The American Foursquare style began in reaction to the over-ornate quality of Victorian homes because it was a roomy design that could be built on a small lot and could be shipped as lumber, nails, instructions, etc. and assembled on site. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 11:30 AMSeven years ago, Amy Springer walked into the house she lives in now and saw the light. “Some people like a dark house. They worry about things like how the sun can fade the upholstery or the carpet. I don’t. I saw all these windows and the French doors and it reminded me of the home I grew up in. I knew I had to have it.”
The Springer home at 928 South Division Street was built around 1913 and is listed on the parish, state and national historic registry as the John W. Harrop house.
Amy and her husband, Steve, had been living in “a very cute 1,600-square-foot cottage on Cleveland, which had been built to look old. The interior had 150-year old oak plank flooring,” she said.
The birth of their second child got the couple thinking about the possibility of a larger house — but not any time soon. They had property near the Lake Charles Country Club and thought about building there, but one of the many things they liked about the house on Cleveland was that it was close to their children’s school, the Episcopal Day School.
Steve just happened to make an extra block one morning when dropping off one of the children for school when he saw the ‘For Sale’ sign in front of the The Harrop House.
The Springers toured it, loved it and scheduled to have the foundation checked out. The inspector wasn’t surprised that the 100-year-old house was in good shape.
“You can’t buy a house built like this today,” she said. “You don’t have to search and tap around for a stud. The walls are sheet rock over solid wood.” She speculated that a home of similar size — 3,737 square feet —using the same amount of wood, the same materials and similar building construction techniques would cost significantly more.
Amy said she can’t take credit for all the restoration that’s been done. Richard and Joyce Nelson, who lived in the house for two years, from 1988 – 1990, until a job transfer, started the process.
Recently Joyce paid a visit to Lake Charles and asked Amy if she could see the inside of the house that she thought was going to be home for many years. When she came for the visit, Joyce left Amy with a packet of research she’d compiled on the property.
Amy used the information to register it locally. The Nelsons had registered at the state and national level.
According to some of the highlights of that research, the father of John Harrop came to Lake Charles in 1880 and brought the first steam locomotive. The house was built around 1913 and survived the Great Storm of 1918, though an American Press front-page article mentions that a roof from an outbuilding landed on a Harrop mule and stayed there until after the storm when a few men could lift it. According to the story, the mule walked away nice and dry “with that air of unconcern peculiar to mules.”
Members of the Harrop family lived on property along South Division Street through the 1940s, but the house at 928 South Division changed hands quite a bit from 1923 – 1943.
The taste of each owner differed. At one time, the exterior was pink asbestos siding. The wallpaper and paint was pink. So was the carpet and the moiré’ puddling drapes, according to Nelson’s research.
The family who had the house the longest was the Alfred Roberts family. Alfred Roberts was mayor of Lake Charles from 1960 – 1964 and Mrs. Roberts is credited with planting the camellias. (Though the landscaping is different now, the house was known for that at one time.)
The house is described as a Frame Colonial Foursquare with a one-story pedimented front porch.
Amy admits that a house built 100 years ago has its “quirks.” It wasn’t built to the energy efficiency standards used today, for instance. But for her, it’s been a choice with no regrets.
She also likes living where she does, north of Broad Street. The area is convenient to work, school and other activities. “I’m never uncomfortable in my neighborhood,” she said. “We did install a state-of-the-art alarm system. The back yard is fenced in. You come to know who belongs and who doesn’t and neighbors here don’t hesitate to call each other if something is out of character.”
In addition to sharing information about the comings and goings of familiar and unfamiliar neighborhood motorists and foot traffic, Amy and her neighbors consider the nest of herons high in the the old oak on her front lawn as “community” property. All the neighbors have children around the same age.
One of limbs of the Springer’s front-yard oak is low lying and appears to be pointing to the lime green entrance of the Springer house. Of the brightly colored entrance, Amy said, “I saw it as a way to personalize the home.”
The bright green door is the perfect prelude to the light-filled interior.
