The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, December 02, 2015 4:39 pm

Living in a storybook world

Rosa Salter Rodriguez The Journal Gazette

On Sunset Drive in Fort Wayne sits a house that looks like it was plucked from a storybook.

Jody Hirschy, who owns the place with her husband, Quinn, even knows which one. "It’s the Hobbit house. That’s what we call it," she says.

Indeed, the rough-pointed brick Tudor-inspired cottage, all curves and angles and doorways and shutters and dominated by a soaring, two-story chimney in the center front, actually is a Storybook house – a design craze of the 1920s and ’30s when builders were caught up in a rush of literary whimsy.

Builders were constructing homes with unusual details, such as steeply pitched roofs and soaring gables, and pitching them to families in neighborhoods with streets named Longfellow Drive and Robin Hood Way. Even a street name near the Hirschys’ house, built in 1926, evokes the fad – Stratford Drive, named for Stratford-on-Avon, the hometown of Shakespeare, arguably the greatest English storyteller of all time.

Here’s how one aficionado, Bud Dietrich, a Florida architect who wrote about Storybook cottages for "Houzz," an online magazine, describes the style: "A Storybook cottage stresses the vertical while being firmly planted in the ground. A stone base provides a firmness and roots the house to the earth, while the roof pitch, windows, siding and the rest have a distinct lift that carries the eye upward to the sky.

"Making the scale and the relationships between parts just a little off keeps the whole thing from taking itself too seriously."

In other words, he writes, think English Tudor meets Walt Disney.

Hirschy says she recalls when she and her husband, who runs a family automotive service business in Fort Wayne, first drove by the house when it was for sale about a dozen years ago. They had come home to spend Christmastime with their families from a downtown Chicago condo, and there the house was, sitting snugly amidst the snow.

Someone who knew they were looking already had sent them pictures of the home, "and I kind of discarded it because it wasn’t the style of house I thought we wanted," says Jody, who will soon take on duties as chairperson of the business department of Taylor University in Upland.

But the drive-by sealed the deal.

"What captivated me was the architectural details," she says, noting she and Quinn put in an offer on their drive back to the City of Big Shoulders. "And it wasn’t just the house, it was the setting, with the park (Foster Park), the river, the winding roads and the trees and the views. It really is kind of like a storybook."

Storybook details abound in the property, built for Gaston Bailhe, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s quirky second conductor, according to blueprints that came with the property.

One of the most noticeable features is that there is no central front door. That spot is taken by the chimney, with an inexplicably huge window set in the middle of it. The "front" entry is actually an arched wooden door tucked in the corner behind the chimney, and it leads to a small entryway. The feeling on entering is like coming inside the Keebler elves’ tree.

The living/dining/great-room area is surrounded by a honeycomb of other rooms: a kitchen, a children’s bedroom that used to be a music studio, a bathroom and what used to be the master suite with a sleeping porch.

That area is now Jody’s home office, with the porch transformed into an art room/playroom for the couple’s son, William, 4, and daughter, Caroline, 6.

Also off the living area is a huge screened porch, reached through a double set of French doors. Jody has decorated it as a comfortable outdoor sitting room.

Many of the home’s original features were intact, she says, including an unusual stucco finish to the interior plaster and a quintessential basket-weave black-and-white mosaic tile floor in the downstairs bathroom. When remodeling, she decided to enhance the bathroom’s 1920s look with a new pedestal-style sink in white and added black-and-white toile fabric accents.

Although the couple had to shore up the house’s foundation, most of the home was quite functional thanks to a previous owner. "We’ve done a lot of plastering and repainting," she says.

Among her and her husband’s contributions are turning the basement into a family room, guest bedroom and laundry room. The farmhouse-style kitchen, with a big double window over the sink, also was updated with new granite countertops and appliances.

"We like to keep it original, not trying to redesign it in a modern style. A lot of people do this, but that’s not us," she says. However, her taste can run to vintage and whimsical – a cast-off dining table and chairs she repainted white is overhung with a crystal chandelier.

The house is in the midst of minor renovations, which the Hirschys plan to have completed before it makes its debut on this year’s ARCH home tour June 27, Jody says.

"We thought it would be our five-year home. It was perfect for two, and it’s a little tight for four, but we decided to make it work," Jody says.

"We kind of feel like we’re the keepers of the house. We feel like we’re sort of just passing though, and we want to do right by it to still maintain that charm," she says. "I thought I wanted just like a salt-box house, an ordinary house. But now I can’t imagine anything else."


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