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FALL HOME TOURS: Victorian revival


By Kim Boatman | Sep 23, 2006 |

The neighborhood kids called it the haunted house. The home inspector stuck his hands in his pockets, surveyed the creaky 1893 Victorian and drawled, "Well, lady, you just might as well write Pandora across the house."

And friends, asked by Miranda von Stockhausen and Diana Hardick to drive by and check out their potential new digs, just figured the pair had given them the wrong address.

"We were so blind with love. We were so innocent," says von Stockhausen. "We're just two gals, regular joes. We fell in love with a wreck."Photo of the front parlor

But love, helped along by hard labor and some cash, can work wonders. And that's why visitors on the inaugural Northside Home Tour in San Jose on Sunday will flock to this Sixth Street Victorian. They'll stroll through the inviting English garden out front, climb the front steps while admiring the exterior paint scheme, and linger in rooms with 13-foot ceilings and period details.

Surely, the old girl will be preening a bit. After all, just four short years ago, she was such a shambles that von Stockhausen and Hardick couldn't coax the neighborhood kids up the stairs to go trick-or-treating shortly after they moved in.

Home-buying and rational thought don't always keep company. Hardick, director of operations for a computer company, and von Stockhausen, who works in marketing, were looking for a Victorian when they came across this house in San Jose's Hensley Historic District. So, just what made them think they could restore a 12-room home that had a tree growing through the family parlor window?

While their hearts ruled, they also had a bit of practicality on their side. This home wasn't quite Pandora's box, packed with nothing but trouble. Despite the rickety front steps and sundry other problems, the house was relatively stable. It had settled less than an inch in more than a century.

And although its past was checkered— the home was a hippie haven in the '70s and the previous owner bragged that it housed 29 people at one point— the home was rife with original Victorian details.

Persian elements

Photo of the family parlor

A proud von Stockhausen points out the little squares of glass in jewel tones in the 13-foot-long bay window in the family parlor and the ornate wood overmantel that rises above what was once a coal-burning fireplace. Peer closely at the doorknobs, and you'll find an intriguing Persian design. The Persian elements in the home suit the couple's interest in Persian, Turkish and Moroccan design.

Von Stockhausen declines to reveal the cost of the renovation. Suffice it to say, she says, that everything costs more in a period home. And the couple has had to prioritize.

Early on, a decent paint job was important. Von Stockhausen says the crews from Doug Yeargain Painting worked months burning, sanding, caulking, priming and painting. And there are some elemental needs that must be met; the couple spent $37,000 on a new roof. They're grateful now to have heat, after too many cold winter mornings spent warming their hands over the burners on the stove.

Each small restoration project takes time, and in turn, leads to another. Simply cleaning the beautiful redwood woodwork that adorns the house was a project unto itself. And looming out back is a gargantuan task: restoring the carriage house.

A work in progress

Resurrecting the Victorian is a 10-year journey, von Stockhausen says. It's also an education, as the couple finds resources and information and also shares what they've learned through the Victorian Preservation Association of Santa Clara Valley.

They buy tools, learn to use them and do almost anything that "doesn't require a permit," von Stockhausen says. Photo of Miranda

Their joy in the process is evident. Already, the home is decorated in period finery, as they find Victorian pieces. And von Stockhausen is patiently stenciling a bold and elaborate "16th-century Ottoman Empire" design on the walls of the front parlor.

Once, long ago, this house was meant for guests, with its showy details and massive pocket doors that allow the homeowners to control traffic between the public living areas.

"Whoever owned it knew they were going to entertain and had to have a house to impress," von Stockhausen says.

And impress it will Sunday.

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