The Cross House

Enjoying the Self-Selected Hunt

In 2014, when I began to paint the exterior of the 1894 Cross House, I had self-selected criteria:

  1. I did NOT want a “painted lady” effect. This is a look created by hippies in the 1960s when they took “gloomy” old Victorians and painted them in many many many colors (normally fueled by LSD). The look became popular, and is still in evidence today.
  2. I wanted to use period-correct colors.
  3. I never thought to paint the house in my favorite colors. Rather, it was important that the colors complement the limestone and the colors of the stained glass. What looked good on the house was more important than what I liked.
  4. Ideally, I wanted to recreate the original colors.

Well, y’all were enthusiastic about this approach and everybody seemed to get it.

However, recently, I did three Fun With Furniture posts, detailing my search for antiques.

Again, I established self-selected criteria:

  1. That each piece be period-correct to the house. So, early 1890s.
  2. That each piece complement the house, in terms of quality and style.

This was not really different than my approach to the exterior, yet the reaction these posts received surprised me. Some readers were supportive. Some disagreed with such an approach, which I am fine with. Some readers though just did not seem to understand why I would, well, limit myself. Why not have antiques from the 1860s or 1910? Or 1930s?

I explained why I had no desire to have antiques in the house which did not complement the era when the house was built, did not complement the existing architecture, and did not complement the house in terms of cost and style.

But, it seems, my reasoning fell on deaf ears regarding this latter camp. So, I wondered if a different approach might help?


There are eight mantels in the Cross House, all with over-mantels. Each is unique but all complement the trim and doors. All are decidedly early 1890s. None look like 1884 mantels or 1904 mantels. The one antique I have in the parlor was chosen because it, too, was early 1890s, and also perfectly complemented the style of the adjacent mantel.


But, what if, I dunno, aliens kidnapped all my mantels? Obviously, I would have to replace them.

So, wanna go shopping for mantels?


Cool! I want it!




This one makes me feel like King Arthur!




Who doesn’t like carved marble? I want the gold over-mirror as well!


Wow. Pretty remarkable!


Obviously, all these are TERRIBLE choices.

None fit the Cross House. They all pre-date the house. They would each compete for attention with the existing trim/doors and stained-glass. They are each intended for a house way grander than the Cross House.

So, if I would not dream of selecting any such mantel to replace an alien-abducted one, why would I chose antiques which pre-date the house (or post-date), compete for attention, and are too grand (or too simple) for the house?


I previously showed this image. The room has a remarkable mantel. The mantel is highly period specific and radiates personality. Yet not a single antique in the room complements the mantel. Nor does the wallpaper.


In decorating the Cross House, or any house, I am highly attuned to What The House Is. All houses have a personality. Some houses, like the Cross House, have very strong personalities.

The personality of the Cross House is created by the high ceilings, doors, trim, mantels, and stained-glass. All these elements are of a specific era and represent a specific aesthetic. So, to me, it makes sense that any antiques chosen should  complement the personality of the house rather than fight against it or dilute it. Like the right tie on a suit or the perfect brooch on a dress.


A while back, Bo brought my attention to this small table on eBay. It is period-correct for the Cross House, and also complements the personality of the house. (I did not buy the table as I have a fear of ordering antiques online and having them shipped. This fear is based on bad experiences.)


There are a zillion antique tables out there but rather than just pick any ol’ table why not first create a Purchase Criteria List? Why not purchase a table which is best suited for the house? A table which would perfectly complement the personality of the house?

And I do enjoy a good hunt.

In 2012, when I needed a new car, I created a Criteria List:

  • Minivan
  • Two years old. No more no less.
  • Under 30K miles
  • Top-of-line trim package
  • NOT white

I also poured over online reviews and read through Consumers Report car guide. I looked at a zillion images online, too. After several months my search was narrowed to a 2010 Chrysler Town & Country in Ruby Red, level 3 trim package. Then the really hard work began: finding one. Well, it was not hard finding one but it proved difficult finding one within driving distance. I had no intention of buying a car half-way across the country and having it shipped to me.

Several more months passed and I was exhausted. Would I ever find my dream car?

Then, I was sitting in my old car at a traffic light in Topeka. I glanced over. And there, on the prime corner at the Chrysler dealer, was a gleaming 2010 Town & Country in Ruby Red with level 3 trim package. My heart stopped.

Moments later I was next to my dream. Please, I thought, please have low mileage. I glanced at the sticker. it read: 28,000 miles.


A few hours later my new baby and me drove home.


I have done this kind of hunt my whole life. First, I desire something. Second, I distill this desire to its essence. Then…the hunt begins.

In 2012 and 2013, I did this when looking to buy a house. Again, I created self-selected criteria:

  • 1950s.
  • Essentially untouched.
  • Brick exterior.
  • Large, a full basement, a 2-car attached garage, and an en-suite master bath.

What I also wanted, above all, was a sensible house. One needing almost no work. I was WAY too busy to take on A Project.

But…when I at last fell in love with a house and purchased it in March, 2014, somehow my self-selected criteria…exploded.




15 Responses to Enjoying the Self-Selected Hunt

  1. Ross,
    I must give you a huge thanks for everything I have learned the last few weeks going thru all your posts. Whew!

    I may never wind up owning and restoring a jewel like the Cross house, (especially if the wife gets a whiff I’m even remotely considering it) but I know if the opportunity arises, I have gained invaluable knowledge from a true Master.

