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.

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...

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...

En­joy­ing the porch swing: Andy, Corbin, Kyle, and Marie.

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...

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