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DIYer brings 1892 Southwest Garden home back to original glory — and then some
At home with Bill Hays and Verona Schneider

DIYer brings 1892 Southwest Garden home back to original glory — and then some

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“When I purchased our home 20 years ago it was scheduled to be demolished,” Bill Hays says. “I could stand in the basement and see all the way to the ceiling on the third floor.”

Despite the condition at the time, the 1892 residence was hiding several architectural treasures. Under the stairwell Hays discovered a very early solid brass Edison electric fixture that had been painted white and disassembled. Newly wired and returned to its original condition, it sits atop the stairwell newel post in the spacious foyer.

A 6-foot-by-3-foot stained glass window was found on the attic floor. Now it graces a dining room wall where it is illuminated from behind. It complements nine other original stained-glass windows in the home.

The dining room also contained an intact, elaborate fireplace original to the house. The firebox is flanked on either side with individualized glazed green tile pieced together to depict a hunting scene. It is complemented by a similar pictorial on the metal fireplace screen insert. The mantel above features two curved drawers inset with leaded glass fronts.

Hays has done all the work on the home, including the electrical and plumbing work needed to meet modern building codes that allowed him to move in 19 years ago. “I learned all the crafts from my father, who was the ultimate do-it-yourselfer,” he says.

Using jacks and his carpentry skill he even raised the second floor four inches to correct a serious case of sagging floors. He also removed a back stairway, adding living space to the first and second floors.

As a custom woodworker, Hays has made or repaired all the doors and windows and added new walls inside the outside brick walls. “The house is now really a modern house inside a 128-year-old home,” he says laughing.

Hays also made other changes to the original floor plan. One of the five bedrooms on the second floor is now a spacious master bath. Above the bay window in the dining room Bill added a same-sized bay window in the master bedroom. Above that window he created an outdoor deck off the attic.

On the second floor a door that seems like it would open to a closet reveals a surprise. A narrow circular wooden stairway leads to the attic where a visitor emerges into an immense open space with a pool table and plenty of space for a future entertainment center. Under the circular onion dome in a front corner of the home a card table awaits.

Outside, the residence features two prominent architectural details. A graceful brick arch creates a keyhole entryway onto the covered front porch.

“We think this is one of only two or three homes in St. Louis with an onion dome roof,” says his wife, Verona Schneider. Predominately positioned on the front of the home, the architectural embellishment is topped by a copper finial with a bowling-ball-size orb at the tip.

The home is replete with fleur-de-lis, the motif found on the flag of St. Louis. They appear within the woodwork on the stairway, inside the designs of the stained-glass windows and the wood mantel, as well on the hood of the kitchen stove. “Bill carved those in the kitchen by hand,” Schneider says proudly.

The kitchen fleur-de-lis are a small part of the year-old kitchen, which the couple designed and installed themselves.

“I had good timing with the furniture in the house,” Hays says. “I moved in just as my mother was downsizing. Most of the large furniture found in every room belonged to her.”

Hays’ mother also made the draperies for the dining room windows. “The ceilings are 10½ feet, so they had to be handmade,” Schneider says.

The couple is rightfully proud of what they are creating. Soon, two bedrooms are destined to become two offices.

Several years ago, while researching the history of the home, Hays visited a friend at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He wanted to look through the archives of the paper in the hope of finding information about the house. “We opened one file, and a photo of the house taken in 1895 fell onto the floor,” he says. “It was sort of spooky.”

Now the photo of the house, which shows Kingshighway as a dirt road, hangs framed in the kitchen.

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