When Victoria and Luis Fernandes first saw the Lake Barcroft property that they ended up buying around 1997, they had different interpretations of what they saw.
“I saw a house that needed TLC,” Victoria Fernandes said. She said that the house reminded her of the house where she grew up in Northern California. “But my husband was not as excited as I was because he saw every weekend for three years working on the house.
“I saw a house that was a home, so basically that was our impression. I knew that we had a rough gem on our hands and we basically redid everything.”
The only thing that they kept, she said, was the exterior of the house.
She said that they redid the plumbing and drywall, opened up walls, finished the bedroom and renovated the bathroom on the third floor of the house, installed pella casement windows in the rear of the house and added air conditioning and heat to parts of the house that didn’t have it, among other updates.
But one thing that the couple found and actually wanted to preserve were Gothic-style, handcrafted antique wood carvings that can be found throughout the interior and on the front door of the house.
Actually, the couple that built the house in the 1950s, the Nelms, were so inspired by the carvings they bought from an antique shop in Georgetown that they had designed the house as a French Chateau to go along with the carvings.
Peter Colasante, owner of L’Enfant Galerie, recently examined the carvings and determined that they date to the 19th century and believes that they are of French origin, from either the Normandy or Brittany region. He recently gave a talk at the house, in which he spoke about the carvings and his reaction to seeing them.
“When I saw this…I said this is unbelievable…I said ‘How is this possible?” Colasante said during the talk. He said the carvings, which line an opening of the house that looks out over Lake Barcroft, are replicas of the types of carvings found in stone structures of French nobles and royals.
“I don’t know anywhere else, outside of a museum of a specific Gothic house in this country, where you could find this amount and this type of Gothic design,” Colasante said while pointing to the carvings.
Fernandes said that she and her husband both have an appreciation for antiques and that she has a special affinity for handcrafted items. She said that she loved learning the history of the carvings from Colasante.
“Both of us love antiques. When we had more time and before the house was full, we’d go out and travel around buy antiques,” she said.
“So we respect anything that is old and is handcrafted because of the time involved to create that…I do some woodwork, I do stained glass, I do a lot of arts and crafts and so I have a full understanding of what it takes to create something from block of wood or some pieces of glass.”
After the initial few years of renovation and repair and nearly two decades of stewardship of the home, Victoria and Luis have put it on the market.
The house, which is being offered by Ken Trotter of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, is listed at $1.875 million.
Trotter said that the story of the Nelms designing the house around the carvings is remarkable.
“As a realtor, it was really quite remarkable that you could take a small thing like some antique carvings that you find at an antique store in Georgetown and use that as a vision to create an entire house,” he said.
“And here we are 60 years later, sitting in what was inspired by these carvings. I think it’s a testament to inspiration and what one can do when they’re inspired to create something truly beautiful and to build upon the past.”
He said that he was impressed by the Nelms’ desire to build upon the past and merge modern with old.
“And that the current homeowners carried on that legacy was impressive to me and the fact that that was significant enough to them to maintain all of this for all these years,” Trotter said.
“They’ve lived in this home for almost 20 years and they can now pass on the legacy to whoever the new future homeowners will be. So there’s a connectivity not just between generations, but centuries and continents.”
Trotter deferred monetary appraisal of the value added to the home by the carvings to Colasante, who was not available for comment before press time, but also said that he does not like to focus on the monetary value of the carvings.
“It’s the romanticism behind it, it’s the intangible quality that it inspired,” he said. “How do you put a price tag on the quality that was inspired by the carvings themselves? The carvings themselves could be removed and put in a museum somewhere or sold in a collection and you could ascribe a value to them.
“But the fact that the entire house is built around and inspired by them makes them a priceless addition to the house and it’s about finding a buyer or person who appreciates that.”
According to Trotter, there have already been offers on the house, one of which came from a fellow antiques collector. He said he thinks they are drawn into the house by its ambiance.
In order to lure in potential buyers, the marketing brochure and the advertising for the house prominently feature the home’s antique wood carvings.
“It’s about trying to find the right buyer through successful imagery and successful descriptions that accurately portray what’s here,” he said while sitting in the house.
Fernandes also expressed a desire to find a buyer who appreciates the continuity of history that the house and the carvings inside the house represent.
She said that it’s going to be difficult letting go of the house but that she’s interested to see how its future owner or owners carry on the legacy that her and her husband have carried through to today.
“That was our baby. We both put so much time and energy into it. That’s why it’s important to me that someone carries on with it,” she said. “Now if they want to open up walls or whatever, that’s their prerogative, but I hope – and I think – anyone who’s attracted to that style of house is going to keep the [feeling] of the period that the house represents….
“It’s difficult, but I’m also excited because I think…a house has its own personality and it’s interesting to see how each buyer can interpret what that house means to them.”