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2016-04-01 / Features

Modern Revival

A Tudor Revival in Holmes-Foster gets a contemporary renovation but keeps its historical roots.
Maggie Anderson | photos by Matt Fern


Built in 1925, the Tudor Revival on the corner of Fairmount and Gill in the historic Holmes-Foster neighborhood boasts eight bedrooms and as many bathrooms on three floors accessible by two staircases — and all of that took six months to renovate. That kind of math may not add up for the average family, but for the Joneses, it was perfect.

 “We had been watching this house for years,” says Chris Jones, a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley. “When we heard that it was coming up, there was no decision to make.”Front, left to right: Caitlin, 17; Ethan, 2; Liam, 13; Colleen, 15; Shannon; Gabrielle, 4. Back, left to right: Chris; Elisabeth, 7; Ryan, 10.Front, left to right: Caitlin, 17; Ethan, 2; Liam, 13; Colleen, 15; Shannon; Gabrielle, 4. Back, left to right: Chris; Elisabeth, 7; Ryan, 10.

He and his wife, Shannon, have seven children, so they knew they could fill the rooms. The renovation was what gave them pause, but only for a minute. “There was that five minutes after they accepted our offer that I sat there and thought, ‘Oh. Now what?’”

But the family quickly got to work converting what had been a center for the Benedictine Fathers, housing student priests and visiting clergy members since the early 1960s, back into a single-family home, which is how it was originally built.

“From what we can tell, this was the only house built up here when it was built,” Shannon says. “[J.B. and Arwille Heberling] built it for their daughter and her friends.” Chris explains: “The parents, from what we understand, lived here as well. Her friends would come in the back door and go up the back stairwell to the second or third floor.”

That back stairwell is close to the detached three-car garage, and the Joneses’ seven children, who range in age from 2 to 17, are already well familiar with its winding ways. It’s useful to have two staircases in a house where the first two floors are rather large — though the fact that they have the same layout did get confusing.

“If you come in the back door, you can run up the back staircase to the bedroom,” Chris says. “Once you figure out what the heck floor you’re on, you’re ready to go. It makes it more usable.” Plus, it retains the original integrity of the house, which was thankfully fairly easy, even in an almost 100-year-old house.

“They maintained it pretty well,” Shannon says. “There were no structural issues.” But it was compartmentalized to serve the needs of the previous tenants, so one of the major tasks handed to the Joneses was improving flow. They took out some walls and opened up a few doorways in order to create a space without dead ends. A lot of the demolition was taken on by the family — all nine of them — and some of their friends.

“This is the sunken living room like it’s supposed to be,
not the 1970s version with orange shag carpet.” —Chris Jones

“The kids and their friends came over and we spent the weekends taking wallpaper off the walls,” Shannon says. “We had some of the high school football players come help get the appliances out.”
In fact, there was a lot that came out of that house — including all the toilets, which caught some looks when they were lined up in the front yard. “When [a neighbor] walked by one day, I joked, ‘Don’t worry, I’m planting flowers in them!’” Shannon says.

Renovations even took place inside the walls. “There were portions of the house that still had the knob and tube, which was the original wiring back from the ’20s,” Chris says. “That had to be taken out, and [the electrician] fished new lines and new wires. It was a large job just because of the scale of the house.”

With those tasks accomplished, the house was a blank slate for remodeling, with a few original details kept intact. One wall of the living room is an inglenook, a fireplace set back from built-in wooden bookshelves. “You can’t mess that up,” Shannon says. “It’s perfect and beautiful. I feel like it’s an Indiana Jones thing where the whole thing would flip around to find something on the other side.” That room also boasts a beamed ceiling, but it presented a lighting challenge until a serendipitous discovery.

“We found these little weird plates on the wall. So we started digging at them, and they were all covered-over sconces,” Shannon says. With some new fixtures that matched the historical feel of the room, the living room became a cozy family space. “This is the sunken living room like it’s supposed to be, not the 1970s version with orange shag carpet,” Chris says.

Up two steps from the living room is the dining room, with big bright windows that feature the original glass, like almost all of the windows in the house, though they did have them restrung. “It’s the wavy glass,” Shannon says. “You hate to get rid of that.” The tricky thing about the dining room was finding the right paint color. “It’s plaster, so things that look good on dry wall look horrible,” she says. They painted it three times before finding a neutral sage that works with the wall texture and the wood in the trim and floor.

“The kids and their friends came over and we spent the weekends
taking wallpaper off the walls.” —Shannon Jones

The dining room leads into the kitchen, and that’s one place that the Joneses did a major overhaul. The wood floor is new but made of oak, like the restored floors through the rest of the house. The cabinets are modeled after an original cabinet, which resides in what is now the laundry room upstairs. They are inset instead of overlay, to match the historical period. Marble countertops brighten the room and add just enough of a modern feel to balance the history of the house with its contemporary inhabitants.

Off the kitchen the other way are three bedrooms and two baths, which were retiled. “We did keep all the old tubs because they were cast iron,” Chris says. “We had them reglazed. Part of it was cost savings and part of it was just, they’re so neat.”

But those first-floor rooms will probably serve family purposes, like a homework room, music room and laundry room, because upstairs is the exact same layout. The master bedroom sits above the living room and flows into an open closet with a marble-topped island that mirrors the one in the kitchen. Instead of adding built-in shelves, Shannon and Chris had wardrobes designed to echo the same cabinet used as inspiration for the kitchen — and that original cabinet is in the adjacent laundry room, which used to be a butler’s pantry.  The laundry room, in turn, opens into the master bath, which used to be a second kitchen. The setup seems simple and efficient, but the Joneses worked hard to make it that way.

In its previous iteration, the bedroom was a community room where Penn State students would gather, and what is now the closet used to be their dining room. That dining room was difficult to fit into the traditional master suite plans, until Shannon said, “Why don’t we just make the whole thing a closet?”

The master bath was created from a blank slate, with marble and tile echoing the kitchen and modern amenities like heated floors. “There were seven bathrooms before. So as ridiculous as it sounds, we actually added another bathroom,” Chris says. But it completes the roomy master suite’s railroad footprint.

Going upstairs once more — using the main staircase or the back one off the master bath — the third floor has another bedroom, a bathroom, a space that will probably be a game room and another, larger bedroom with a sloped ceiling and views that stretch to Tussey Mountain.

“We’ll probably have all the big kids upstairs,” Shannon says, “and the little kids close by on the second floor.” That vision of a home has finally come together, but it certainly took some work.

“Getting all the old stuff out seemed to take forever,” Chris says, “but once we got to where the cabinets went in and the painting was getting done, everything came together very quickly. But you have to get to that point. I know there were numerous times I’d be here like, ‘We’re never going to finish,’ or, ‘Is that going to look as good as we want it to look?’”

But working with the old bones and making smart choices about what to upgrade has turned a house that once stood by itself atop the hill in Holmes-Foster into a home nestled perfectly in the historic neighborhood. •SCM

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