Monday, August 11, 2014

Don't Try This at Home: The 1930's Victorian

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I love everything about Victorian and Edwardian architecture (although I'm relieved I don't have to bake my daily bread in a coal stove or do laundry over a fire). I hate to think about how most of the once-exquisite interiors of my 19th-century Back Bay neighborhood have been torn to bits and wrecked modernized, especially since it keeps happening every day. I wish everyone would get tired of their open kitchens, breakfast bars, recessed lighting, sheet-rocked walls, extra bathrooms, and so on, and put everything back, just the way it was. Where it belongs. 

On the other hand, there's this:

All photos courtesy of Bowes Real Estate Real Living, via

It's charming, isn't it? It's a brick Tudor house in Arlington, Massachusetts, built in 1931. It has almost a "Storybook Style" vibe. I'd say. Houses from this period often have picturesque details — romantic rooflines, low or beamed ceilings, arched doorways, wrought-iron hardware, natural woodwork, and a rustic fireplace or two. 

What they do not have is Victorian details, such as ornate ceiling medallions. Those only belong in high-ceilinged, formal 19th-century buildings. I love all things Victorian, but I don't want to find any of those lovely details tarting up a 20th-century "Tudor" house. What were these homeowners thinking?

That object on the ceiling makes no sense at all.

Here's the living room, with its busy, English-style wallpaper, wainscoting, aforementioned fireplace and arched doorways — and some recessed lighting thrown in just for fun. At least there's no medallion, phew:

But this room wasn't so lucky:

That is one crazy ceiling — and it is probably only about 8 feet high. The overkill painted medallion upstages that sad little chandelier, which is all wrong for it and the room. And the gilding and shaped molding are also wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong for a 1930's Tudor house.

Here's another fancy repro Victorian medallion paired with a relatively modern chandelier. There must have been a sale on these medallions, which are probably molded from urethane rather than plaster, at Renovator's Supply.

There are no fake Victorian touches in the kitchen, but it has problems of its own. It suffers from what I refer to as "Candy Store Design," where the owners choose whatever they think looks appealing and assume it's all going to work together because they like all of it. The result is inevitably chaos rather than an integrated, cohesive look:

In these photos, you can count four different styles of ceiling lighting fixtures. You can see two or three different styles of cabinetry and hardware, and three different counter surfaces. Kitchens like this give me sensory overload.

Then there's the basement, where someone cleverly covered the brick fireplace in mosaic shower tile. At least it's not in rainbow colors. Don't miss the two kinds of ceiling fixtures and that lovely old Thermos on the mantel. (This family also loves TVs and wrought-iron wall decorations.)

Upstairs, we are back in Ceiling Medallion City:

I find the choices of light fixtures baffling in relation to the medallions. There's no sense of proportion or stylistic coordination. The pairings are just random, I guess. And the ceilings are too low for real 19th-century chandeliers, anyway.

If the incongruous light-and-medallion combo below isn't enough to make you bug-eyed, consider those two Space Age ceiling fans stuck in the corners, where I guess they do battle over the bed:

Maybe the currents from those fans cancel each other out so it's still very hot in that bed on summer nights. But even dueling fans are more tolerable than the one in this purple room, which seems to have crawled off center inside its ring in an embarrassed attempt to escape:

On the other hand, this bathroom is rather nice, as long as those spotlights aren't blinding. This family must watch a lot of TV.

I sort of like this quirky gray and pale chartreuse bedroom, too, although some recessed (or are they abscessed?) lights appear to have wandered down one sloping wall because they felt they were overpopulating the ceiling. But I'm still awarding extra points because there's no medallion anywhere:

Finally, this house illustrates of one of our favorite truth of Boston house-hunting: The weirder a property is on the inside, the better it will be on the outside. And that's where this house's magic lies:

Sigh. What a tranquil, lush, secluded patio. If this house were in California rather than Massachusetts, and we could spend all our time outside year-round, I'd want this place. 

Here's a cozy little porch with pointed arches:

It looks like they decorated out here with twinkle lights instead of ceiling medallions and crazy '70s fixtures. Always a better idea.

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