Taking Vintage Home

One might say it took a family to give the home of Cathy and Robin Chesser and their five children the abundance of creative energy that lies within their quaint and picturesque new home — a home resembling the late 19th-century houses one finds in San Antonio’s King William Historic District or the vintage German architecture of Fredericksburg.

As owners of one of the city’s most unusual home furnishing stores, Me & My House, located at The Strand on Heubner Road, the Chessers knew instinctively how to fill and dress their spacious two-story home with the ambiance of a bygone era. Offering their special talents in the endeavor were Cathy’s sisters, a brother-in-law and even one sister’s sister-in-law.

Their specific contributions become evident as we step into the front door, having crossed a traditional front porch, past beckoning rocking chairs and a flower-laden wheelbarrow offering a colorful salutation.

It is a home so exquisitely and uniquely appointed you will find it featured in a 2006 spring issue of Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion magazine. This is not an honor new to this family. Cathy’s mother, Rose Hicks, and her sister, Jan Proch, had their Frederickburg homes featured in the same issue of Home Companion several years ago.

Walls instantly wrapping the visitor in warmth are the work of artisan Tom Proch, Cathy’s brother-in-law and Jan’s husband. In the main living areas, cream walls have a faux leather treatment, says Cathy. Throughout the house, Cathy explains, Tom would look at her fabrics and paint the room to perfection.

The inspiration for the dining room, however, was a single dried rosebud retaining a hint of its original blush. Tom washed the white anaglyptic (embossed) wallpaper in shades from deep rose to the palest pink. It is not unusual that one object led to the décor theme or to the color scheme of an entire room, confesses the homeowner. If you’ve visited Me & My House, you’re aware of Cathy’s penchant for drying roses so the blossoms find a continuation as a design accent.

The dining room is further enhanced by dark green beadboard wainscoting. Above this architectural element, framed dried flowers abound. Within fabric-covered frames, Laura Lafala of Fredericksburg creates collages joining pressed flowers with bits of fabric and paper. Side by side, numerous frames hang from simple rose-hued seam binding all around the room — each serendipitously positioned this way and that above the wainscoting. “There’s a big joke in my family that I can never hang anything straight, so I purposely hung all of these crooked,” smiles Cathy.

Centering the room, beneath a chandelier from Me & My House, is a table made in Brazil of recycled lumber garnered from old buildings. It was hand painted by Brazilian artisans. Two primitive benches flank the table, and Windsor chairs finished by Robin complete the seating. An ancient tin drawer centers the table and holds terra cotta pumpkins, a vintage birdhouse and statuary.

A hutch nearby was built by Tom to Robin’s specifications. It was a birthday surprise for Cathy several years ago. Displayed are scores of vintage collectibles, including aged china, pages from old hymnbooks and even a nondescript albeit charming rubber doll hardened with age. Cathy says the objects are “kind of my story. As I stand and look at the majority of things in my house, they are all so special and remind me of trips to various places. It is a feeling you do not get if you go to the mall and furnish your house in one weekend.”

Near the dining room is an entry ensemble of collectibles, including a sewing machine and worn hats. On the adjacent wall, Tom has stenciled a portion of scripture from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one.” In this instance, the words allude to strength in the bond of marriage. A tattered old dress form faces the area and offers an exquisite touch.

Floors in the primary living areas and Robin’s office are a dark, distressed crosscut oak, stained and finished by Robin — twice. A plumbing problem early after moveing in destroyed the original wood flooring.

Robin’s office, flanking the entry, is centered with a leather-inlaid desk and doubles as a trophy room displaying the spoils of many hunts. Above the desk is a double-tiered antler chandelier. Cathy laments, “All our married life, I have never wanted dead animals around the house.” When they built the house, she knew at long last he would have a place for his trophies, and “he loves it,” she smiles contentedly. A cowhide rug is beneath the desk, where a Black Buck antelope with long spiraled horns awaits a place on the wall.

Green walls complement the masculine tone. A corner hall tree with umbrella stand most likely served a hotel lobby. A former commercial display cabinet is laden with fishing accoutrements equally as old. “When I drag him to antique shows, he and the boys head for the fishing and hunting area,” notes Cathy. The boys are Seth, a high school freshman; Caleb, a seventh-grader; and fifth-grader Will, all students at San Antonio Christian Schools.

A framed newspaper clipping dated Oct. 4, 1930, features Robin’s greatgrandfather, William Seth Chesser of Beaumont, one of the original Texas Rangers. He was 80 at publication, and Cathy says Robin’s grandfather recalls stories of his father’s Ranger adventures.

The central living room is a showcase for Cathy’s philosophy of design and decorating. The upholstered furniture is new but covered with four different fabrics in vintage hues, prewashed and chosen for serviceability. Two chairs combine leather with fabric.

