ESCANABA - The home of Judi and Dave Schwalbach is a new house with an old soul.
The Schwalbachs' meticulously restored 101-year-old Queen Anne Victorian was damaged so badly in a 2006 fire that it could not be salvaged. Judi and Dave sadly concluded that it was both impractical and impossible to recreate what they had lost.
Determined to rebuild on the same site at 212 First Avenue South, they pored over house plans searching for one that would be sensitive to the historic neighborhood, welcoming to family and friends, and adaptable to their own needs as they aged. Ultimately they settled on a design that featured an eclectic exterior with arches, stonework and interesting textures and an interior with a barrier-free open plan.
The home of Judi and Dave Scwalbach is one of five homes featured in “Homes for the Holidays” sponsored by the AAUW. The home was built in 2007 after the Schwalbachs’ restored 101-year-old Queen Anne Victorian home was destroyed in a fire the previous year.
Their new home was constructed in 2007 by Joe Pascoe Builders. After the exterior was complete and, as planned, the interior partially finished, the Schwalbach family took over. With help and encouragement from many of their friends, they finished the interior with the same care and skill that had made their old house so extraordinary. With an eye to the future-they hope to spend the rest of their lives in this house - Judi and Dave considered not only beauty and durability but also accessibility and adaptability as they chose materials and hardware.
Easily operated levers replace door knobs throughout the house. There are no thresholds that could be impediments between rooms, and there is adequate space around the kitchen island to accommodate a wheel chair.
The master bedroom is on the first floor, and the shower in the master bath is wheelchair accessible. The laundry room is in the basement with a dumbwaiter rising into the master closet, but the closet is plumbed for a future stack on washer and dryer. Additionally, the den, which has a separate entrance and a bathroom en suite, can be converted to a bedroom for live-in help. Happily, these practical considerations only add to the comfort and livability of this thoughtfully planned house.
A few treasured elements from their former home were restored and incorporated as the Schwalbachs rebuilt. Among them was the tower cap. Unfortunately, as it was being lowered into position on the new tower - a nod to the old Victorian - it crashed to the ground. The disappointed but determined couple collected the tin pieces, had them resoldered and installed them on the tower.
The new tower is ornamented with three applied panels of carved rosettes. Dave, who was not a wood carver, recovered a single panel from the old tower and painstakingly (indeed sometimes painfully) hand carved two additional panels to match as he awaited construction of the new house.
Visitors approach the front door by a curving path and enter through an alcove sheltered by a stone arch. Inside at the second floor level and visible from the foyer, is a leaded glass window recovered from the old house. To the right, in the dining room, hangs a chandelier that inexplicably survived both the fire and the desperate efforts of fire fighters. It was, however, badly damaged by the caustic effects of ashes and soot. Cathy Gray, a family friend, researched restoration methods and dedicated month of patient effort to restore it to its former glory.
One of the sad lessons from the fire was the damaging effects of soot, which added significantly to the losses caused by fire and water. Fortunately for the Schwalbachs (and tour guests), the family's extensive collection of Christmas decorations was stored in plastic totes and survived the fire and its aftermath with only minor smoke damage. After cleaning and airing, the ornaments were usable. Judi believes that they would have been completely unscathed if the ventilation holes on the totes had been sealed and that other belongings could have been salvaged if they could have been removed and cleaned immediately after the fire.
The living room and the kitchen that opens to it are traditional, rather than Victorian. Cherry floors in the living room and ceramic tile in the kitchen, wood windows, and French doors to the deck make the space inviting and substantial looking. Beautifully detailed corbels on the granite topped kitchen island and painted kitchen cabinets underscore the warm traditional look.
The living room's soaring fireplace is matched with a lofty 15-foot tall Christmas tree, which, like the room, is traditionally decorated. Judi, who owns the Victorian Gift House, has an impressive collection of Old World and Christopher Radko glass ornaments. Even the master bedroom has a Christmas tree, and the master bath, too, is decked out for the holidays.
A small "keeping room" to the side of the kitchen serves as an informal dining space and is decorated for Christmas country style. A salvaged tiger oak fireplace recalls the stately Victorian - and from time to time still seems to breathe a sigh redolent of the smoke that permeated everything that survived the flames.
The surround is a lovely Italian tile that the Schwalbachs vainly tried to match in other tile. The window offers a view of the stone walled garden of the House of Ludington and a glimpse of the bay beyond (but only after Judi insisted that the garage that obstructed the view be rolled a few yards to the west).
The den is conveniently located adjacent to the kitchen. It is furnished in true U.P. style with comfortable family friendly furniture and deer, elk, and coyote trophy wall mounts. The holiday decorations are appropriately woodsy. The Christmas tree that the Schwalbach grandchildren will remember and tell their own grandchildren about is the "real" tree in this room. Grandparents and grandchildren string popcorn and berries and fashion ornaments of birdseed to hang on the tree, which is placed outside in the backyard for the birds after Christmas.
Family and visitors are drawn through the French doors to the backyard deck and outdoor kitchen, which includes a fireplace. The outdoor living area, like the rest of this beautiful home, is planned for modern family life and old fashioned fun and friendship.
"Homes for the Holidays" is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 4, from 1-4 p.m. Tickets are $20 each and are available at Walgreen's Pharmacy through Dec. 3. No tickets will be sold at the doors. Everyone must have a ticket, which will allow the ticket holder access to the five homes featured on the tours. Ticket holders must be at least 16 years of age or older. All proceeds go to AAUW's advocacy projects assisting women and girls.