The Cross House

Fun with Furniture. NOT!

I am no longer having fun with furniture.

My two previous posts detailed the criteria I have set for selecting antiques for the 1894 Cross House:

  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 all seems innocuous enough but most readers either did not agree with me, did not understand what I was talking about, or got mad at what I wrote. Really mad.

Golly.

So, I hope the following is…helpful.

 

This is the only antique I have purchased so far. The chair is period-correct to the house. It is the same, from a  price-point perspective, as the house. And, style-wise, it complements the house.

 

The Cross House was, at $18,000, an expensive house. But it was not crazy expensive. It is not a grand mansion. And I take this into consideration when selecting antiques. Any antiques chosen should be of a higher quality than would have been chosen for, say, a $4,000 house, but not so extravagant than would have been appropriate for, say, a $75,000 house.

The mantel in my parlor (above) was selected from a catalog. It was not, relatively speaking, too expensive.

The chair in my parlor (above) was also likely purchased from a catalog. It also was not, relatively speaking, too expensive.

And this is important to me.

The chair is, too, from the early 1890s. So, it’s aesthetic aligns with the house. The chair complements the mantel and trim in the parlor. And I really like this.

 

The chair features spindles and carving.

 

The mantel also has spindles and…

 

…carving of a similar nature.

 

And here is the first image again. See the chair? Now, visually replace the chair with…

 

…this one.

 

The blue chair is decades older than the Cross House. It is a wholly different aesthetic. It was vastly more expensive than the chair now in my parlor.

Again though, try and visualize the blue chair in the parlor image rather than the existing green chair.

The blue chair would compete for attention with the mantel and trim in the room. Indeed, I believe it would compete with even the stained-glass.

There are zillions of antiques out there. Rather than just purchase any ol’ antique, my thought is: why not create a narrow criteria? Why not make the extra effort to find pieces which truly complement the Cross House? To buttress its historical timeline?

To me, this just makes a lot of sense but y’all seem to think otherwise!

 

Some readers also objected to the idea that every old house should be done in a strict period-correct manner. But I have never advocated as such. Indeed, as my parlor testifies, I am all for an eclectic decor! The parlor reflects numerous eras and aesthetics. Yet, the only antiques in the room (the wood chair and chandelier) are, by design, period-correct. As no one will mistake anything else in the room as being from the Victorian era there is, thus, no confusion with the historical narrative.

 

In the 19th-century, antiques were not valued. Across America, countless new houses were filled with new furniture. In the White House, it was routine to auction off the “old” stuff and replace it with new stuff. Yes, people also brought their old stuff into their new homes, but this was often motivated by sentimental attachment, or determined by budget. And if budget was a determining factor, this would have been usually only evidenced in very modest homes.

But the Cross House was not a modest home. It was, rather, intended as a showplace. It was fashionable, too. And it is unlikely that the Cross family dragged their old furniture into the main rooms of their new showplace. And this would have been a normal practice.

 

The Red Room in the White House, circa 1869. Most everything in the room, including the mantel and over-mirror, was new.

 

1874 (circa). Just five years later and the room has new, hyper-fashionable furnishings.

 

1883 (circa). In late 1892, President Chester Arthur auctioned off most of the White House furnishings and hired the famed Louis Tiffany to redecorate. This is his work in the Red Room. Again, most everything is new, including the mantel and over-mirror. It is surprising that the chandelier was retained. I love the ceiling paper.

 

1893 (circa). A decade later the room has been subtly updated.

 

1904 (circa). The White House was massively rebuilt by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. Again, the “old” stuff was sold and new stuff installed as evidenced, again, in the Red Room. (Edith Roosevelt furiously objected to numerous pieces of Lincoln-era furniture being discarded and she was successful in retaining them. Today, the famous Lincoln Bedroom contains these pieces.)

 

1952, after the the White House was gutted and rebuilt by Truman, and the rooms were filled, again, with mostly new furnishings. This is what Jacqueline Kennedy inherited, and objected to. She was determined that the house should be rich with antiques, and she also created, for the first time, the position of White House Curator.