“For me, it’s about mixing the old and new,” declares Cathy. “I love the new furniture because it is more stable than antiques, but I love the vintage accessories because they take the squeaky clean newness out of everything. I mix textures and different colors so that everything has a vintage look.”

The old need not be valuable. For example, on a side table in the living area is a small display of scratched children’s metal play dishes combined with small faded cards holding scripture verses. The simpler, the better.

An Italian fresco framed in distressed wood centers the Sisterdale cream stone fireplace. The art mirrors Cathy’s father’s violin displayed on the mantel — one she played in junior high school.

At the left is one of her favorite antiques — a counter from an old store that she thought might serve her business. Custom-cut, it became the perfect answer to the dilemma of finding the right fixture for a difficult space at home. Above rests a post office fixture complete with mailboxes and cubbies.

Gracing the opposite side of the fireplace are grain bins and another commercial display cabinet. All the vintage pieces proudly stand in their distressed and worn finish. Refinishing would only destroy the value of such pieces and obscure the age.

A floor-to-ceiling fabric banner made by her sister, Janet Proch, hangs nearby. It reads, “There is no one like Jeshurun.” Taken from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, Jeshurun refers to Israel as God’s chosen.

The kitchen cabinets are custom made by a local craftsman but hand finished by Robin in a delicate butter tone. He meticulously painted, sanded, knicked and distressed the wood to a worn character, much to the puzzlement of his father, who observed this routine one evening. The purpose? To obscure in advance anticipated accidental damage to cabinets by five active youngsters.

Granite counter tops go well with dark stone tile floors. The informal dining area is centered with dual chandeliers made by Ann Nafa and sold at Fredericksburg’s premier shopping venue, Homestead, owned by Cathy’s other sister and brother-in-law, Carol and Tim Bolton. Ann, who is sister Jan’s sisterin- law, disassembles old chandeliers and creates new ones. In this instance, there are two hanging in tandem.

A lace window panel serves as a table runner, and chargers are actually small oval mirrors adorned with metal blossoms. The kitchen hutch holds an extensive collection of Japanese majolica, once created as an inexpensive knock-off of English majolica, explains Cathy. She purchased it as a frugal alternative, but when it was subsequently featured in a magazine, its value soared. The delicate vintage hues inspired the colors chosen for the nearby living area.

Topping the hutch are small tulip lampshades with torn fabric joined by two small makeup or train cases, circa the 1940s.

A first-floor guestroom is centered with an iron bed dressed in a lively print and surrounded by antiques. A nearby guest bath defies description for its abundance of unique furnishings and accessories.

Adjacent, the children’s “hang out room” offers a large-screen television, pool table, pub table and chairs, wooden foosball table and oversized furniture covered in washable denim slipcovers. A sports theme dominates, but an old fashioned electric fan from North Carolina in red and blue inspired the color scheme. A bicycle hanging from the ceiling was a “must have.” It belonged to another Cathy, and her name is painted on it. A second bike hangs on a wall. Locker baskets dot the walls and hold sports equipment. Athletic letter jackets hang from hooks — one of them, Robin’s.

Family bedrooms are upstairs, and the master bedroom is centered with a tester bed using recycled wood from old buildings. An antique vanity from Johnson City joins a stick-and-ball table, a massive mirror propped against a wall, a clock that could have graced a train station and an ancient wooden folding chair with needlepoint seat. White beams contribute an architectural element, and walls are cream with faux texture. Tom added a border of hanging vines.

At the end of the hallway, Cathy has hung illustrations from Bible books framed simply by two strips of red grosgrain ribbon placed on two corners of each picture and held by large upholstery tacks. It doesn’t get much simpler or more charming.

Eldest daughter Alyrose is an Abilene Christian University freshman. The theme for her room, notes her Mom, was a horse picture in robin’s egg blue. It set the color palette for the entire room.

The bedroom of daughter Cassidy, a San Antonio Christian Schools cheerleader, was her Mom’s greatest challenge. “She wanted nothing old and nothing “Me & My House-ish,'” laughs Cathy. She ordered lime green diamonds for the walls, and Uncle Tom complied in dramatic geometric fashion. Don’t tell Cassidy, but her room blends with the vintage in spite of the generous contemporary leaning. There is a collection of cowboy movie star Hopalong Cassidy memorabilia. That was the nickname Cathy’s father bestowed on his granddaughter.

Seth is on the SACS football team, but his room features everything related to hunting and fishing. It is rich with vintage collectibles and illumined by an antler chandelier.

Caleb and Will have a Western room with brilliant gold walls — a room photographer Al Rendon took a real likin’ to. Memorabilia related to that theme brings a pretty penny these days, and they have an ample amount. Don’t we wish we had saved our Gene, Roy and Dale lunch boxes — Hopalong Cassidy, too, for that matter?

Author: Kay McKay Myers

Photographer: Al Rendon

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