scraped off  the wallpaper paste and skim coated all the walls.  The original plaster had some cracks as you would expect and some were fairly large.  With the help of a friend Matt took care of the walls and they came out great.

You might also notice that the runner in this space is gone.

I am fairly sure it arrived about the same time as the pink paint, early 80’s.  It was threadbare, stained and falling apart at the seams.  I took it out on move in day.  I couldn’t clean it and hated the feel of it on my feet.  The same runner is on the stairs.  Oldest son and I took off one section but Matt says I need to figure out what to put on there before I take it off.  I am still considering leaving the steps bare but the last time they were refinished the centers were left unvarnished.