 

2009. Today, as a direct result of the Mrs. Kennedy’s effort, the White House is filled with antiques.

 

The White House is, of course, special but its decor reflects current trends across America. It rarely creates trends. And the trend in America for a great long time was a desire for the new. New houses! New clothes! New furnishings! A preservation consciousness only really took hold in the 1960s, and this has continued to grow. Today, the White House actively seeks out pieces which were discarded during most of its existence.

Oh, and just for fun…

 

…the Lincoln Bedroom. Many of the furniture pieces, including the famous bed (which Lincoln did NOT ever sleep in) were saved by Edith Roosevelt. (Click to enlarge.)

 

 

31 Responses to Fun with Furniture. NOT!

  1. People really got mad over what furniture YOU were buying with your own money for YOUR home? lol, gesh. This is why I never could have my own blog, people would hunt me down to drag out my comfy recliners because they didn’t match my boring ol’ 1901 farmhouse.

  2. I see what you are doing. You want a coherence in your design. This is not about preserving or collecting antiques. This is about decorating your 1894 house in a manner coherent to you…..and I think most of us agree that your taste, knowledge and skills are up to the task! I loved your 2 previous posts. I am so enjoying the new insights, knowledge you have shared. My decorating ends up embellished with 3 small sets of grubby handprints so I am currently an armchair decorater. I hope you get back the “fun”. Please tell us more.

  3. Ross, you’re wrong. Lincoln had to sleep in the bed in the Lincoln bedroom. It was his bedroom after all and my grandmother told me. My grandmother would not lie to me.

    This is the way stories/legends are passed on from one generation to another.

  4. By all means, do your thing. Your house, your money, your choice.

    But can this Kansas boy point out something to an east-coaster?? The Cross House may not be considered GRAND for the era in which it was built. However, I would suggest that it was quite grand for Emporia. The size of the house was probably not totally unique. But the quantity of stained glass, the hugely impressive stairhall, the great woodwork are all very unique for the area and would have been considered most impressive at the time. In Kansas. In Emporia. I bet this was probably as impressive of a house as Cross could have built without people beginning to wonder about the safety of their funds in his bank. Is it possible Mrs. Cross just may have had an over-the-top Queen’s bedroom? Or perhaps the spoiled daughter? These are areas the average visitor would not have seen, so it could be a bit more lavish without raising eyebrows. Just one possibility.

    • That’s an interesting point, David. Ross has mentioned that the Cross House was the first in Emporia to have gas/electric lighting, instead of just gas (if I remember correctly).

      I can’t imagine anyone getting mad that there are so many great viewpoints here! It’s so interesting to read everyone’s take on this. And we all know that whatever Ross does will, in the end, be fabulous.

      • Hi, Tiffaney!

        All I can confirm is that the Cross House was one of the first houses in Emporia to have electric lighting. Perhaps THE first but I have not bene able to confirm this.

    • Hi, David!

      The Cross House has always been a grand house. Even in Emporia.

      But it was never a crazy grand house. Again, the house cost $18,000. This was way more than the cost of the average house in the country, which would have been less than $5,000.

      Across the street from the Cross House is the Plumb House. It certainly cost more than $18,000 because it is full of custom-made mantels and trim rather than catalog pieces.

      Across the country though in cities like St. Louis and New York were crazy grand houses cost $75,000 and $125,000 and more.

      • Ross, I think you are far too modest. Think about comparable costs today in New York and California relative to Kansas. You can get one heck of a lot bigger and nicer house in Kansas for $300K than in other places for $1M. But then of course you don’t get the friendly, more laid back lifestyle in those places like you do in Kansas either. At any rate, your observations about furniture are interesting and I too think you should follow your instincts. There is very little you could do to the Cross House to diminish it’s natural beauty.

  5. That was a very enlightening post; thanks Ross! I had no idea the White House had been through such frequent remodeling and redecorating. I was aware of the significant reconstruction (especially structural) during the Truman presidency, but not how much, or frequently the interior was changed. Your timeline of the Red Room was most instructive!

    • Thanks, Seth!

      I have long been a White House enthusiast.

      Compare the constant change in the White House with that of Windsor Castle. George IV installed lavish interiors in the castle during the early 19th-century. This work is largely intact today.

