Archive for Sunday, September 19, 1999

9/19 THIS OLD HOUSEMANSION READIED FOR VIEW

September 19, 1999

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A local couple will open their historic home in the city's first Designers' Showhouse.

You could say Dr. Terry Riordan and his wife, Elaine, had their work cut out for them in 1995 when they bought the Ludington-Thacher House, 1613 Tenn.

Engineers said the massively built, stone and red-brick mansion -- parts of which date to 1861 -- was on its last legs.

"They told us if someone didn't begin (restoration) work on it imminently, within a year it would probably have to be torn down," Terry Riordan said.

The Riordans had to have the foundation mudjacked -- twice.

Oh, and the front facade of the home was peeling away, so they had to fix that, too.

"It almost fell to the ground. You could stick your hand between the outer and inner layers of brick. We had to take that down (and repair it). If we hadn't, it would have been unsalvageable," Riordan said.

In 1996, the Riordans came up with a better idea for renovating the 22-room, three-story Victorian Italianate home.

They decided to offer it up as a potential Designers' Showhouse.

"People talk to me almost every day about the house, and we thought this would be a great way to share it with the city. It's a house of tremendous interest to a lot of people," Terry Riordan, a local pediatrician, explained.

"At the same time, we felt turning our home into a Designers' Showhouse could raise a lot of money for a worthy nonprofit organization. We decided (Lawrence-based) Cottonwood Inc. was large enough, with the volunteers and staff to pull this off."

Cottonwood Inc., 2801 W. 31st, is a not-for-profit organization that serves people with developmental disabilities who live in Douglas and Jefferson counties.

The Ludington-Thacher House is now set to be the first Designers' Showhouse ever to open in Lawrence.

The home will be available for public viewing Sept. 24 through Oct. 17. Organizers said they hope the showhouse will attract 15,000 people and raise about $100,000.

Rich in history

For almost as long as there's been a Lawrence, established in 1854, there's been a Ludington-Thacher House in some stage of development.

Reuben Ludington, an original settler of the town and a past owner of the Eldridge Hotel, built the oldest part of the home in 1861.

John G. Haskell, architect of the Statehouse in Topeka, designed the house.

It escaped destruction during Quantrill's Raid in 1863, which wiped out Ludington's business holdings. To set himself up again, he sold the house.

Judge Solon O. Thacher bought the property and 60 acres of surrounding land in the early 1870s.

In 1884, Thacher's son-in-law supervised the addition of a domed turret tower and a gingerbread-trimmed porch.

Thacher died in the late 1890s, and the house was placed in trust for his grandchildren.

Solon Emery inherited the property in 1912. He and his wife lived there until 1940, when they went bankrupt and lost the house.

Kansas University Professor Paul Snyder and his wife bought it, made minor repairs and added greenhouses in the back.

Tom Maupin -- founder of Maupintour -- and his partner, Neil Mecaskey, bought the home in 1959 and later replaced the greenhouses with a circular swimming pool.

The property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Maupin died in 1985, while Mecaskey lived in the home off and on until his death 10 years later. That's when the Riordans bought the mansion.

"We thought this house needed saving, and my wife fell in love with it, as many people here do," Terry Riordan said.

'Fabulous opportunity'

It's a good bet the old house hasn't seen so much action since Quantrill's Raid.

Starting in early July -- when the Riordan family moved into a rented home -- the home's been filled with more than 20 interior designers, painters and artisans from Lawrence and the area.

On one recent day, the smells of fine sawdust, wet paint and varnish filled the air.

Painters worked in the kitchen, a crew laid down a new, quarter-sawn oak floor in the Lincoln Room and shipments of furniture crowded the entryway.

Meanwhile, designers were busy arranging rooms that would serve as visual statements of their skills.

Kerry Piepmeier, owner of Utopian Home, 21 W. Ninth, was working on a second-floor bedroom one of the Riordans' teen-age sons would occupy.

The ceiling she painted features a hard-edged color wash technique in cadet blue. One wall was ready to be covered with chocolate satin fabric, with blue buttons added for a quilted look.

A four-poster bed -- once owned by a famous, New Orleans madame at the turn of the century -- was soon to receive a dusty blue canopy.

Piepmeier, 26, said she was thrilled to have been included in the Designers' Showhouse.

"It's the chance to do the most well-known home in Lawrence and have tons of people see my work. It's a fabulous opportunity."

'A Lawrence treasure'

Markie Bieri, Kitty Gray and Margaret Ann Schwartzburg, partners of the Imagine That design business in Lawrence, were picked to do the dining room and the home's grand entry.

"Our concept was to do a dining room with Old World elegance that's in keeping with the original style of the house," Bieri said.

"We chose ruby-red walls with a faux finish to look like mottled leather. We also used a gilded, faux-finished ceiling with a gold metallic patina, adding medallions around the chandeliers."

The designers were setting the table with crystal, china and silver, as though six guests were about to be seated for a sumptuous dinner.

Barb Heck, a Lawrence interior designer, decorated the home's library and funeral room (the latter a common feature in homes of this period.)

The library features walnut wainscoting made from a tree on the home's property. Heck selected a huge brass chandelier and two antique light fixtures flanking the fireplace to emulate the period of the house.

"I am absolutely delighted to have been chosen for this project. It's so rewarding to see this house come together. It's a Lawrence treasure," she said.

'Almost done'

Because nobody had ever done a Designers' Showhouse in Lawrence, local event organizers called on an area expert for advice.

They contacted the Junior Women's Symphony Alliance in Kansas City, Mo., which has held such events for 30 years.

"They took us under their wing, sharing everything with us. We've gone with them completely through two of their last showhouses," said Julee Travis, communications coordinator for Cottonwood.

A 12-woman steering committee directed the project, sending 450 invitations to interior designers and furniture representatives to place bids.

One hundred designers viewed the home and made proposals. The committee picked 22 designers and artisans, most of them from Lawrence.

Travis said she appreciated the sacrifices the Riordan family -- which includes six children, four of whom will live in the home -- have made during the nearly four-month renovation.

"My hope is they'll be glad they did this. You can imagine how difficult it is to give up your house and move. And they did it solely because they want to share a historic landmark with the community," Travis said.

Terry Riordan sounded enthusiastic about the way things have turned out.

"The designers have done a wonderful job. I can tell you my favorite room is going to be the library, and Elaine and I will both love the kitchen," he said.

Is he happy they bought the home and lived through all the renovations?

"On some days, yes," he said, laughing weakly.

"Now that we're almost done with it, I'm glad."

-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is jbaker@ljworld.com.

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