Homes, Sweet Homes in the 'Montrose in May' House Tour
The Montrose Park Historic District Association held its 13th historic house tour on Saturday.
The Montrose Park Historic District Association's 13th historic house tour, "Montrose in May," was held this past Saturday. The residents of five homes in South Orange's Montrose neighborhood graciously opened their doors to the community.
Naoma Welk, current president of the association and a local historian who has authored two books about South Orange, explained that it's desirable to include a variety of architectural styles to make the tour interesting. This year, a Queen Anne-Style home, a Tudor-influenced home, a clapboard cottage, a classic Colonial Revival and a Queen Anne Victorian were presented.
"It's sometimes hard to get people to volunteer. The homeowners are always the most critical because they want their homes to be perfect," she said. To alleviate their concerns about having strangers about, a dozen volunteers are assigned by the association to man each house throughout the day of the event. They answer questions, protect the residences from any disturbances, and put away any little things that could accidentally be damaged.
Several of the homeowners were available to comment on their homes and the house tour experience. Sabine Hack and Rusty Reeves live on Raymond Avenue in a wood-shingle Queen Anne-Style home dating back to 1889. The couple have resided there for 10 years. When they moved in, the house was livable but needed extensive work. They understood what they were getting into, but loved the architecture.
"I liked walking in the front door and not knowing where all the rooms were," Hack said. "The house is backwards," she added as a point of interest. In the 1950s, adjacent properties on Scotland Road were sold. The back of the house was changed into the front and the address became the current one. The home's original entrance now faces Temple Oheb Shalom.
The association members had asked Hack and Reeves to be on the tour in previous years. This time around, they finally felt they had done enough to the house and said yes. Getting ready was definitely an anxiety-producing situation. They had their four children stay with their grandparents the night before, and normal disarray disappeared by hiding toys and clothing usually in plain sight.
Partners Steve Himber and Craig Axtell have lived in a two-and-a-half story,
Tudor-influenced brick home and carriage house built around 1900 on Charlton Avenue for the last two years after leaving L.A. Himber is a talent manager for actors and Axtell works for him. In 2007, the home's long-time owner passed away, and a contractor restored everything with the intention of flipping it. New owners Himber and Axtell did all the decorating.
"Craig brought all our furniture from L.A., but that didn't work. We had to get rid of everything," said Himber.
The house is grand in size and in the way it's furnished. The couple, who do a lot of entertaining, converted what used to be the basement into an elaborate screening room with velvet theater-style draperies and leather lounge chairs. And Himber and Axtell haven't forgotten to have a popcorn maker and candy counter to make watching movies in their home an authentic experience. Visitors were asked to wear booties provided at the door or go barefoot in the house. They weren't the only ones to ask guests to go shoeless—a couple of other homeowners on the tour had the same requirement.
David and Pilar Hyman, formerly of nearby Maplewood, have lived on Warwick Avenue in their Queen Anne Victorian home, circa 1900, since 2006. She's an artist and he's a toy designer. They've put a lot of work into the place since they've been there. The whole north corner of the house has been rebuilt. The staircase has been totally restored with a steel beam for support because it was structurally unsound. A beautiful set of stained glass windows have been taken out to replace lead that softened over time.
The Hymans were asked to be on the tour because so much work was being done on the house that curiosity on the changes was stirred up. The Hymans, like the other participants, were putting finishing touches on their home up to the last minute. Pilar Hyman still had paint on her arms on Saturday from touching up the risers the night before.
"It's a little unnerving. It's kind of odd having people walk through your bedroom. We had to have our friends take care of our dogs for the day," said David. Pilar observed that being on the tour is different from selling your house because you get to enjoy hearing people's reactions, and you're not going anywhere.
The home is filled with an eclectic mix of art, including collections of family photos and small decorative masks, many of which were made by Pilar. Their favorite parts of the house are the porch windows, her studio and the location.
Money earned from ticket sales goes toward preserving the historic district, giving educational lectures and developing brochures.
The Montrose Park Historic District Association held a dinner the night of the tour to thank the residents whose homes were included. Welk said, "This was like planning five weddings for them, but it was a wonderful day."