Fun with Furniture

During the last many months, as my thoughts have turned to creating an Airbnb on the second floor of the Cross House, I started looking at period-correct bedroom suites.

I have a thing for matching suites.

It develops that there are a LOT of suites out there! Who knew? But what would be best for the 1894 Cross House? I was not interested in, say, an 1860s suite or a 1915 suite. I wanted a suite which would buttress the 1894 aesthetic of the house.

Looking at so many suites was kinda fun. Kinda like a test of wits. For, while Bo Sullivan would, in an instant, be able to date whatever suite he glanced at, for me this was a challenge. I would ponder ponder ponder images and wonder: Is this early 1890s? Or early 1900s? Or mid-1880s? I enjoy this kind of knowledge challenge.

Another concern, and a significant one, was finding sets which matched, ah, the quality of the house. The Cross House cost $18,000 when new. This was a lot for the era, but not a crazy lot. In the 1890s one could buy a two-story home for less than $5,000. Indeed, most houses of the era cost quite a bit less than $5,000. But one could also buy mansion-grade palaces for $50,000 or twice or triple that. Or more.

These thoughts guided me. I did not want a set which might have been ideal for, say, a $75,000 house. Or a $3,000 house. No, I wanted something fancy but not too fancy. Or too plain. I wanted something appropriate to an $18,000 house built in 1894.

This particular concern results from countless old houses which are, today, unconcerned, decoratively, with such concerns. I see modest Victorian-era houses now rich with wildly expensive Bradbury & Bradbury wallpapers covering every surface. I see modest houses now rich with furnishings which would have been, in the late 19th-century, only seen in mansions. I see modest houses now rich with mansion-grade lighting.

To me, this super-sizing approach, which is common, creates a kind of disconnect in my mind and I am uncomfortable when viewing the current decor of most old houses. It is interesting that I do not recall ever seeing a single article about decorating an old house in both a period-correct manner and budget-correct.

And these thoughts informed my search for suites.

On eBay, I looked at hundreds of suites and finally distilled this to three sets which captured my special attention.



LOVE THIS. But, this was a bit before the Cross House (as Bo so informed me) which was OK with me (bit being the operative word) but it was also a nicer set than would have been in an $18,000 house in 1894.


The quality is just a step above the Cross House.




I was foaming at the mouth for this. The asymmetry is so unusual. And so incredibly fabulous!


Yet, as with Suite #1, this suite was not really a complement to the Cross House in terms of a period budget nor, well, style. This suite is way more stylish, way more sophisticated, than the Cross House was in 1894.




I liked, rather than loved, this set. Yet, this is the set I would have most likely have purchased.


The quality and style of the set most complements the Cross House. Fancy, but not TOO fancy. And style-wise? Not too sophisticated.


It was fun shopping. But I purchased nothing. And likely will not for some time. The bedrooms of the Cross House all need to be rewired, all the bathrooms need to be redone and replumbed, and only then will the decorating commence.

But what fun such commencement will be!




  1. Blair Carmichael on March 23, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Whatever you do, please put modern mattresses in these beds. Orthopedic would be my suggestion.

    If I have to sleep in a period-correct mattress I will not give you my best Trip Advisor rating.

    • Ross on March 23, 2018 at 11:39 pm

      I am a passionate believer in comfort!

    • Jakob on March 24, 2018 at 2:46 am

      One would definitely want to advertise the quality of your new mattress to counter the perception of old beds, but nothing on this earth was more comfortable than my great-grandmas feather mattress on old-school, uncovered box springs I slept on as a child! Even with four or five of us kids perpendicular to the headboard so everyone could fit, it was still the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. Are you going to go with tradition full size or put on those rail adapter dealies to fit queen size? Selection and quality range a great leap forward with queen, but the cool wood side rails and full size are authentic and period-correct.

      • Ross on March 24, 2018 at 10:39 am

        Hi, Jakob!

        I may not, in the end, purchase any antique beds.

