Lost& Found. .. a restoration tale
A lovely Victorian house with history goes through decades of ups and downs, and finally fulfills a family’s dream.
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. 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;
The first renovation in 2001 was sensitive to history, and reversed many of the changes made after the 1940s. The pretty oak staircase was liberated from a coverup.
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.
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 off 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 fit 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 handeddown antiques and local finds—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 velvetcovered rosewood settee was found for the ladies’ parlor.
Enjoying the porch swing: Andy, Corbin, Kyle, and Marie.
FAR RIGHT Ornate fretwork outlines the formal ladies’ parlor in front, which is furnished with guest-worthy Victorian pieces. RIGHT Fluting and carvings embellish the columns flanking the oak mantelpiece. BELOW The entry hall welcomes guests with an impressive, winding staircase. Quarter-sawn oak woodwork has never been painted.
ABOVE (left to right) Sparkling beveled-glass windows were intact. They were carefully cleaned and conserved. • The award plaque was given by the Old House Society of McLean County in 2003. • Fancy-cut shingles preserved beneath asphalt and aluminum sidings were stripped and repainted.
In the library, the floor-to-ceiling keyhole window is inset with stained-glass panels. The antique Cary safe and desk were found at local resale shops and have been restored. Original locksets were stripped and restored; the back door has panels with mouldings and a decorative onlay.