The Cross House

Fun with Furniture II

Yesterday, I did a post about furniture.

There will be few antiques in the Cross House when I am done and I wish for such pieces to fulfill two 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.

I rarely see this approach when people decorate old homes. Normally, I see interiors with antiques from all over the place, era-wise. An 1890 parlor, for example, will have sofa from the 1920s, a pair of chairs from the 1860s, a rug from 1910, and lighting from the 1930s.

And all the above pieces will exhibit a huge range in quality. The 1920s sofa, for example, might have originally been intended for a very modest house. The pair of 1860s chairs might have been intended for a very grand mansion. And so on.

And nothing actually complements the architecture of the room.

This is what I am determined to avoid at the Cross House when selecting antiques.

Now, I am NOT saying that everything in a house must fit a very narrow timeline. I am fine with an eclectic approach, as is obvious from my having a table in my parlor which was designed in 1957, modern art on the walls, and contemporary upholstered pieces and a rug. The only antique in room however is from the early 1890s and is also, from a quality and style perspective, the same as the architecture of the room. The chair complements the mantel and trim, and buttresses the historical timeline. It does not compete with the mantel and trim, or confuse the timeline.

 

Today, we value antiques. This was not so in the 19th-century. In the White House, each new President thought nothing of auctioning off old furnishings. Today, White House curators would be horrified at the thought. (Jacqueline Kennedy discovered a Monroe-era pier table, created for the Blue Room, being used in the carpentry shop.)

The Cross House was highly forward-thinking when built. It was full of new-fangled technology and its very design, a Queen Anne Free Classic, was advanced for the era.  I suspect that the Cross Family would have ordered all new furnishings, for at least the first floor.

In looking at archival images of Victorian-era interiors, I am often struck at how up-to-date many of these interiors were. I also note a consistency of quality. Expensive high-quality items tend to mix with others such pieces. The same for modest pieces in modest homes.

 

The parlor of the 1887 Glessner House in Chicago. When the house was built, all the furnishings in the principal rooms rooms were new, and were selected to complement the architecture. I do not know how many pieces in this image are original to the room, but see how everything, including the lighting, works together to create a harmonious ensemble. The Glessner House was vastly more expensive than the Cross House yet the furnishings are modest.

 

By way of contrast. The mantel is quite fabulous and distinctive. Yet nothing in the room complements it. I feel sorry for the mantel. Rather than everything in the room complementing each other, each piece is fighting for attention.

 

In seeking bedroom suites for the Cross House I was surprised to discover so many available. But very few would really work in the house. This is a gorgeous set but decades older than the house and with a vastly different aesthetic.

 

Gorgeous again but this was intended for a mansion.

 

Same here. Yet today people buy a set such as this and place it in a house which, when new, was quite modest.

 

Jaw dropping but so wrong for the Cross House.

 

Ditto.

 

Ditto.

 

This set however seems about right for the Cross House. It is fancy, but not too fancy. Nor it is too simple. This is a set which would have worked in an $18,000 house.

 

This bed however is too simple for the Cross House, and would have been appropriate for, say, a $4,000 house.

 

These next few images are from an 1895 Wards catalog. This $30 set (!) would be ideal for the Cross House. Indeed, the wreath and anthemion motifs are also on the hardware of the house.

 

This $12 set is too plain for the Cross House and would been been used in houses costing less than, say, $5,000.

 

A $10 set. Again, too plain.

 

There are four mantels on the second floor of the Cross House, and each is unique. This mantel in the Round Bedroom is the fanciest and the most feminine. If I were to select for the room, say, the first bedroom set in this post…

 

…can you see how it would overwhelm the mantel?

 

The mantel in the Long Bedroom is quite masculine. This will inform any antiques I select for the room.

 

All the bedrooms in the Cross House will be like the parlor: an eclectic mix. But any antiques chosen will complement the architecture of a room, and be of the same level, price point-wise.

 

 

23 Responses to Fun with Furniture II

  1. I’ve just read your entire blog over the course of a week, and I’m in love with the Cross House! I never noticed, until you pointed it out, that so many Victorian houses are painted all-white inside. I follow a few house blogs, and every Victorian that’s pictured – white interior, as far as the eye can see. No bueno!