      But America was, and still is largely, all about The New.

      • You likely won’t want to include my comment here on this thread (and that’s OK) lest it veer off on an unpleasant tangent, but I live in utter apoplectic abject FEAR of what the current first family might do … or undo!

        • OMG, I never thought of that. Everything covered in gold! Gold is beautiful, but too much is tacky. Let’s hope they’re too preoccupied with all of the antics going on, that they won’t have time to think about redecorating.

          • Thanks Ross, that was interesting. I never saw pictures of the Obama’s private residence. It is classy and beautiful.

            [From Ross: Agreed, Cindy. Just like the Obama’s: classy and beautiful.]

    • Seth, You can find the original video of Mrs. Kennedy filming and talking about her collections of “returned” items to the White House. She filmed this in 1962 (I think) for CBS tv. She had wonderful taste. And created the first Curator of the White House furnishings which still exists today. It’s a wonderful, historic video to see. She had a wealth of history knowledge.

  6. Ross, I get what you’re trying to do here and that’s great. I don’t think all antiques have to be of appropriate age/style to fit in with the Cross House. As long as the colors co-ordinate, I don’t think it’s a problem. But, you do whatever makes you happy and feels comfortable. And I LOVE the Lincoln bedroom.

  7. I think what you are trying to do is clever. When you have antiques your aiming for furniture that Cross House possibly could have had at the time. Not just period correct but also budget correct.

    I also like the fact that the parlour is instantly obvious that it’s not what the Cross family would have decorated with. But it still compliments the house.

    But when you use antiques they are correct in every sense saving confusion. Hope you get the fun back soon Ross.

  8. This strict attention to period style is kind of a foreign concept to me as my parents, grandmother and I all furnished our bedrooms mostly with hand-me-downs but it’s an interesting exercise. But then, none of us has bedrooms with strong enough architectural detail to set the tone for what does and doesn’t go with it either.

    I have a dresser and wash stand (https://chadscrookedhouse.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/img_0619.jpg?w=625) that look a lot like some of the ones you had in the last 2 posts. I don’t really know Victorian furniture but always wondered the exact time and socio-economic origins of it. I know it came into my family in the early 20th Century through my great-grand Aunt Shizzy’s second husband (Out of 3, and the first was a priest!), who liked to shop at estate auctions. They had stuff from the estate of John Jacob Astor, though they lost all of that during the Depression.

    We have more of this stuff than usual because my grandparents liked it in the 50’s and 60’s, and the rest of the family only wanted they old stuff after they took it all. My mom liked “my” dresser and wash stand when they were in her bedroom, but remembers Aunt Shizzy’s house as being oppressively stuffy. Brocade upholstery that she said was so stiff and heavy it looked indestructible, yet Aunt Shizzy had plastic slipcovers over it.

    And when it comes to being budget correct, I’ve been really, really frustrated about how little information there is on houses like mine. They were thrown up by the thousand yet I’ve never seen a single one with its original first floor interior intact in person or photographed. There was even one (albeit a bit larger) that was an enormously popular attraction at the Columbian Exposition, but there are no photos I can find of its interior. I would be able to find the footprints of my house’s original interiors… if I ripped out my prized inlaid floors.

  9. I think you are bold and brave to even put your furniture dilemmas out there for the world to critique. The house is AMAZING, you are AMAZING, and thank you for letting us follow your journey.

  10. Ross I see and get what you are trying to do (I think) and I love you for it!!!!!! You are trying to give people the experience of stepping back in time to when the Cross house was new. I am I right? Honestly it doesn’t matter what you are doing. I know that when ever it all comes together its going to be funtasic and YOUR dream and prob a few other peoples too! I can’t wait to see where this goes,Patiently waiting for leaves to start budding and flowers to start blooming on this new branch of the Adventures in Ross at the Cross House.

  11. Hi Ross. I get it too. But I have a question. Since you are so interested in restoration in general, do you have a stash of antique furniture or even little odds and ends that you have preserved over time just because you love them? I am specifically wondering if there are special pieces that you kept because they belonged to someone you dearly loved. Now they are antiques. Whether they are younger or older than 1894, would you find a way to incorporate them into the Cross House decor? Would you disqualify personally important antiques because they did not fit the time frame or budget of the house? Just curious.

