As if the two-story Vernacular Victorian on St. George Street isn’t extraordinary enough from the outside, the wedding chandelier in its foyer sheds light on the labor of love that has taken place within Rick and Kathy Marquis’s 18 years in here. Constructed between 1885 and 1894, it is a historic reimagination. “There isn’t a room I haven’t put forever into,” says Rick, “One room at a time.”
The ornate brass doorknobs adorning each door underwent a painstaking refinishing process. First, Rick and Kathy had to find the right number to match throughout the house at a salvage yard in DeLand. Each was painted one way or another, layered with years, in vogue with the era they ended up in.
Rick stripped each doorknob down to their original brass finish. “You strip it down and then start polishing. You’ll see different colors due to the amount of brass and copper used in each one, as brass is a mixture of both.”
Same went for the floors – carpet gave way to linoleum, which gave way to original pine floors. Used crowbars, claw hammers, saws, and floor sanders rented from Home Depot did the job, but not without a lot of elbow grease from Rick. Kathy was wisely out of town for the 12 days it took to tackle the staircase. He says he does his best work without supervision.
“You’ve got to understand the difference between a Victorian house and a normal house,” says Rick. “In a normal house, everything has its place. In a Victorian house, every place has a thing. We’ve got things from everywhere, for everything.”
The nautical room is Rick’s favorite, unless he is in trouble with Kathy. Then, it is the garage where his restored MG resides top down, awaiting its next adventure. After 40 years they have navigated calm and stormy seas.
Rick handbuilt eleven ship models in the nautical room, including the Charles W. Morgan (that took 400 hours to construct) and the Golden Hinde. He worked on elements while in hotel rooms during his tenure flying for FedEx, weaving ratlands before returning home to put each in place. In this room, an ornately scrimshawed 150-pound Swordfish bill rests on a bureau. Another huge bill, from a 350-pound fish, looks down upon a lifeboat compass from 1938, a brass mast headlight, and a compass. This last piece was given to Rick by his squadron upon retirement from the Navy where he served for 20 years, flying a single seat carrier based tactical aircraft.
Laying as many as 2,000 shells, Rick made the sailor’s valentines, a shellcraft originally sent home by sailors in Barbados while sugar trading in the 1850s. His favorite is the Compass Rose pattern matching the Pennsylvania Dutch country quilt on the wall above. Kathy’s expert ABCs sampler cross stitching is displayed, one stating, “No Matter What, No Matter Where, it’s Always Home if Love is There.”
A framed Supreme Court decision honors Rick’s federal lawyer father with a unanimous decision to protect the snail darter fish. Sitting opposite, a free-hand sampler stitched by his mother. Upstairs, a letter from Ronald Regan honoring the birth of their son adorns the wall, along with Eagle Scout memorabilia, and arrowheads.
Their son was the one that led them to the house. After spending the night with a friend in the area, he showed Rick a house for sale. “Dad you like old stuff, like fixing old stuff, why not move here?” “We found this place not long afterward,” Rick recalls with his unending smile.
As you pass the cedar closet, where the house once ended, a door in the ceiling opens to an innovative air conditioning system that worked before electricity by way of a fan pushing hot air out through the attic and drawing fresh air in.
Delivered by necessity through an upstairs window, an ancient English armoire adorns the master. Kathy picked the period-friendly tile and fixtures in the baths. “All my taste is in my mouth, and she picks all the colors,” Rick laughs. “Half of being smart is knowing what you are dumb at.”
A hand-painted wedding bench from Budapest greets guests in the dining room as a Quimper French pottery collection stands behind the wooden table surrounded by recaned chairs. In the kitchen, Mary Hadley pottery and rooster collection inspired by the fighting rooster on Rick’s squadron mug are displayed. “We love this place, we love this place. Can’t sit anywhere without knowing there was something we didn’t do to make it ours.”
The home was occupied by many interesting families from Plumber Jesse Ballard to Howard A. Trueman, President of the Trueman Drug Company, to J.D. Rahner, general passenger agent for the Florida East Coast Railway Company and chairman of the Y.M.C.A. The carriage house and three 1,500 square feet homes dotting the property served as guest houses. At one point, the Fagan family, known for their shrimp empire, owned the house as well. “I never dreamed we would live this good,” says Rick. “Could never buy it now, and certainly have no plans to sell it.”
So now what? “This place is like the Golden Gate Bridge. Once you get to one end, you start painting again.”
At the end, the best element of the house is actually not the house at all. “It is the people in our neighborhood,” says Rick. “They make this what it is. Their support through the tough times has been our anchor.”
Written by Lauren Eastman. Photography by Brian Miller.