    Anyway, I’m selfishly thrilled you’re turning the house into an airbnb, because that means I can stay there one day. And in the meantime, I’m so much enjoying watching you work on the house. She is turning back into a beautiful jewel. 🙂

  2. I so love the way you think about the décor. It astounds me that you are actually putting your own taste aside to create what might be “the look of the period of time” in which the Cross House was built. Everyone puts things that they like in their homes. The challenge is to find what you like that would be appropriate for the specific date when the Cross House was built. Any good decorator knows that one must define ones parameters and do what is best within them. I love the idea of furnishings that define the time that the house was built, while finding it impossible for me to follow for my own home.

    I am as tied to the family furniture, which my grandparents, to whom I was devoted, collected as well as the pieces that I have collected in their and other aesthetics, as you are to the 1893? aesthetic for the Cross House. My biggest concern might be that you don’t start second guessing your thoroughly modern takes on the 1890s aesthetics that you have interpreted for the Cross House parlor. I think that you need to ignore the advice given by the followers of your site unless following it makes you true to yourself.

    So many of your followers on this site have reaffirmed that your eye for what is right and wrong concerning design choices that you make are better than they, with all of their advice, could come up with. Trust yourself, to thine own heart be true, and press on.

    I genuinely think that you are overmodest in your continued use of the Cross House as the moniker for this house. The Ross MacTaggart House seems to me to be more appropriate at this time. I believe that you have far surpassed the achievements of Mr. and Mrs. Cross as well as those of Charles? (can’t recall if I have the name right) Squires, the original architect. In your compulsion to truly understand their thought processes at the time the house was designed and built, while implementing your amazing transformation of this historic property, you have made it more than anyone could imagine.

    I would go so far as to say that, without you, this house would have become less than a footnote in the history of Victorian Free Classic Houses. With the power of the internet, your contribution has made it an icon of the period. Whatever you choose, IS the correct thing for the house today, because you have defined the house.

    I would wish you the best although I know that you are finding it without my or anyone else’s approval or help.

    • Welcome back, Stewart!

      You wrote: “you are actually putting your own taste aside to create what might be “the look of the period of time” in which the Cross House was built.”

      I am? Golly!

      I thought I was doing the opposite! The parlor is infused with my taste, albeit taste that has worked hard to complement an 1894 sensibility. Is that what you mean?

      My long-time friends have stated that while the parlor looks like nothing I have ever done, it is nonetheless SO Ross.

      Also, the house has been impacted by suggestions made by readers. But while I consider all suggestions I am good retaining confidence in knowing, in the end, what to do.

      • What I meant is that you seem to be choosing furniture made in the early 1890’s as a prime consideration when selecting pieces for the bedrooms of the house. You have determined what the furniture budget would have been for the Cross’s based on the original cost of the house. For example, a high end Empire-style bedroom set would not be appropriate because it would have been made too early and its price would not have been consonant with the price of the house when both were brand new.

        Empire was in fashion from about 1830 until cabinetmakers stopped making it from lack of demand somewhere around 1860. It is the last of the furniture periods that was made entirely by hand.* Victorian furniture was the first that was machine-made in large part.**

        *This is arguable, although there were examples of furniture at the tail-end of the period that used manufacturing techniques.

        ** This can also be argued either way.

        My point was that, to my eye, you are limiting your search within specific criteria that would not allow you to furnish the Cross House bedrooms with something that you loved if it didn’t meet those parameters. I am not suggesting that you are unable to change your mind, but this appears to be a guideline that you have set.

        I guess that you could say that these guidelines being set by you makes these choices your taste. I can’t split the hair any more, it was an observation that I made, which may be in error. My observation has been that you have not set such parameters for the dining room, for example, because the Baker table and manufactured rug have nothing to do with the 1890’s. As you have pointed out, the parlor is a delightful homage to an 1894 sensibility.

        • Ahh, I understand now. Thank you.

          Yes, while it’s true, for example, that I adore 1860s furniture (so bold!), I will not install any 1860s antiques in the house.

          Oh, the Baker table in the dining is a copy of a George III table. So, such a table MIGHT have been in the Cross House!

          • George III reigned from 25 October 1760 until his death on 29 January 1820, which almost coincides with American federal period in furniture 1776 – 1830. Ross, I think it unlikely that you are unaware of the following information. This is for those who don’t know how the designation of period is determined.

