When a family has four daughters, can there ever really be too many bathrooms?
The owners of one landmark St. Louis home can handle any soirée, from slumber parties to the ultimate bridal entrance, after a year-long renovation to their 19th-century French chateau. Uncompromising attention to detail has brought the home back to exquisite life, but the purchase and renovation almost didn’t happen, reports homeowner Mary Ann.
“We were living in a 19th-century home we had renovated in Lafayette Square, and that had been a huge project. When I first saw the condition of this house, I told my husband, Chris, ‘I don’t think I can do this again’ but we just kept coming back to it,” she explains. “We’ve loved this house since the first time we saw it on a house tour when we were college students. I drove past it every day when I took the girls to school. Chris always said it was the only house that could inspire him to move from Lafayette Square, so we were very fortunate that it became available.”
To describe the home as ‘neglected’ would be an understatement, says Mary Ann. “You’d have to have seen it to believe it! The entire house was covered in wall-to-wall orange shag carpeting, and that’s just the beginning,” she says. “Much of the plaster was crumbling, the beautiful old dark wood paneling and trim was buckled from being bleached, and the solarium walls and floor were covered with indoor-outdoor carpeting.” Hideous as it was, the citrus-hued carpeting did serve one purpose; it protected the original terrazzo floors from years of foot traffic. “But there was nail damage from the carpet installation, so that damage had to be repaired throughout the house.” The process is painstaking, Mary Ann explains, because each small hole or crack is fixed separately. Then it has to sit for a week before the restoration team returns and hand paints each repair to match the surrounding area.
Built in 1926 for millionaire Morris Corn, the house is limestone on all four sides. And because every interior wall is solid concrete, the restoration was especially complicated and messy, says Mary Ann. “We replaced all the electrical, all the plumbing, and the air conditioning system, and the only way to get into the walls was with jackhammers. It was so chaotic and loud, and of course there was concrete dust everywhere.”
The family moved in after that work was completed, but more remodeling beckoned. “We hadn’t done anything to the kitchen, and only one bathroom was usable, but there were some nice surprises—like the second arched window in the kitchen.” The window had been boarded up with cabinets, she explains. “We also discovered an original fireplace hidden by a pantry.” Now completely restored, the kitchen features Carrera marble counters and an arched backsplash of Ann Sacks mosaic glass.
Majestically situated on 2 1/2 acres, the home’s balconies and expansive windows offer sweeping views of Forest Park, and the back of the house overlooks a swimming pool framed by three pool houses. “The pool houses were added sometime in the ‘40s,” explains Mary Ann. “They replicate the French Riviera cabanas from that era.” The wall surrounding the pool is the work of artist Bob Cassilly, and next spring it will be softened with roses from end to end, as part of the newly established rose garden. An antique statue in the original fountain, visible from every rear window in the home, is the highlight of the French garden. A separate outdoor staircase accesses the ‘all-kids’ lower level, complete with billiard table and the original regulation-size bowling alley.
“I think Chris and I always knew that we would end up living in this house,” Mary Ann says. Offering prescient proof of that thought, the top of the copper downspouts are inscribed with an artistic MC, the initials of the original owner. And now, with no remodeling required, the letters again reflect the home’s owners. Perhaps it was just meant to be.