Tearing away 20 years of overgrown ivy at the foot of Alan Bender and Davida Schneider's Ashland property exposed their home's pedigree: A timeworn stone carving declaring the home was dedicated on Feb. 22, 1909.
Built for Frank Strickfaden by Frank C. Clark a century ago, this Queen Anne home features a showcase corner tower, sloping gardens and a graciously unique interior that borrows from Craftsman and eclectic genres.
Throughout the 1909 Frank Strickfaden House are photographs of the home's first owners and their descendents, all compiled by current owner Alan Bender.
"I did a lot of 'Googling' and that's how I found Frank Strickfaden's granddaughter," says Alan. "She's the one who told me about the arson fire that we think caused the charred ceiling downstairs, which was a mystery to me."
The scandalous arson rocked Jackson County in 1917. That's when the divorced Mrs. Nan Strickfaden was implicated in an insurance extortion plot along with two other society ladies: her sister (Mrs. Dreyfus) and Mrs. M. M. Garwood, who masterminded the plan. They hired Mr. N. E. Hemphill, a local film projector, to burn down the Strickfaden house in hopes of claiming about $5,000 in insurance monies, which they planned to use for a property deal.
"Unfortunately, he wasn't the greatest arsonist," laughs Alan, who has the related Ashland Daily Tidings articles framed and hanging in his stairwell. "There was fire in every room, but he didn't open any windows, so there wasn't enough air circulating to burn down the house."
People on Main Street noticed the smoke. The fires were put out immediately, causing only minor damage.
Eventually, all involved were caught or confessed. The shamed arsonist killed himself in jail while the society ladies all walked away.
"I guess it was too difficult to put ladies of that stature in jail back then," surmises Alan, who was relieved to have solved the mystery of the charred ceiling.
The combination was a winner for this couple, who moved in three years ago and started to personalize the home with a rich color palette, family antiques and an extensive collection of historical photographs, political posters and other early 20th century artifacts.
"It needed a fair amount of TLC, but the bones and size were fine for us," says Alan.
The house was originally an L-shape with two and a half stories, including a daylight basement. A sunroom addition was added around 1980, increasing the home's total square footage to 3,900, with four bedrooms and three baths and a full one-bedroom, one-bath mother-in-law apartment downstairs.
Entry to the home is through one end of the L-shaped gallery that wraps around the front of the house, opening onto the living and dining rooms through French doors. Once an open porch, the gallery was enclosed around 1980 and still features its original bead and board wood ceiling and wainscoting, painted white to match the home's Craftsman trim and woodwork.
Color comes from cocoa brown walls that complement vintage furniture from the couple's grandparents, World War II era posters, Art Deco lights and photographs of the home's first owners and their descendents.
Formality reigns in the square living room, overseen by wide bay windows with arched stained glass panels in the corner tower. Sage walls with copper moulding provide a soft backdrop for Asian-inspired furniture and artwork. Persian rugs cushion the refinished fir floors that stretch through the main story. Most rooms are kept cool and shaded, thanks to scalloped window awnings, which lend a historical air.
Two steps up is a library nook nestled under the primary staircase. Beyond the library is the light-soaked sunroom which is contemporary and casual with a square cove ceiling featuring clerestory windows, a radiant-heated travertine floor, a marble-topped wet bar fashioned from a vintage trunk, sleek furniture and a graphic, color-blocked rug.
"It's all eclectic," comments Alan. "We've mixed our antiques with new things, contemporary art with old, sentimental items."
Back through the living room is the dining room. Everything here is dark, formal and rich. A corner fireplace is ensconced in tile and built-in wall panels. Walls are shaker red and gold ceiling paint peeks out from among white wooden beams.
"It wasn't this grand when we bought the home," says Davida of the dining room. "It was rustic with a long wooden table and candelabra."
Walk through a back foyer into what the couple calls the "main living part of the house" — laundry, guest bath, kitchen and family room. Furnished with family photos, casual seating, their 2-year-old daughter's stuffed animals and an eating bar that separates the family room from the kitchen, the area is all about comfort and convenience amid an otherwise dressed-up home.
Nearby back stairs lead up to the bedroom level or down to the basement.
Lined with historic photos of significant events that happened in Ashland and beyond, the neon yellow stairwell to the downstairs mother-in-law apartment is a great example of Alan's eye for museum-quality collectibles.
Upstairs is his modern art-inspired office with its geometric rug, green walls and mirrored closet. Davida's office next door is feminine and "artistically cluttered" with paperwork and home projects.
A master suite features a shallow bay window with a narrow French door leading onto an upper deck. Clay-colored walls and plush cream carpet create a clean, contemporary feeling, as do square wood art panels, black and white photographs and dark furniture.
"It really is my dream house," says Davida of the home and its one-third acre of romantic gardens, lap pool, hot tub and outdoor living spaces. "We love that it's got that old house character but has been entirely updated."
Thanks to lots of TLC, this home seems well-dressed for whatever the next century delivers.