Part 3 of our 3 part series was originally published in the spring 2002 issue of "Old House Chronicles" website
© 2001 Nina Stine
It was really hard waiting for the floor to harden up enough to walk on but about three weeks before Christmas it was finally time to start moving in our furniture. Saturday morning I was up very early ready to start, but Tom was trying to finish the built-in bookcase. I kept pacing around, bringing in first one thing, then another, trying things out. Now, after the parlor was finished, we didn't run out to the nearest antique mall with a trailer and say "fill it up." No, we have a limited budget and it took a long time and a lot of research to acquire the right kind of furniture for our parlor.
A few months after we moved into our new old home a friend gave us a binder with a lot of old black and white magazines, that led us into searching out other old house magazines. These show us not only the furnishings in old homes, but also how these furnishings were used and thus delved into everyday life of our Victorian ancestors. We also tour vintage homes any time we get a chance. Some are wonderful country estates like the Biltmore, but we also enjoy smaller homes. One thing we have found out from all our research is that Victorians loved clutter and were eclectic.
So armed with this knowledge, we started our search. It has taken several years to collect proper furnishings, but the hunt is most of the fun. Even though the parlor has been the last room we renovated, we had collected enough pieces to fill it, and are able to mix and match with the living room furnishings, changing the look from time to time. The items came from many locations, and were acquired in different ways, but the goal was always to give the impression that when you step into the formal parlor you are stepping back in time.
Of course when our house was built there was no television or radio, so people had to provide their own entertainment. A little later most folks had a Victorola, but most often the ladies of the home learned to play an instrument to entertain themselves and their guests. We looked at different pianos, but from research we learned that pump organs were affordable and common in this area. We started our search in the usual places. We looked at numerous antique malls and flea markets, and even had a friend who had one in an old abandoned house on his farm, but the ones we found were in poor condition, needed repair, and were out of our price range. We found a beautiful organ at an estate auction, and we watched while one bargain after another was sold so we had high hopes, but when the organ came up family members were bidding against each other and us, and alas it went too high for our budget. Like most of our finds we came upon one in a most unlikely place. While helping Tom's sister move from New Mexico to Kansas we stopped at an antique mall just for a little relaxation. There sat a pump organ on consignment. It had been a prop at a dinner theater at Cow Town in Wichita, KS, so it needed work, but it looked like most of the pieces were there. Most were walnut, but this one was oak, so we put in a low bid, and were surprised when several weeks later we found that we were the high bidders. We brought it home; since it had been sitting in an outbuilding for several years the finish was damaged. I was able to refinish the organ and it turned out beautifully. Tom took apart the inside and repaired it so that it pumps air and sometimes our son plays it for us. One year for Mothers Day, Tom found a bargain Victorola in an antique mall, but of course it didn't work. He just said, "I think I can fix it," so it came home with us. After a few hours, with grease up to his elbows, he said, "I think it should work now," and we can listen to that modern marvel, the recorded voice.
The next thing we needed to find was seating for our parlor. Our research showed us that most people in the Victorian era mixed styles and periods in the same room. If they had a good family piece they felt comfortable putting it in the same room as their new furniture. On our way to pick up our organ we stopped by our favorite antique store in Winfield, Kansas, and purchased a lovely fainting couch, hall tree, and some bedroom furniture. We have an antique mall close to our home and there we found a cameo back couch. It was out of our price range so we left our name with the cashier and the owner later gave us a call. We were able to come to an agreement on the price and he sold the couch to us directly. Now don't think that antique stores are the only place we get our furniture. We also go to a lot of estate auctions. At one Tom was able to purchase a reproduction Victorian cameo back couch and chairs. At another we bought a beautiful reproduction marble top center table. Also at one I came home with my most unusual find. When I brought home what turned out to be a beautiful carved walnut settee everyone thought I'd lost my mind. It had been in a barn for a very long time and was a very rough shape, but I purchased it for a song. After I refinished it and had it reupholstered it has turned out to be one of the most striking pieces of furniture we own.
We had the furniture for our parlor, but we did need something for the windows. I love the look of heavy velvet drapes with fringe and tasseled tie backs but they were out of our budget for now. I determined that a simple lace curtain would be appropriate and something we could afford. Off I went to the outlet mall near our home. I looked at one store and couldn't find a thing, but at the next store I found the perfect lace curtains. After searching through the piles, I happened on a pattern with large lilies on them. Now if you saw the wallpaper you know that it had a pattern of roses and lilies. I've never seen another set like them, so they were a serendipitous find.
The one thing we did have for our parlor was a mantel clock that we received when Tom's paternal grandmother passed away. It had always been on a shelf in her kitchen, and the familiar chimes are a welcome memory of bygone times. The clock has the place of honor in the center of the mantel, but we did need some other decorations for the mantel. The mantel leans down toward the floor, so I didn't want to put any of my more fragile items on it but after much thought we decided that our Vienna Art plates would look nice and I don't have to worry about breakage.
The rest of the décor is taken care of with antique china plates and bowls, family pictures and other assorted knick-knacks. While our parlor is not as grand as some we have seen we do think we have achieved the homey clutter the Victorians so loved. When we moved into our home we never expected that we could afford so many antiques, but if you take your time and enjoy the search anyone can have the same results.