            I assume that your table is a copy of an English table, because it is called Georgian for George the third. If it is a copy of an American table of the same time frame, it would be considered a Federal style table, often with the name of the cabinetmaker who published a furniture design book in England during the Georgian period. The most prominent and well known of these authors were Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Sheraton. They were all English and their design books were all originally published in England.

            I must note for the purists that a manufacturer like Baker created their own interpretations of the furniture of the past, accurate reproductions were rarely made by manufacturers. Baker may have called a table, that was neither a true copy of an English nor an American period table, whatever they thought would give it the best chance of bringing a good price. Your table is correctly called a Baker Georgian table because that is what Baker called it when they made it.

            Furniture made in the thirteen American colonies before the American revolution goes by the monarch’s name because the colonies were owned by England.

            [From Ross: Hello again, Stewart! I mentioned that my Baker table is a copy of a George III table. The table is from Baker’s Stately Home Collection, where they meticulously copied antiques from various stately homes in the UK. And the table is of a style which might, as I mentioned, have been in the Cross House in 1894 as the reign of George III predates the Cross House.

            The chandelier over the table, while new, is also in the George III-style.

            Houses during the Victorian-era also, and often, selected furnishings in the style of Louis-XIV, XV, and XVI. I would love several chairs in the house to be in the Louis XVI-style.

            And, of course, furniture from the Far East was also all the rage. And some of this might also find its way into the house!]

  3. I had completely forgotten that folks back then weren’t into antiques, and that Mrs Cross likely wasn’t scouring the flea markets to decorate her new home (as I might do).

    Don’t you wish you could ask her which set she would like?

    • I suspect that Susan’s taste and mine would be quite different!

      In the 1980s, I work as a designer in NYC. One of my client’s was from Korea. And they were HORRIFIED to learn that I had purchased several antique chairs for their apartment. They made me return them! To them, only new furniture would do as in their culture there is no concept of antiques. Furniture is either NEW (and valued) or OLD/USED (and of little value).

  4. My house is filled with many items that are too grand for the budget of my 1931 house. I don’t care one bit. I can’t afford a grander home, so I guess I’d have to do without these nice things?

    I do hope you decide to allow some of these nicer pieces to live in the Cross House. I doubt many living in their appropriate homes would want them, so they’ll end up discarded. That reality would sadden me more than your fixation over the historical narrative.

    What I will agree on, is that I don’t like a modern house filled with antiques.

    • I’m with Travis. The ruined grandeur, former greatness in reduced circumstances, “You should have seen it before the Yankees came” routine is lapped up by visitors. The Norma Desmond/Amanda Wingfield turn is a hoot, and much cheaper than the real thing. Life as a stage set. The audience rarely questions (I have been able to restrain myself from claiming the bricks in my 1899 house were made on-premises by enslaved people), and you’re OK unless Ross or Bo come to visit.

      And the old stuff gets cherished and promoted, and shown as valuable to an unknowing world.

  5. Ross, were the houses built around the Cross house in the 1890s as nice, or was it the nicest on the street, or in town? You’ve mentioned that Mr. Squire designed several other buildings in the area, but it is unclear how Cross House relates to its contemporaries.

    • The Cross House was an $18,000 house when built. Across the street is the Plumb House, which cost quite a bit more. But all the other neighboring houses were likely under $5,000.

      There were never many really large houses in Emporia. Most have been demolished and today the city has less than a handful of large houses, with the Cross House being the most well-known.

  6. I have always enjoyed this blog and first chance I get to read it. But never as compelled as today to insert my opinion. But to you and anyone with an old home, not all of us are lucky enough to own an old home. Hell in my area and work distance most are gone. This does not however take away my love of history and devotion to restore and hard work to bring back the furniture as any of you did to your homes with no grants and only my paycheck to steal from. We should commend those who restore history and care enough to spend our hard earned money and sore hands and back to save it. The path you go questions the right of someone who save a 1930’s car to store in their 1980’s rancher garage. love of history is just that, love of past artisans. I may not have an old home by no fault of my own but I busted my ass and budget to give the old things a home when many are lost in time to Ikea.

    • Hi, Heather!

      You seem upset but I am confused as to what you may be upset with.

