When we bought our 1888 Victorian home in 2000, we knew we wanted to tackle the parlor as our first interior project. Parlors were the room Victorians use to entertain, and so they were the fanciest room in the house. When we bought our house, none of the rooms were close to being fancy, but the parlor was quite boring. The walls, trim, and carpet were all various shades of beige, with the only point of interest, if you can call it that was a very ugly modern fireplace.
The first purchases we made for our house were some antique light fixtures. Since the parlor wasn’t wired for a ceiling light, and Ferndale has more power outages than anywhere else I’ve lived, we decided on a kerosene lamp fixture, and rebuffed the seller’s offer of electrifying it.
In 2002, our friends Gordon and Sharon Green showed us a line of gas fireplaces they were now selling. We liked the idea have having a fireplace you could light with a flick of the switch, and the “coals” that sit in the grate look pretty realistic once it has been on for awhile. The fireplace does heat the room somewhat, but it’s more for atmosphere than anything else.
The mantle was one of the luckiest finds we’ve had. While I was out on the annual drive for the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Department, I was waiting for Barbara Taubitz to write out a check when I noticed a Polaroid of the mantle sitting on her desk. “Cool mantle”, I remarked. Barbara answered back, “Yes, we’re going to be putting it up on Ebay.” “No you’re not”, was my response. They were kind enough to even let us pay for it in monthly installments. (If anyone has Barbara’s email or can contact her on Facebook, I’d love to send her pictures of the hearth.)
Barbara and Frank owned a house about the same period as ours but they had replaced their fireplace with a pellet stove. The mantel had already been widened once before when they had to rebuilt their fireplace after the ’92 earthquake and it wouldn’t fit the pellet stove.
It was the perfect size and period for our parlor, with one exception. The gap between the stove and the surround was 4″ on top, but only 1″ on each side. My indecision on how to fill that gap left the parlor unfinished for a long time. It seemed like every time a decision was made and I’d start working on it, something would happen and deplete the bank account and it would go to the back burner again. But without making that decision, the hearth couldn’t be completed, and without the hearth, the floor couldn’t be completed.
As our house fell off the foundation in the ’92 earthquake, many of the rooms had damaged floors. But the parlor must have really suffered, as the floor had been completely replaced. Under the moldy carpet we removed was a bare plywood floor that we ended up living with 17 years.
In 2004 work on the parlor was really started. First we installed a cove molding from SF Victoriana, who sadly, is no longer in business. We also added a picture rail from the same company.
Larry Martin came over and not only woodgrained the room’s woodwork, but he also showed us how to do it so we could do the rest of the house ourselves. While visiting the Captain Flavel house in Astoria years earlier, the two tone doors left an impression on me, so the rails and stiles were painted to resemble redwood, and the raised panels were painted to look like a lighter burl.
After I designed the layout, Phil Ostler papered the ceiling for us, using Bradbury & Bradbury’s Dresser II ceiling elements in Terra Cotta/Burgundy. With the ceiling done, we then worked on the walls. The upper walls are painted using Silver Brocade Foliage and the lower walls are painted Frog Leap
Above the picture rail I installed Bradbury & Bradbury’s Iris Frieze in Aesthetic Green. The lower border of the frieze was removed and used to border the split between the upper and lower wall colors.
So after all that work being completed in 2005, the parlor stayed in that almost unfinished state until we picked it back up in 2018. We even had the fabric for the curtains, but that was another issue we couldn’t decide what we wanted to do, as hanging fancy Victorian curtains in a square bay window gets complicated.
This year once we finished the guest bathroom, we really wanted to get the parlor finished. First, we needed to deal with the fireplace. The granite place I had gotten our last estimate from was no longer in business, so I checked around. Granite has gotten really expensive we found out so I tossed that idea and went back to thinking about tile.
I did some research online and found Tile Source who specializes in Victorian encaustic tile. Anna at Tile Source was super helpful in designing a layout that would match the colors in the room and hide the fact that we had an uneven border around the firebox. As it’s a custom design, all the little pieces had to be laid individually. We are so happy with the transformation of the hearth, that we’re already thinking about using more of their tile in our kitchen when we get to that room.
Years earlier, on one of our medical trips to the Bay Area, we found the hearth bumper in an antique store and it appeared to be the right size for our mantel. It ended up being a perfect match, and really adds the finishing touch to our Victorian fireplace.
We had bought the tile for the bathroom from Johnny’s Flooring in Fortuna, and while talking to them about that I also asked them about doing the floor in the parlor. My original thought was to have a border in a different wood go around the room but then I realized that with all the furniture in the room you’d never see it. So then I came up with the idea of just doing a border around the hearth, and a matching border in the bay window.
I found Czar Floors online while doing a search for inspiration, and boy were they inspiring. They have some really cool floors and borders on their web site, we finally narrowed it down to BA099. Since they do all their cutting by computer, it was easy to have the pattern reduced in size to better fit the scale of our room. Everything arrived pre-mitered and precut so it was easy for Jay of Johnny’s Flooring to install it. Jay did a great job on the floor, and he had a lot of fun doing the border.
With the floors finished, I told Lori we wouldn’t move the furniture back in until the curtains were finished. So that got her motivated to figure out how we were going to hang them. I ended up building a box frame for both windows, that sits above the window casings. The swags are attached to the frame, while inside the frame is a pole that holds the burgundy curtains. We found the trim online from Rose Lace & Braid. Their prices are amazing, as their super fancy trims are about half the price of the generic fringe at our local fabric store. They have so many to choose from it was really hard to decide, but they sent us a bunch of samples so we could see the colors and see how they hung. We also ended up buying the tassel tie backs from them.
With the curtains finished, we moved back in. I organized the room with a lot less furniture than before which really opens it up and makes everything much easier to get to. The last piece we needed was a Victorian piano stool, which we found at Karen Pingatore’s sale.
We’re really enjoying having our parlor back, and it’s amazing what a transformation just the curtains and floor have provided. When guests come over one of the things we love to do is entertain in the parlor, with just the four kerosene lamps and the fireplace for light. It really gives you an idea what it was like to live without the modern convenience of electric lamps!