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Preserving A Victorian Jewel in Ashland

Other than a relocation in the 1980s and a few minor updates, the Charles Bush House - a classic Ashland Victorian - has remained untouched for over 100 years. Dark fir floors are worn with the stories of dozens of feet, leaded glass panels evoke curious children peering through windows and the smallish rooms, stacked this way and that, speak of what seems like an ancient time.

But it was the home's traditional, heavy fir staircase, situated sturdily in the formal entry that captured the heart of Helen Larson. "When I walked in the house and saw this, I was sold," said the octogenarian of the wide stairs that climb higher and higher up two walls of the home's foyer.

Despite its modest 1,405 square footage, Helen bought the two bedroom, 2 ½ bath house in 2002 and promptly charged her son, Steve Larson, with the task of coordinating a makeover from "Plain Jane" to "Queen Anne."

"The first thing we did was go to the historical society to figure out what the house would have originally looked like," says Steve. He found that very little had changed -basically some doorways had been altered to add bedrooms. "They had a bed and breakfast in here at one time," he explains.

Reclaiming the home's historic floor plan was easy enough - the wide entry between the living room and parlor was restored, a Murphy bed was replaced with a fireplace and the dining room was liberated from confinement - but that left a shortage of bedrooms.

"There was no real solution in the existing floorplan for a master suite, so we thought an addition would be best," Steve says. Expanding the upper story was his first inspiration, which he ran past Dale Shostrom, chair of the Ashland Historic Commission and owner of Shostrom Bros., Ltd. in Ashland.

"We advised them that they should do an addition on the back and leave the rest as original as possible," Shostrom explains.

They took his advice and the new 750-square-foot, two-story addition now includes a sitting porch, entry and Helen's bedroom suite on the main floor with Steve's apartment below.

Once the new wing was completed, it was time for "Queen Anne" to get dressed up.

"When we got [the house], everything was white," remembers Helen. The first layer of color - a lustrous amethyst - went up in the living room and an antique Chinese silk rug with teal accents went down on the floors. Quirky, curvaceous seating covered in everything from chenille to beads to tiger stripes lines the walls, offering guests a good view of Helen's impressive Russian art, teacup and teapot collections in the parlor beyond.

"I visualized the parlor as a sort of dark, cozy smoking room," says Helen of the rich amber fleur-de-lis wallpaper and masculine brown wicker furniture.

Art Nouveau accessories abound with Tiffany-style stained-glass fixtures and framed Maxwell Parrish prints. The teal entry walls reach up to the second floor landing, providing a backdrop to photos of Helen's ancestors and examples of her original artwork.

Femininity rules the roost on the second floor, where one guest room features a wooden four-poster bed and white floral linens and the other is clearly a granddaughter's favorite. A pink rag rug, pastel throw pillows and artwork depicting little girls in pastoral and domestic settings surround Helen's computer desk.

Back downstairs, through the living room, is the kitchen, white and bright with a dainty floral wallpaper backsplash and original cabinetry. The dining room, accessible through two glass doors, is painted light green and is decorated with more tea things and artwork purchased by Helen decades ago while traveling through the former Soviet Union. "We call it the Russian tea room," she says with a sparkle in her eye.

Through the kitchen's other door is Helen's master suite, decorated in sophisticated florals. A double closet hides behind clean, white doors and sunshine pours in from the porch through two French doors. Tucked off to one corner of the room is the master bath, enriched with the home's original clawfoot tub and an antique washing table transformed into a vanity with the addition of a marble countertop and sink.

The combination of architectural history and personal touches makes Helen smile.

"It's just very me - a Victorian complete with cats named Nathaniel and Hayward," says Helen with a nod to the big old felines lounging on the porch furniture.

This home is certainly a cozy place for anyone to curl up and contemplate the past, the present and the future.

Preserving A Victorian Jewel in Ashland