        There will be five Airbnb rooms available. Four will have queen beds. One a twin.

        I can’t fully explain right now, but I may have no choice but to create custom headboards for all the rooms. This will make sense when I later post my drawing of the planned furniture arrangements.

        • sara on March 25, 2018 at 4:23 pm

          And as an owner of several similarly dated beds, the mattresses may not fit. Be prepared to have to alter them in order to use the footboards. Such a PITA but collapsing beds in the middle of the night is worse.

  2. David Franks on March 23, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    Never mind the furniture selection for a moment. Will your B and B have cats– matching or not? My lovely wife and I stayed at a B and B in Pennsylvania that provided a resident cat during the day for willing guests. We were willing, and the cat joined us for an afternoon nap.

    • Ross on March 23, 2018 at 11:37 pm

      I do not lack for cats.

  3. Sandra Lee on March 24, 2018 at 12:37 am

    Love the furniture ideas & especially the asymmetry!

  4. Dodi on March 24, 2018 at 6:24 am

    I applaud your passion for historical accuracy, Ross! What I’m confused about is your thought that the furniture should be of 1894 vintage only. From Susan’s architectural decisions, she was a very forward thinking woman, but I don’t think that she would have abandoned her “good” furniture for new when they moved in. New pieces, yes, but not everything that she and Mr. Cross possessed. Her own bedroom furniture particularly might have been 1880s as would Mr. Cross’. The dainty fireplace room might have contained (IMO)girly furniture for the granddaughter’s visits, but as for “all new” 1894 furniture when they moved in? My point is that every household has “carry over” pieces and I don’t think that the Crosses would have been any different, especially considering that they were adults during the Civil War. So while period accuracy is important, must it be only in that one very narrow period?

    • Ross on March 24, 2018 at 10:33 am

      Hi, Dodi!

      I agree that “carry over” pieces in a new home was common.

      But I am not in any way attempting to recreate what the Cross family owned. And nor do I have the slightest clue as to what they owned.

      My focus is not on the Cross family, but the house. And the house has strong personality, a personality specific to a particular time period. When buying antiques, I want to enhance this personality by selecting complementary pieces.

      For example, I have a single antique in the parlor, a chair. The chair was selected because it is period-correct to the house, and also budget-correct. It is fancy but not too fancy. And I think it looks great in the room. I doubt a chair from, say, 1860, would look as good.

  5. Spero on March 24, 2018 at 9:25 am

    I am by no means a period furniture expert, but I will say my family has a black walnut set nearly identical to the first passed down from my grandfather’s great grandmother, who purchased it new as the wife of a moderately successful but by no means mansion-wealthy stonemason/builder in the Akron area. They lived in what had been an old farmhouse so I don’t think the cost was unrealistic, although it would have been their best furniture.

    It was originally a double, adapted by my grandfather to be a full in the 1980’s. The top pattern is nearly identical but with clovers instead of ivy and more obvious burl wood sections. When she moved in with her daughter in the 1920s the bed and matching marble topped dresser/mirror were stored in a shed because none of the family wanted the dusty old stuff! My grandfather somewhat unwillingly inherited a cartload a few decades later after more family passed, and it wasn’t until his wife decided to experiment with refinishing the ‘junk’ sometime in the 1970s-1980s that they realized what they had. (Needless to say, it did not become her test run, although she did later refinish when she had more skill)

  6. Bo Sullivan on March 24, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Questions of motivation, etc. for using period furniture aside, which no one will ever agree about, IF one is interested in at least understanding what sorts of choices folks had at any particular time then I like dated furniture trade catalogs as a great first start.

    Just as one catalog from Pottery Barn today won’t indicate all beds from 2018, one catalog from 1894 won’t either, but look at a wide enough range and certainly the trends and looks become more apparent.

    I think you have some of these, don’t you? Maybe you can share a picture or two for us… I think you also might have those 1894 Sears and Montgomery Ward reprints too – those make a great reference point for mass market tastes (and prices) to compare the more interesting and unusual against.