      I applaud anybody who wants to restore a 1930s car in the garage of their 1980s home. And I applaud anybody who restores antique furniture.

      In short, I love love love people who restore our historic heritage, be it a house, furniture, art, or cars.

      It’s not clear to me how my post conveys otherwise.

      I look forward to your thoughts.

  7. With respect to your reply whether it be you or your readers there is much being thrown out into the abys about who should have what and where and some have been insulting. If you love old you save what your budget and wheeling and dealing can get your hands on weather a 30’s house a 1900 house or whatever we all do our part to hold onto some remnants of history if you are inclined to . As anyone into furniture can attest if its hard to find the pieces separated by time and greed of selling like a dozen of cupcakes to whoever wants what piece. To put a look together you scrounge up what you can get. It is a long hard process. Believe me I’m barely 30 and have been exposed to old love all my life. The perfect set comes along rarely and these pieces discarded call to you to help. I’m proud of my hodge podge of old things we have rescued from the ravages of time and carelessness and the dreaded painting lady’s of the white craze. History is being assaulted, especially furniture as never before in time. Beautiful inlay and veneers and under coats of slapped on paint. I have seen and give credit that some do come out pretty but the loss of historical value is hard to bear. Even Victorian furniture is under assault. One can rarely have it all- the house restored- the furniture restored- the property befitting the grand houses surrounded by malls and neighborhoods of those who don’t even see the beauty of the past right in front of them. My problem with the last posts is me and mine applaud the desire and passion to bring back anything to come to life once more and speak of days gone by. If love it and can’t have the whole package save what you can to hell if its years apart and not perfectly a set- YOU SAVED IT TAHTS THE POINT.

    • Dear Heather,

      Thanks for getting back with me.

      I sm still confused, however.

      You wrote: “My problem with the last posts is me and mine applaud the desire and passion to bring back anything…to life once more…”

      But, this is a philosophy that I applaud, too. I am confused at how my two posts can be interpreted as saying that beautiful old things don’t matter?

      I also don’t understand why my desire to select antiques for the Cross House which are period-correct can be interpreted to mean that beautiful old things don’t matter?

      You seem like a kindred spirit. You cherish old things and work hard to restore them. I admire you for this. But…I also cherish old things and work hard to restore them, yet you seem to think I am advocating otherwise.

  8. I always enjoy the educational nature of so many of your posts (I tour stately homes now with additional interest in lighting and window/door hardware) and am looking forward to having more insight into antique and other eclectic furniture choices while you decorate. Some of those bedroom suites are utterly gorgeous but they definitely need a mansion sized room to work otherwise it’s just clutter. Thank you so much for this blog…I always look forward to curling up in an armchair and reading multiple pages after a few days absent.

    • I concur – I have even started to look at period lighting when researching for my own home. I even took pictures of some at a local salvage yard to compare to those purchased for the Cross House to begin to discern. Fascinating stuff, and I appreciate you allowing us to come along.

  9. Ross please please come visit us at the Overholser Mansion in OKC the home is 98% as the family had. The bottom floor is frozen in 1903 except for the kitchen. The upstairs guest bedrooms have Mr. and Mrs Overholser’s bedroom furniture from before they were married in 1891. I think it will really help you with your new adventure.

  10. Hi Ross, I’m a new reader to your blog and have been reading it from start to finish since sometime last week. I just wanted to say thank you for this blog. I can tell you love Cross House and I can relate.

    My husband and I purchased a modest 1900 Folk Victorian in Nebraska a couple of years ago and I’ve been looking for ways to show it the respect it deserves. All the wood (and most of the hardware) has been painted, it came to us with sponge paint and dingy carpet, and much more– but I love my house.

    This past weekend we removed the hardware from our doors and put them in the slow cooker to strip the layers of paint on them. This isn’t a huge thing to do, and it was free, but as I pushed the paint away I saw something that made me smile. Carved into the hinges was a little heart with the initial S.W. (A quick Google search told me they were Stanley “sweetheart” hinges –very common for the time the house was built.)

    We plan to keep going, doing what we can to make it the best it can be. Even though our home isn’t huge or intricate, and would never have been filled with any of that beautiful furniture either, it’s been a home to many and with proper care it can still be filled with love for many years to come.

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