The Cross House

A Brief Moment of Civility

This Friday I am having a party at the Cross House.

A party! It is my very first in the house!

The party is to celebrate the house receiving a Heritage Trust grant. However, it will be quite surreal having a gala in rooms which look like bombs have gone off. There is missing plaster, dangling wires, holes in floors, and dust dust dust everywhere. And more dust.

Before entering the house, every guest will have to sign a waiver, stating that they cannot sue me if they vanish into a hole, get strangled on a dangling electrical cord, or any number of potential mishaps inherent with a big old house under a full-blown restoration.

While all the rooms are in various stages of near-ruin, I am, quite perversely, doing what I can to add a modicum of civility to the evening. I have been feverishly, for example, vacuuming the intricate stair balustrades, and then hand-washing each component. The stair looks amazingly better, no matter that the surrounding walls and ceiling look like something in ancient Egypt.

Most of the first floor has intricate Lincrustra on the lower portion of the walls. This is all caked in dust, which even a vacuuming does not fully remove. So, there I am, sitting on my 58-year-old butt, washing every inch with water laced with Murphy’s oil soap, an old rag, and an all-important toothbrush. Even though the Lincrusta will soon be covered in dust again, I am exalted over how much better this wonderful feature of the house looks. For a brief moment.

In the dining room, I have hung up a huge crystal George III-style chandelier purchased for the house. It was a thrill to uncrate the monster and see it glittering in the Cross House. Even though it, too, will be covered in dust by next week, I am exalted over this showy bit of bling, no matter its temporary magnificence, and keep sitting in chair to stare at it in abject wonder.

Under the glittering chandelier is a massive table, also purchased for the house. It, too, has been revealed at last and is all polished up.

In the living room (looking not too bad after months of work) I have uncovered a sofa which has been encased in shrink-wrap since last year. After the party the mummification of the sofa will resume but in the meantime it is a joy to, you know, sit on the damn thing.

There are eight mantles in the house, and all eight have been vacuumed and Murphy-soaped and scrubbed and toothbrushed into a surprisingly presentable state. For now.

In the basement I — nut that I am — vacuumed the four high-effenciency pulse boilers (for the radiators), and then washed each. Then I toothbrushed clean the cute little green/red on/off indicator lights. Upon completion, I stood back…and smiled.

In short, for the first time since owning the house some parts are VERY clean all the while being surrounding by hard evidence of bomb damage. This past week, I keep wandering slowing through the many rooms slightly awestruck by the surreal juxtaposition.

The rational part of my brain (a very small part) thinks all this cleaning is a waste of time. It is, really, but an inner knowing disagrees. For, isn’t it important, on a long-term restoration project, to occasionally step back, bring out the water and soap and all-important toothbrush, and do what you can to make the rooms shine? As a reminder: This is what I am working toward.


The dining room. Termite-damaged floorboards have just been replaced with salvaged oak from the library. Over to the left are white marble panels (actually white quartz) from the first-floor bathroom. The panels will later return to the bathroom. Above the marble is a huge blow-up image of the house in 1895. I call this the Inspiration Piece. The table is not old, and is from Baker’s stately home collection. It cost a fright originally (like twelve grand), but I acquired it for 90% less on eBay. It was in Nebraska (one state north of the Cross House), and marked as Local Pick-Up Only. I thought: I bet this will not get many bids due to the local pick-up. This proved correct, and after a five-hour drive the table was nestled in my mini-van. Above the table is the George III-style chandelier purchased for the room. Also an eBay find, and also a steal. I wanted it because it was large enough for the huge room. That it is an excellent complement to the table was a coincidence. Oh, I know that these furnishings are not what one would expect of an 1894 Queen Anne home but their scale and quality (and price) are OK with me.


The living room. The curvaceous sofa is also not old, and is from Thomasville’s Bogart Collection, which came out in the 1990s. I was mad for the sofa from Day 1 but could not afford it. Thus, for ten years I had it on my eBay Search List. In 2014, I was finally able to acquire one. The price was 80% off the original price (whoee!), and located about a six hour drive away. Although I would have purchased it even without owning the Cross House, I am pleased it looks quite well in the living room, framed by the bay window. It is scaled for the room (being quite large), and the HIGH back works perfectly with the TALL ceilings. The fabric also looks great with the stained glass. The walls are, for now, just white primer. I was thinking chartreuse as the final color. Oh, just one month after buying the sofa, an identical one came up on eBay, and also within driving distance. So, after pining a decade for one such sofa, all at once TWO were available? What were the odds? After convincing myself that this was destiny — destiny! — I drove to Oklahoma for #2. Did I have a choice????????? For now, #2 is in the library.

21 Responses to A Brief Moment of Civility

  1. Jeez, Ross! Your couches each cost more than my whole car… you’re making me feel bad over here!

    By the way, did you ever find anything out about the Great Emporia Zillow House De-Listing?

      • I probably did mean the table, but I had just looked up the couches and had them on my mind when I wrote that. Doesn’t matter though, looks like they’re all more than my car!

  2. Way to go, Ross! Brief moments of civility are absolutely necessary for delight, when living through restoration mess… I love everything. I did chuckle out loud at you washing your boilers and toothbrush cleaning their indicator lights….I’m the only other person I know who does stuff like this. How about some pics of the Lincrusta? 🙂 Have a wonderful fun party!

  3. Your guests will have a blast at the party, waiver or no. I can testify that seeing the work you’ve done on the house is a moving experience.

    And I can imagine you tidying up the boiler lights with a toothbrush. They’ll definitely be ship-shape for the party.

  4. Just wonderful, Ross! I remember having a coupe of “during parties” over the years while working on our house (not nearly as grand as yours!), and how some people thought it was beautiful and some people wondered what in the hell was wrong with us! I loved ours from day one, although it was a big dump at the time. Great work you are doing! Thank you for doing it and sharing it with us!

  5. All work and no play…well, you know what they say! These are the things that keep us going, project after project. I can feel your excitement popping through your words, and your guests will have a wonderful time! Love getting to watch your progress, after being there this winter (and receiving such a gracious tour from a wonderful host :)) Thanks again, and have fun, Ross!

  6. Can’t wait to see more. I love the couch in the Bay window. Clean is good for the soul. Even if your tooth brush efforts are not visible, you know. Stay calm and press on.

  7. I am very very late in finding all this wonderful exciting house restoration. As a 4 year old girl I would make friends with the old people in our little Missouri town who lived in big old houses just so I could go inside. There was really no greater wonder for me than to be in and explore a big old house. My Mother could never understand – all she wanted was new. Not me. I have been restoring barn and shed finds since I was 10 and a few houses.
    That was a long post all for the point of saying – the chandelier is beyond magnificent!!! As much as I’m tempted I’m not reading ahead and seeing how it looks all finished. For me, this is a novel of greatness to be enjoyed. Thank you Ross for sharing

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