  7. tiffaney jewel on March 24, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    If the first set was built BEFORE the Cross House and was a little too expensive, then by the time your house was built, it would have been a “used” set and thus LESS fancy/expensive. You could look at it that way. If Mrs Cross wanted to buy something second-hand, she could have spent her budget on that, which would have been cheaper when she went to buy it than it would have been when it was brand new.

    I don’t think that perspective is terribly far-fetched, considering you have a Saarinen table in the parlor 🙂

    • Ross on March 24, 2018 at 4:07 pm

      Hi, Tiffany!

      No matter how much the first set might have cost in 1894, the set is just a bit grander than the Cross House. My goal in any antiques purchased is that they be both period-correct to house (so as to reinforce What The House Is) and not too fancy or not fancy enough. The architecture of the house is quite specific, and I wish any antique pieces to complement this.

      As the Saarinen table is not an antique, nobody will think it is from the Victorian-era! Ditto for the 1970s Hollywood Regency pendants hanging in the library.

      • tiffaney jewel on March 24, 2018 at 5:16 pm

        I really love your take on how to decorate a Victorian house in 2018. I forgot that you were trying to not confuse the timelines, and you’re right that the first set might do that. (I do love the table in the parlor, by the way. Fantastic choice.)

        But I can’t imagine it being grander than the Cross House! That’s because, to me, nothing is grander than the Cross House 🙂

        You could always go with the ubiquitous yellow and gold furniture from 1960s Montgomery Ward. I have about ten pieces of it myself. I just keep finding it!

        • Ross on March 24, 2018 at 6:21 pm

          Hi again!

          The $18,000 Cross House is grand as compared to most homes of the era but it is quite modest as compared to, say, a $125,000 limestone mansion in St. Louis.

          The Cross House was mostly built from catalogs in that all the doors and mantels and trim were ordered. This cost MUCH less than having everything custom made. I remind myself of this all the time when making decorating choices.

        • Architectural Observer on March 25, 2018 at 5:10 pm

          You can’t go wrong with Montgomery Ward’s Style House furnishings (except for their French Provincial line, which was predictably milquetoast)… I regret selling the pieces I had!

          • tiffaney jewel on March 25, 2018 at 5:53 pm

            I’m pretty sure the French Provincial line is what I have. As I said, the pieces are yellow and gold. I even painted a chair to match!

  8. Heather on March 25, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    I know what you mean about wanting to have everything period correct and in keeping with the house. I’m under contract for a 1940s house right now and have been dreaming about furniture and items to fit. But then it occurred to me that the people who moved in probably would bring items from their parents and would have bought other items over the years. To buy everything exactly at that time and to never change it or add to it would be more like a time capsule it a museum than an actual home. Also, my situation is a little odd in that I’m buying a Foursquare where the it originally mixed styles. It has elements of Craftsman, federalist and Victorian architecture. Whoever built it had very eclectic tastes. I think I’ll try to buy 40s items, but I may throw in other stuff that I love. I’m not sure yet.

    • Ross on March 25, 2018 at 6:55 pm

      Hi, Heather!

      I have never advocated having everything in a home be period-correct to the build date.

      Indeed, my parlor is decidedly the total opposite of such an approach!

      For me, while any antiques I purchase will be period-correct to the Cross House, I feel quite free to add modern art on the walls, a 1957 table design in the parlor, and a hipster rug on the floor!

      And, oh, how I have SO wanted to buy a 1940s house! I love the 1940s and I would fill the house with 1940s lighting (which looks nothing like 1930s or 1950s lighting) and I would scour 1940s decorating magazines to find period-appropriate furnishings and fabrics. What fun this would be!

      But I would not hesitate to hang a huge flat-panel TV screen on the wall!

      • Heather Estes on March 25, 2018 at 8:23 pm

        I may be hitting up your store for lights and you for advice. I have a few original light fixtures in the home. I’ll send you some pics someone and see if you can tell me something about them. 🙂

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