Yesterday's Magazette

5 – Walking Into Yesterday

Walking Into Yesterday

By Madonna Dries Christensen
Christopher and Leah James and their son live in a charming, 14 room Victorian home built in 1900 in Perry, Florida. While refurbishing after moving there in 2006, they discovered 11 concealed fireplaces. They are now all beautifully restored and tiled.

The two floors each feature a center hall, with a porch at each end. All the rooms open off the hall. An impressive staircase along one side rises to the second floor. Both halls are wide enough to hold furniture as well as glass-front cabinets revealing collections of vintage Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas décor. The family operates a gift and floral shop in another old house they own, and a Christmas shop downtown.
Among many past and current occupations, Christopher James is a gardener. His garden in North Palm Beach and his garden in Perry have been featured in Florida Gardening magazine, and the NPB garden in Easy Care Landscaping. Starting with a blank slate on the one acre property in Perry, he began work on the garden with a pathway created from some 11,000 bricks shipped from his North Palm Beach yard. The walk begins at the front gate and leads to the house, featuring a wrap-around porch furnished with a swing, wicker chairs and tables, eclectic artifacts, and potted plants. In the yard, meandering paths take visitors to nooks filled with blooms, statuary, and collectibles. A footbridge curves over a pond alive with koi and water plants. The original carriage house is now a potter’s shed, with a greenhouse added in keeping with the style of the shed and the big house. On the shed porch, flowering geraniums and petunias spill from galvanized steel wash tubs and boilers. A collection of metal sprinkling cans line a shelf on the back porch.
While the garden is glorious and unique, I was more interested in the antiques, meaning the house and its furnishings. Tastefully decorated, visitors view furniture, Tiffany light fixtures, lamps, portraits and paintings, radios, school desks, clothing, hats, high-button shoes, jewelry, books, kitchen utensils, china, and glassware. We were served lunch on pink and green Depression glass plates and parfait glasses.

Next to the dining room, separated by double pocket doors (another set leads to the hall), is the formal parlor. This room was once used in a scene for the movie County Road 14. When Christopher was asked to decorate the set for another movie, Hiding Victoria, he moved the parlor furnishings to the location.
Across the hall from the parlor, The Music Room features an old organ.
The Toy Room is decorated with vintage playthings. Circus posters and board games hang on the walls, and Christopher’s father’s childhood train is displayed on a shelf. A showcase holds a collection of British sailor dolls by Norah Wellings. She created her dolls from cloth, with molded heads and painted features; some with side-glancing eyes. The dolls were often sold on cruise ships as souvenirs. Christopher purchased this group from a man who had collected them while on cruises.

The White Room upstairs is furnished with Christopher’s aunt’s belongings: Chairs, lamps, pictures, and a Singer pedal sewing machine. A white crocheted spread covers her bed and her wedding dress and other gowns hang in an armoire.
The master bedroom has a corner niche that serves as an office with contemporary equipment. The modern touch is concealed with draperies drawn across it. Christopher pointed out a highboy that was appraised by one of the Keno brothers (Leslie and Leigh), known for their appearances on Antiques Roadshow. Christopher says he’d like it if even one of the items in his house was worth a million dollars. It would help defray expenses on his many endeavors. My guess is the entire crew of Antiques Roadshow would swoon over this showplace.
As a concession to convenience, the kitchen was updated and the pantry converted to a powder room. In another room, a small television is conspicuous but, again, the family uses this room. I believe this is where we saw a display box holding several wreaths made of human hair. These were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, as was jewelry made from hair of deceased loved ones.
Throughout the house are dozens of porcelain, china, and composition vintage dolls. They cluster on sofas, or sit alone in high chairs or small carriages; they recline on beds, or perch on shelves. The dolls belonged to Christopher’s grandmother, so he is fond of them; his favorites being a male and female pair with china heads. When his grandmother died, his mother inherited the dolls, but she did not want them; she found them creepy. She gave them to Christopher. A Kestner doll with a porcelain face wears her blonde hair in pigtails. If this beguiling creature could speak for all the dolls, the story might go something like this:
The little girl in the house where we lived did not get along with her mother. Nor did she like us, her mother’s dolls. One day, the girl pulled the hair off all our heads, leaving us bald. Her mother put us in a closet, in shoebox beds.  Then, whenever, she had her hair cut, she saved the hair and it made into wigs for us. Now we all have her hair. Maybe that’s why the mother who was the little girl thinks we’re creepy.
This is an enchanting home to visit. When asked how he keeps this memorabilia museum dusted, Christopher said he uses a feather duster. My imagination told me it would be only fitting if his duster was something exotic, perhaps peacock or ostrich feathers from the Vaudeville era.
(Also in this issue, read Christopher’s ghost story. If you’d like a tour of his garden/home/haunted gift shop, call 561-379-6194. He also has a Christmas shop: http://www.christopherschristmasshop.com. )

Vol. 37 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2010

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