Let’s hit pause on storm-related home repairs – and on finding someone, anyone (preferably qualified) to fix what Hurricane Harvey wrecked. Homeowners report contractors and craftsmen are hard to find, harder to commit, and hard to have show up when they’re expected.
Instead, let’s dream a little about the project that got away, the one put on the back burner until it’s OK again to tackle less than essential remodeling – or to admit you’d like to do over your dated-but-otherwise intact powder room. No rush.
For inspiration or perhaps for applying brakes to scope bloat, take a looksee at the infamous Winchester Mystery House, located in San Jose, California. The renovation tale is both fascinating and a bit cautionary.
Bottom line, the labyrinth-like Queen Anne style behemoth was under transformation for nearly 40 years as the owner added, removed and repeated renovations over her lifetime.
Sarah Winchester had her reasons, but a love of plaster dust wasn’t among them.
Tours of the 24,000-square-privately-owned mansion and gardens share the home’s lore and legends as groups traipse through most (but not all) of the 160 rooms.
Bang for the bucks
The heiress, who died in 1922, is believed to have been appeasing ghosts by providing them with rooms to roam, guides suggest. She was the widow of William Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. so the restless souls felled by the “Gun That Won the West” were countless.
Like many of the Victorian era, the widow Winchester was a believer in séances for connecting with the dearly departed, tours guides say. As a young woman she lost both her rifle titan husband and their infant daughter. In her grief, a spiritualist’s reading told her she must build on for the ghosts to wander — or perhaps perish herself.
Having moved to California and purchased a small farmhouse to expand in an atonement effort, she commenced with construction in 1888. In lieu of an architect calling the shots, projects details are said to have come from otherworldly instruction conveyed at the regular séances held at the house.
Good thing her budget was generous. Having inherited more than $20 million, her pocket money was about $1,000 a day, the tour mentions. Before Google, she was a major employer in the area.
The privately owned mansion is a maze of architectural oddities that some recent accounts have called deliberate puzzles devised by the grieving heiress. A few of the doors open into blank walls. Rooms overlook each other through doorways with deadly drops into open space. An ornate staircase rises into a ceiling. Another set of stairs, Y-shaped, features risers of different heights. A cupboard has shelves a half-inch deep.
Designs incorporate use of a spider web motif; the increment 13 also has liberal application, whether in the number of steps, window panes, ceiling panels or drain holes in various featured rooms.
Fans of artists Edward Gorey and M.C. Escher will be right at home.
Sadly, the 1906 earthquake that flattened much of the Bay area also destroyed the home’s seven-story tower. A damaged front section of the structure has only recently been made public. Today, the remaining assemblage occupies a fascinating, if quirky, four levels.
And yet. It’s a decorative period piece. Rooms boast the style riffs of several decades that encompass the restrained Aesthetic Movement as well as the more-is-more Victorian vibe drawn from a mashup of the Orient, Middle East and Old World Europe.
Any construction work on site these days is about maintaining and securing the extraordinary structure, guides report, adding that the ongoing work means the property has been under construction in some sense for more than 100 years.
In other matters of the mystery home’s underlying mystery, a Hollywood version of Mrs. Winchester’s tale will be released in February as CBS Films’ “Winchester,” with the venerable Helen Mirren in the title role.
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