    If we ever come thru Emporia, I would be honored to drop by and check out your progress.

    (I would even be willing to offer some free labor to help out!)

  2. Your mantel shopping escapade had me a touch worried for a minute. I hope it will help people understand your take on the period, price, style criteria for Cross House furniture. Your one antique chair fits perfect in the sitting room. The curve of the arm perfectly compliments the curve of the mantle shelf facing. The tiny carved lines in the downward arm support play to the stripes of the upholstery in the chair placed next to it. Ross, your attention to the tiny details and nuances are to be applauded. Trust yourself, don’t let us make you doubt your choices. Well except for the rug in the parlor, I voted for the zebra stripe. (Wink-wink)

  3. In every sense, you are the Curator of the Cross House. I want to thank you for your level of education, experience, and your sharing of all of that with us.

  4. Well a person is allowed to slip up now and then, Ross! We’re all glad you didn’t follow your criteria for house hunting 😆

  5. Ross, I admire your goal of doing what is right for the house, in all ways- from restoring the woodwork to furniture shopping.

    Balancing your rooms and allowing the amazingly intact woodwork, fireplaces and stained glas is going to be a challenge, why shouldn’t you use the furniture that was always meant to do just that?

    I love antiques and many of the samples that you’ve shown us in your recent posts are stunning, and I would be proud to own any of them, but I know that none of them would work in my home. We have a new build, one that I’m slowly filling with meaningful and carefully selected pieces. These fancy antiques would struggle here, not because they are older than the house but because our finishes so far are simple, straight forward, hardworking shaker leaning pieces. I love my home and I love some of those mantles but I know that I couldn’t combine them- it just wouldn’t work. I think really that’s all you’re trying to do. People seem to think you’re limiting yourself to early 1890s but really you’re limiting yourself to what will work with what’s already there.

    Carry on with your vision!

  6. You are doing what you love, in a way you love, with pieces you love. That’s all that matters. You have a trained and skilled eye and you know what you want. Not everyone has that. Though some of us understood when you posted the first time, not everyone is going to get it.

    I hope your journey (which you’ve shared out of pure kindness) will inspire others to do what they love in their homes. Even if it’s not what anyone else would choose.

  7. I don’t think you need you need to explain this any more. You don’t need to justify your decisions to your readers. I admit that I’ve questioned some of your design choices (the parlor, the striped floors, the porch ceiling) but I also admit the final results were awesome and have opened my eyes to bolder design choices.

    I also admit to not knowing about different levels of grandeur in these old houses. They all look fancy to me (compared to modern construction) and seeing nothing but painted ladies everywhere, I assumed they are all supposed to be garishly painted on the outside and stuffed with ornate antiques on the inside. This blog has educated me on the evolution of architecture, kitchens, bathrooms, paint colors, and now furniture! I completely understand your desire for period correctness, and holding out to get exactly what you want rather than settling for something close. One reader had a very emotional reaction to your plan, and seems to have taken your house plans as a personal attack. I think most of your readers have joyfully hopped on board the Ross train and ready to ride it wherever you chose. You are doing an amazing job and I really appreciate and enjoy this blog.

  8. I agree with Jet, and I have learned so much from your experiences! I think that a lot of people have confused what is “acceptable” with what you want. It would be “acceptable” for an 1894 house to have furniture that predates it, since most families who build new homes do not throw out all of their existing furniture; they may buy a lot of new items for the fanciest rooms, and put their old things in the family room, the back bedroom, etc. An 1894 house examined in the 1960s might have had some vintage pieces from when the house was built mixed in as heirlooms with the mid-century furniture. All of this is reasonable, but that is not the look that you want for your house. What you chose may not be what I would chose, but I am thrilled with your results so far, and what I would have chosen a year ago (pre-Cross House blog) is not what I would chose today. Can’t wait to see your treasures in place! Your house is turning into an Aladdin’s cave 🙂

  9. You’re overthinking this furniture thing. As you have stated many times, there is a huge difference between considerations about what is correct and appropriate to the house itself and criteria about its furnishings. Things done to the house itself are often permanent (or extremely difficult to reverse) … furniture, and rugs and drapes, can easily be arranged, rearranged, or replaced. As others have said, it is perfectly fine for a house to have furniture that is perceived to be above or below its means, or that dates from a different era. (about the mantel examples … I said, “meh” to all of them.

  10. Hi Ross! I get it and it makes perfect sense to me. I understand what you’re saying and what you’re trying to accomplish. Thoughtful and insightful as always!

  11. Nice to meet you, Nicholas.

    Your comment is…ah…interesting as you seem unaware of how I have finished the parlor in the 1894 Cross House.

    You state: “To bring a home back only to dress it in a restrictive hoop skirt and girdle is a sin. Shame on you.”


    I invite you to review my recent posts on the parlor. You might be surprised by the 1957 Saarinen table in the center, the hipster rug, and the image of Hillary on the wall.

    So, am I still shamed?

  12. “…when I at last fell in love with a house…”

    Ah, love. The paradox of dynamic reckoning. 💕 One must do right by love.

    The peanut gallery will always opine. It is “our job” after all, to keep you “informed” with a more objective perspective – intimate perspective be damned! We will always keep you bemused. Many, many grains of salt are required. 😉

    I envy the relationship you have with your house, Ross. It is a security which allows you to dream with abandon and proceed bravely.

    Ever get the feeling you didn’t choose the Cross house rather, it chose you? 💚

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