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Repairs to historic home helped land magazine feature

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, at 7:12 a.m.

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Steve and Joann Paul have contributed to the latest restoration of a Wichita treasure since they moved to Wichita from Garnett four years ago.

They’ve cleaned off, repaired, built onto, updated, painted and otherwise improved the historic Skinner-Lee House just south of 13th and Topeka.

People in other parts of the country now know about it, too, since the Pauls’ entry in a contest got them a two-page spread in the March issue of This Old House magazine.

“We were supposed to be on the cover, but we got bumped at the last minute,” Steve Paul said.

The Pauls’ house is featured in before-and-after photos of its curb appeal. The house itself – a Gothic Victorian cottage – was built in 1886 at 637 N. Topeka and was moved to its current location in the 1990s by Don and Marlene Chew, who were credited with saving and restoring the house at that time.

When the Pauls came to town for a new job for Joann as director of quality and infection prevention for Wesley Medical Center, they were moving from a 1905 Craftsman they had renovated in Garnett. The Skinner-Lee House is more magnificently detailed and cozier, they say.

Joann Paul enjoys living in the house in the midst of the popularity of “Downton Abbey.” She had a Victorian tea for friends last weekend to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

The outside of the Skinner-Lee House was in disrepair when the Pauls moved in, Steve said. All three porches were falling off, paint was peeling, and the balcony’s silhouette gave Joann an Alfred Hitchcock feeling.

Since they’ve moved in, they’ve repaired the exterior in richly decorated balusters and eaves, bay windows and filigrees, skirting and round medallions that Joann calls “Cheerios.” They brightened the formerly blue house with paint in five colors: shades of green, cinnamon and gold.

The only remaining work to be done outdoors is to put up about 80 feet of original wrought-iron fence.

In doing the work, the Pauls have had to abide by restrictions for historic houses; a deck built on the north side of the house, for example, is detached so as not to affect the integrity of the house, as is a garage with Steve Paul’s shop on the second floor. (His job is working on the house, and he expects never to finish it.)

Their first proposal for expanding the kitchen and adding a bay window that would have matched another on the house was rejected because it would have looked too original.

“We are not preservationists,” Steve Paul said. “I like indoor plumbing and things like that, so we’re not trying to return the house to its original state. We do like to honor the history. And we love the old architecture.”

Inside, the Pauls have finished most of the work they want to do on the first floor – which is also richly detailed – updating the kitchen in an approved way, repapering the walls, restoring and replacing light fixtures. They have plans to work on the second floor.

When the house was moved, it was put on a good, firm foundation, and the basement is like another separate, modern residence.

When it’s suggested that the Pauls might one day be on the Historic Midtown Citizens Association walking tour (it’s been many years since the house has been on the tour), they concede that it will probably happen. And then people can see in person the work that they’ve done.

Since they weren’t the grand-prize winners in the This Old House contest (they were hoping for a truck), they are happy with their appearance in the magazine.

“I’m grateful,” Steve Paul said. “It’s nice to have the recognition.”

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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