Inside and out, Amy used simple seashell displays, an accessible design idea for most home decorators. A glass-fronted art deco style curio in the sunroom (a sleeping porch at one time) was filled with seashell collectibles. A couple of large conches look simple and elegant displayed in a round silver tray in the sitting room. On the coffee table, in a large glass container with a greenish hue, seashells surround a white pillar candle, creating a strong, simple centerpiece. A few small shells in which tiny plants have taken root hang from the covered courtyard area.
Amy said the shells remind her of relaxing beach getaways and coordinate well with the light natural colors she used on the walls.
The oversized oil painting on her fireplace mantle is a tranquil beach scene. The artist is Dana Redfern of Alexandria, La., Amy’s sister. and the scene is a favorite vacation spot in the Bahamas.
Another sister, Lori Brian, is a photographer and also has an Alexandria studio. Amy used her work along the stairwell wall.
The overall tone of Amy’s home is restful, yet she introduced the perfect amount of contrasting color – in this case, orange -- into the room with throw pillows, side chairs and a stunning arrangement of live roses. But nothing is heavy handed. Nothing is overdone, and the room’s focal point – the fireplace with the half-moon shaped opening – gets its full due highlighted by a simple, bold mantle vignette that includes Redfern’s painting.
The dining area is decorated in a timeless style and includes a built-in china cabinet, a crystal chandelier that could be from the turn of the century (but isn’t) and an antique upright piano. The dining table centerpiece of lilies on a mirrored base is somewhat reminiscent of a description from an American Press 1937 article included with Joyce Nelson’s research: “An exquisite centerpiece was designed of calla lilies, valley lilies and white tulle arranged in a silver bowl which rested on a reflector.”
When Amy saw the house for the first time, she noticed all the natural light -- and envisioned a different downstairs bath and kitchen.
Her newly remodeled bath features a new overhead light fixture with blue and green crystals that cast a pattern on the soft green walls, adding another design element. Amy used two tile borders – a wide scroll and a narrow twist above and below four rows of bluish-green glass tiles, creating a one-of-kind border for the white subway tile half-wall. The shower curtain features a modern geometric design. The sink looks vintage. The medicine cabinet and side-mounted light fixtures are vintage. “When the electricians were doing some other work in the house, they kept trying to convince me to change out the bathroom lights, but I kept them.”
The kitchen floor presented a challenge. It was a marble tile, which was really nice according to Amy, but it was busier than the overall calm, simple scheme in the rest of the house. Underneath it was linoleum that had been glued to the original wood floor underneath.
Removing the glue took time, muscle and the application of a darker stain to cover up some spots that couldn’t be sanded away.
Amy is comfortable with surroundings that are “in process.” “I don’t expect for everything to be finished at one time,” she said. “It works out better that way, I think. Tastes change over time,” she added.
One of the house’s most distinctive furnishings is a West Indies-style four-poster canopy bed that Amy ordered custom-made. “Steve found a photo and we took it to 505 Imports,” she said.
The children’s rooms are whimsical and one features a swoosh created of hundreds of hand-cut paper butterflies that appear to be headed out the window. A velvet upholstered chair and glamorous blinged-out full-length mirror add glamor. A solar system mobile hangs from the ceiling of another bedroom, which has bright green walls and a hand-painted mural.
But when you get down to it, every room in the Springer house is a kid’s room.
In the sunroom, Amy arranged cubes for the easy putting up – and pulling out – of toys. A dance costume is hung over the door of an armoire that houses the TV. Amy’s two-year-old uses a plastic golf club to take a swing at a real golf ball during the interview. While Amy is showing the house, she suggests that we skip her teenage son’s room.
For Amy Springer, creating an environment that’s both beautiful and comfortable, where the furnishings are as impervious to the play of children as the hundred-year-old house has proven to be to high winds, is what makes her house a home.
But she doesn’t say so – exactly. Instead she answered, “There’s no right or wrong answer to the question, what makes a house a home.”
It’s true. Every person has his own idea of home. What’s yours? Share those by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and phone number. Comments will be collected and may be used in future issues of the American Press Sunday Home and Real Estate section.