For more than a century, the Stewart House on Kings Highway in Medford has carried its Victorian farmhouse heritage proudly. Old-fashioned Americana was replete with country-inspired wallpaper, a gigantic fireplace and grand built-ins.
When Joanne Varley (whose penchant for old structures has resulted in several Rogue Valley remodels) bought the 3,700-square-foot home in 2004, she knew she wanted to put her own stamp on the house, while respecting its pedigree.
If you love it, don't leave it behind. Such is the edict behind many highly original home design projects.
"When you're really, really drawn to a piece — of furniture, of wallpaper, of fabric — buy it, then build around it," advises Peggy Herrick of Decorating Den in Medford. "If you settle for something else, you'll end up changing it soon."
Joanne Varley's remodel of the historic Stewart home on Kings Highway in Medford illustrates several examples of the "no regrets" theory.
Throughout the house are window treatments made from fabric the homeowner has been stowing for years. The soft, creamy and understated floral lace is the perfect foil for the home's farmhouse linearity — as are sheers in the formal living room and the feminine detail in the upstairs guest room.
"She already owned and loved the fabric," Herrick says. "She knew she wanted to use it, and together we figured out how."
Two other objets d'amour became important "inspiration pieces" that determined the final look of entire rooms in the Victorian farmhouse.
A thick, hand-carved, rose glass light fixture turned Joanne's master bath into a luscious haven. Downstairs, a breezy painting of a leaning woman provoked a rosewood and sage green palette for the formal living room.
And keeping a tight hold on meaningful items has allowed her to fill the house with family heirlooms, a lifetime art collection and framed fruit labels from all over the country.
"Don't just look for what you need, look for what you love," advises Joanne, who has learned not to ignore her design instincts.
"Even though old homes are a lot of work, I love them," says the former owner of Meadowbrook Farm outside Talent. "The level of detail and patina make them look and feel so much more real and lived-in than a newly built home."
Retaining the home's original red fir floors, Joanne and designer Peggy Herrick, owner of Decorating Den in Medford, papered the upper walls of the stately entry in a soft pattern. A dark armoire anchors the area and welcomes visitors into the space.
Tall, rectangular windows dressed in lace swags and Roman shades line the formal living room. Bookcases with corbels, hand-carved to match the fireplace (which was updated with granite and a gas insert), take the place of two former doors.
In this and every other room, new lighting was added.
The "ugly, large fireplace in the dining room," as the homeowner refers to it, was demolished and walled over, enlarging the area and making the room's robin's egg blue color a dramatic backdrop for dark furniture and a sense of airiness. Once hidden alongside the fireplace, a deep, glass-fronted china cabinet now has a starring role.
Warmed with rusts and golds, the nearby TV room offers casual seating. Two shallow liquor and tobacco cabinets hide videos. Books and toys for the great-grandkids liven up a minilibrary that was rebuilt from a linen closet.
The bath, with its white, beadboard wainscoting, strip of black wallpaper around the upper perimeter and white and teal tiling, is decorated with feminine black-and-white art and a sensually curved mirror.
Joanne's main goal for the kitchen was to retain its antique feeling, while adding modern appliances and convenience.
A former pantry was transformed into a U-shaped baker's corner and one window became a door onto the deck. An original Aga range stayed, with a narrow Aga four-burner stove replacing the former grill. To maximize storage, Lazy Susans were installed in two corners, the sink was centered under a window and most of a soffit that interfered visually with the new, taller cabinets was removed.
"After we got a good footprint, we started adding design details, like the pilasters, flutes, and valances," says Aryn Duncan, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, owner of Complete Cabinetry & Design Center in Medford. "The Victorian home lent itself to mixing woods, stains, doorstyles and surface materials."
The kitchen's palette was determined by a gargantuan slab of rosso pakistani onyx. Rosey, rusty, creamy and earthy, the stone harkens to ancient lands.
The darker portion of the onyx was cut into a custom island countertop. The whiter, swirlier part became topper and backsplash for a freestanding china cabinet. Just feet apart, the two focal points contrast, but don't compete.
"I really like the distressed barn-red island juxtaposed with the refined, elegant hutch," confesses Duncan.
An attached, screened-in utility room, lined in framed original fruit labels, evokes the past, as does the powder room, cutely decorated with Joanne's homemade stars, dragonflies and butterflies.
Liberated from decades of rotting carpet, a narrow back staircase leads to Joanne's office. The "very tiny, but complete" full bath was carved out of a former half bath and small bedroom. It now serves the upstairs den (where original turquoise and raspberry pink floral wallpaper nods at the home's farmhouse roots) and a romantic guest room, furnished with a white iron bed frame, hand-stitched velvet spread and Queen Anne boudoir chairs.
By sacrificing the small fourth bedroom, the master suite gained space enough for an open bath. Dramatically framed Art Deco and Art Nouveau prints by French artists Erté and Icart lend the suite's floral fabrics and sheer details a feminine veritas without frills or ruffles.
"I'm first drawn to beauty, but it must be usable, because I don't want to live in a museum," Joanne says. "So this home is still basically a farmhouse that's very grounded and substantial no matter how you dress it up."
Joanne's vision and respect for history has given this historic Rogue Valley home a gracious new wardrobe with which to face the future.