So, what's a cow skin doing on the floor of the living room of the classically Georgian home along one of Fort Wayne's more prestigious boulevards?
Looking fun, funky and “so chic” as a rug, says homeowner Sara Kruger.
In the century-old home Kruger shares with husband Matt Geyman, the rug is just one of many touches that illustrate a thriving eclecticism – one combining classic architecture with modern decorating flair.
Designed by British-born architect Charles Weatherhogg, who designed North Side High School and Fairfield Manor among other areas in the early years of the 20th century, the house at 1827 Forest Park Blvd. features touches of opulence as well as quirks from the era.
The home is one of nine houses and two gardens along the boulevard featured in this year's edition of the annual Historic Home and Garden Tour. The event raises money for ARCH, a nonprofit historic architecture preservation organization.
Perhaps most unusual, says Geyman, who bought the house before marrying Sara, are the decorative ceilings in many of the downstairs rooms. The ceilings are adorned with wedding cake-style plaster medallions and trim. Even the kitchen has its own signature ceiling ornament – and dentil crown molding to boot.
Geyman says he'd never seen plaster work like it in a house.
“We have a few areas where we have to repair it, but Sara chased down an expert from Chicago who was kind enough to help us. So now we're armed and dangerous with plaster,” he says.
Also adding more than a touch of elegance: the downstairs rooms still have original crystal chandeliers. Black-and-white marble frames the fireplace in what was once a parlor but now is a large dining room for family gatherings.
And a large front staircase leads to the second floor.
A quirk? That kitchen is tiled in white from floor to the ceiling in the new, “sanitary” style of luxury homes of its day.
Tucked in a corner is the home's original built-in McCray refrigerator – made by the company founded in Kendallville in 1887 by Howard McCray, known as a father of modern refrigeration.
The “icebox,” fitted with a new compressor and stick-up motion-sensor LED lights to make peering into its depths easier, still works and is in daily use, says Kruger, owner of Sara Bella Home Staging and Redesign.
“We haven't seen any need to replace it,” she says.
Keeping with its time period, the house has maid's quarters – a second-floor bedroom and half-bath. They're reachable from the kitchen by a back staircase, presumably so the help could remain out of sight.
“You can totally close off that part of the house,” Kruger says.
A butler's pantry has built-in cabinets, and a room labeled as a library on the house's blueprints, which are now framed and hung in the front hall, has built-in bookcases for the well-read gentleman as well as a fireplace. The room now serves as a family room with comfy sofa seating around a large, square wooden coffee table.
Geyman, a Fort Wayne manufacturing company manager, says when he bought the house, he was looking for an elegant property.
“The distinctive features of Georgian architecture are absolute symmetry in all aspects, and it has that,” he says. “It's even got a non-functioning chimney – a faux chimney – that's there just to preserve symmetry.”
With its massive front door and columned porch, the home fit his criterion of stateliness and didn't need a lot of immediate work.
“I'm a transplant to Fort Wayne. I moved from Ann Arbor, and I had a beautiful home there. I was looking for a home with some character,” he says. “The house in Ann Arbor, I had done a ton of work on it, and I was looking for a house that was ‘done.' It's amazing I found a house that was like that in a 100-year-old house.”
When it comes to decorating, Kruger jokes that the couple could qualify for a spot on “Merge,” Lifetime's popular reality home-decorating show on which experts restyle a home for a couple using some of each of their possessions.
Geyman, she says, had “exquisite” if somewhat masculine taste – the cow skin was his.
She brought to the pairing “a bit of an obsession” for chairs – witness a mid-century modern tulip-style rocking chair now in the library, and what she calls “the ghost chairs,” very modern, made of clear acrylic and looking at home in a breakfast alcove off the kitchen under a white starburst chandelier from Ikea.
She added a bit of mocha color to walls and has been experimenting with brighter colors in the maid's quarters. It's now a guest bedroom with grass green walls and green-and-gold-striped draperies mixed with black-and-white wallpaper in a toile-like print for the bath and accent pillows.
“I love color,” she says. “But I like to keep walls neutral – a blank canvas.”
Perhaps most characteristic of her style is what she calls “the bohemian lounge,” a capacious porch off the rear of the second-floor room Kruger uses as her office.
The patio has a view of the pool and its gazebo and the manicured yard, and the outdoor room gets a nearly constant breeze. It combines a rattan daybed and wound-jute and cane-sided chairs, oversize pillows in bright jewel colors and an Oriental-style rug.
With two sons – Joseph Kruger, 14, and Avery Kruger, 20 – Sara Kruger says every corner of the house gets use, and she likes it that way.
“My philosophy is if you have beautiful things, they shouldn't just stay in the cupboard. They shouldn't just be looked at. They should be taken out and used as a vehicle to make us inspired and let us be happy,” Kruger says.
“We like different and we like funky,” she adds. “We're that kind of family.”