  12. Ross — your house—your aesthetic.

    Preposterous —anyone would become angry over the opinion of an owner doing a tremendous job restoring a national treasure!

    Naysayers who object— their problem not yours!

    Please ignore such nonsense! Nobody’s business how you choose to decorate your own home.

    Your rationale for choices you have made— such as the 1890’s chair in the parlor are reasonable, researched & work so nicely.

    Bottom line—preposterous anyone would dare opine angry comments & choices!

    You can do whatever you wish without apology.

    Please ignore unkind & angry comments.

    Choose how you wish to react.

    If it were me, I would choose not to respond & definitely not try to explain further my rationale. However it is not me — it’s you.

    Again your house— your opinion— your choice(s) & your aesthetic!

    • Hi, Sandra!

      Thank you for your gallant defense!

      I am OK though with differing opinions and also critiques. And I enjoy a good debate!

      Much love, R.

  13. I have the strangest feeling that we are all agreeing… vehemently.

    My Opinion: those who are upset seem to feel that you are limiting your choices because of the date restriction. That there may be items you LOVE but will not consider because they are too old/new. I believe that while you may love something in isolation, you will not love it in the cRoss House unless it complements the architecture and era.

    I think Ross is planning on using the new-for-1894 as a skeleton to build on, not a box that is closing him off. My 2 cents.

  14. How I would frame the conversation is by scale: some furniture is too large (or too small or too ornate or too something that is not just right) for a room. Look closely at the 1890-ish chair that Ross features in his parlor: it is not too big, not too small, not too different … it is just right. For me, this has been the hardest thing to teach my eyes to see, because it requires that I not see what I want to see, but what is.

  15. Hi Ross – I’ve been lurking here for quite some time and can’t wait to see your house completed! The one thing I would say about the furnishings being completely to period is that if the house had been continually occupied by a family as a residence, they would have purchased new furniture when tastes/styles changed or when something broke (you’d be amazed how easy it is to break a headboard in half by standing on the footboard, holding hands with your brother, and leaping onto the mattress – not that I ever did that but I’ve been told it’s possible, lol) so it likely wouldn’t have been exactly to period. So as long as it looks appropriate, I don’t think it would look out of place. Also, they probably would have brought furniture from a prior house when moving in, especially for areas that were considered private. At any rate, you should do as you see fit; it’s your house, you’ll be living there. I’m sure the results will be beautiful. One other question: are you going to install a life to 2nd and 3rd floors to accommodate handicapped visitors and to help once you get older? Anyway, I look forward to your future posts.

    • Hi, Sandy! Nice to meet you!

      I don’t know what more I can add to the discussion that I have not already said.

      Yes, I can fill the Cross House with antiques from any era and any style and any quality.

      But…I don’t want to.

      I want antiques chosen to complement the era the house was created, and to complement the many existing mantels and trim.

      And the green chair I show does just that. The blue chair I show does not do that; rather, it would compete for attention with the mantel and trim.

      In short, I can indiscriminately select antiques for the house. Or, I can take a more curatorial approach. I am highly confident that the latter approach will yield better results.

  16. I do agree that it’s your house and you should decorate it in any way you see fit.

    I understand that you don’t want to confuse the historical narrative. I fear that you’re attempting to not confuse the narrative to persons that aren’t aware of history. For example, my 1931 house is filled with 1930’s radios and some 1940’s TV’s. Many people think that the 1940’s TV’s might be period correct. I know better and that’s all that matters in my book.

    You’re doing a great job, even though I am not a fan of the striped floors.

  17. I personally appreciate and applaud your logic and method for carefully selecting your antique furniture pieces. I am the exact same way with the few missing light fixtures and hardware pieces that I needed to replace.

    I am more loosey goosey with my furniture regarding the era of construction (as I adore mission oak furniture…sooo not 1928), but stick to the same logic of not filling the house with antique pieces that are too plain or too fancy for the house.

    Don’t listen to the nay-sayers Ross!

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