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HOME IMPROVEMENT : House Tours Put Decorators With Historical Bent on Right Path


Selecting patterns of wallpaper, fabric, furniture and accessories from a specific historical period can transport you--and your home--back in time.

The art of refurbishing an old home or decorating a new one in a historical motif requires attention to detail and a consistency of time frame. Mixing Victorian accessories and furnishings with adobe or Colonial pieces creates visual confusion. Research is the key to coordinating the right look.

"You need a number of sources," says Diann Marsh, vice-president of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society and architectural historian. "And one of the best resources besides books and magazines are house tours."

When Marsh was preparing to refurbish her 1883 Italianate home in the French Park Historic District of Santa Ana, she spent several weekends touring historical houses and buildings looking for ideas.

"There's something different to see in each house," Marsh says. "You have to do a lot of looking, picking out things here and there. Something you can look for on a house tour are accessories, which are really important. They are quite often affordable and add character and interest."

Take note of the way pictures are displayed and the type of woodwork used for window molding, baseboards, wainscoting and fretwork. Woodwork changes with every period. Marsh suggests keeping the woodwork consistent with the period you wish to portray.

Kitchens and bathrooms require a combination of old and new. The trick is to keep these rooms looking old-fashioned while retaining the modern conveniences.

"Old plumbing is something that's not particularly desirable," says Marsh, who suggests using reproductions of stoves, flooring, bathroom fixtures, toilets and bathtubs.

Once you've seen what you want, check preservation magazines, reproduction catalogues, technical and old house journals for information on where to locate some of the hard-to-find items.

In the spring, watch for announcements of local historical district tours. These are private residential communities that open their homes to the public for special weekend tours. Local districts include the Old Towne Preservation Assn. in Orange, Wilshire Square Neighborhood Assn. in Santa Ana and the French Park Assn. Historical District also in Santa Ana.

The following Orange County historical homes and buildings are open to the public year-round:

Ainsworth Historical House: This five-room cottage built in 1910 has been restored and furnished to reflect the period. Items of interest include a Circassian walnut table inlaid with satin wood and ebony, beveled glass windows, unusual light switch plates throughout the house, early kitchen utensils, mahogany dining room table and an oak icebox in the kitchen. Open Saturdays and Sundays, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 414 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. (714) 532-0380.

Bessie Walls Restaurant: The house was completed in 1930 and it was converted into a restaurant in 1978. This Spanish-style mansion retains several original architectural features including the wooden staircase with cast iron handrail, tile fireplace and carved beam ceilings in the main dining room. Original furnishings such as mirrors, hutches and vanity set decorate the restaurant. Open seven days a week. 1074 N. Tustin Ave., Anaheim. (714) 630-2812.

Diego Sepulveda Adobe Estancia: This small adobe, built between 1820 and 1823, houses a collection of furnishings from four distinct periods of California history: Indian, Mission, Spanish and Victorian. An arrangement of Mexican pottery, a beaver-tail open oven and Indian baskets adorn the small kitchen. A turn-of-the-century redwood and tile fireplace, a beautiful heirloom quilt, kerosene lamps and tread sewing machine represent the Victorian era in the bedroom. Open Saturdays noon to 4 p.m., and 1 to 4 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of the month. 1900 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa. (714) 754-5300.

Heritage Hills Historical Park: The Harvey Bennett Ranch House, built in 1908, is the only remaining turn-of-the-century ranch house in El Toro. This 1 1/2-story home features an airplane roof that sweeps out to create the front porch. Inside, a tile fireplace, brass bed and children's toys from the period accentuate the basic architectural designs of the era. Open Wednesdays through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours are offered Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 2 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 25151 Serrano Road, El Toro. (714) 855-2028.

Heritage House: Dr. George C. Clark's cottage, built in 1894, is an excellent example of Eastlake Victorian-style architecture and furnishings from the last half of the Victorian era. Serpentine roll-top desk and swivel chair, drape and bead kerosene lamp, stained glass windows, lace tableclothes and authentic intricate woodworking are showcased. Open Sundays 2 to 4 p.m beginning Feb. 3. At the Fullerton Arboretum on the Cal State Fullerton campus. (714) 773-3579.

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