Brosius Astoria Exterior

photo by: Leah Nash

Preservation Magazine, Winter 2024

Victorian Dream: Laura and Mike Brosius Meet Their Longtime Goal of Restoring A Historic House in Astoria, Oregon

From our interview with Laura and Mike Brosius

Laura: We met in Denver and got married in 1984. Later that year, we moved to Los Angeles to work for Target. Then Mike began working at Costco, and I became the apparel production manager for the couture clothing designer Marian Clayden, where I worked for nearly a decade.

Mike: I worked for Costco for almost 37 years until I retired about two years ago.

Laura: Our family has lived in many cities across the United States, as well as in Seoul. When we were living in Portland, Oregon, we would drive along the Oregon Coast and go through Astoria. We’d look at the Victorian houses and think about moving here someday. Throughout the years, we would return to Astoria and think, “This is so cool.”

In 2011, we started looking for our retirement home. We knew we wanted a fixer-upper in Astoria. We had restored four other homes in other cities, but no Victorians. We looked at other homes in the area, but nothing came close to this house, especially for Mike.

Mike: We probably looked at 30 to 40 houses over four years.

Laura: We are on top of a hill and have panoramic views from almost every window. We have the Columbia River to the north and views to the south of green hills with all these Victorians poking out. This house was built in 1892, and the original family lived here through 1962.

Mike: They owned canneries, one of which they could see from the second-floor windows. The house had a lot of deferred maintenance, but the original floor plan was intact.

Laura: The kitchen and bathroom had been redone, but much of the original woodwork was in place. We became the fifth owners of the house on December 30, 2016—and we’re just finishing the restoration now. The house is about 6,500 square feet across four floors, which includes the basement and attic.

Mike: For research, we toured a number of restored Victorians in Astoria, including the Flavel House Museum, whose construction predates our house by about seven years. We have gone there, oh, maybe 100 times for reference and ideas. We also joined the Lower Columbia Preservation Society.

Laura and Mike Brosius

photo by: Leah Nash

Laura and Mike Brosius at their Victorian-era house in Astoria, Oregon. Most of the exterior woodwork, including the fir siding, is original.

Laura: In a town of 10,000 people, we found talented craftspeople and individuals who all rose to the occasion and helped us through this project over the years.

Mike: Jason Banks, who made our kitchen and bathroom cabinets and bookcases, also made replicas for the small amount of exterior woodwork that was damaged or had dry rot. The siding is actually fir floorboards. Our general contractors, Ben Crockett and Drew Olson, searched for old-growth fir to match it.

Brosius Astoria Front Facade

photo by: Leah Nash

Most of the exterior woodwork, including the fir siding, is original.

Laura: The previous owner left us a photograph showing the original owners in the main parlor, and it gave us clues to a few things. For example, our attic had piles of ornate molding, dirty and in pieces. Our library had molding installed for a picture rail, but the photo showed the molding also was used in the dining room and main parlor.

We had rosette blocks in the trim of our interior doors and windows, but the photo showed they were topped with battlement molding, like our library and entry doors still had. We figured out someone had chopped off the merlons in every other room. Our contractor cut pieces from a dowel, and we put them all back.

Brosius Astoria Kitchen

photo by: Leah Nash

The Brosiuses found their 1930s kitchen stove at Antique Stoves in Tekonsha, Michigan.

The dining room has Lincrusta wainscoting; Mike believes it was added in the early 1900s. Painter and finishes expert Christy Mather patched the wall covering where it had been damaged and re-created the pattern through an embossing technique. Joanne Lumpkin Brown, an artist who used to work on movie and TV sets until she retired to Astoria, matched the plaster coloring to all the finishes.

Throughout our house, we have fir trim and doors that use wood graining, where faux grain is painted on top of primed and painted surfaces.

Mike: Joanne and her daughter, Faith Brown, redid the wood graining on 29 doors, six pocket doors, and 31 trimmed windows. In areas where the original graining was intact but yellowed, Joanne would colorize it and went over it with a glaze to match the new graining.

Laura: Joanne also re-created a wood-grained swan detail that was original to the house and appears only once, in the midrail of the door between the dining room and kitchen.

Brosius Astoria Dining Room

photo by: Leah Nash

A period-appropriate gold-leaf medallion pattern covers the dining room and main parlor walls.

Mike: In the formal entry, first-floor hallway, main staircase, and formal second-floor areas, Joanne and Faith also re-created the trompe l’oeil wood-panel wainscoting on the plaster walls. The design matches the original trompe l’oeil wainscoting, some of which had been wallpapered over. Altogether, Joanne and Faith painted 125 linear feet of faux paneling. We managed to save one of the original panels, near our front entrance.

Brosius Astoria Stair Hall

photo by: Leah Nash

Original trompe l’oeil wainscoting along the main staircase has been re-created.

Laura: Another aspect that took time was stenciling the plaster walls. The wallpaper we wanted to use in the dining room wasn’t going to lay quite right. Then Faith suggested that we try stenciling with stickers—she once owned a sticker factory. I designed the medallion pattern, and we marked the spacing and applied the stickers. Then I hand-painted about 1,700 medallions with gold-leaf paint onto the main parlor and dining room walls. It took about three weeks.

Mike: One of the past owners had sold a bunch of stuff from this house, including the overmantel of our fireplace. The previous owner happened to find it while wandering in an antiques store and bought it. It was pure luck that it came back to where it started from.

Laura: One of our painters, Simo Ranta, cleaned the firebox bricks by blasting them with baking soda, which revealed the hand-stamping of where each brick was made. My HVAC contractor, Ron Dugan, told us where to find a reproduction gas fireplace that looks like the original coal-burning fireplace, and we sandblasted and powder-coated the original metal trim.

Mike: In the library, I spent around a month stripping about six layers of paper from the walls and ceiling. When I took off the picture rail molding to clean it, I found remnants of a wallpaper frieze. Unfortunately, the paper had a lot of damage, both from water and scraping; it was completely gone on the south wall. Joanne patched and colorized it, and freestyle-painted the frieze back onto the wall to match.

She also lightly touched up the original ceiling wallpaper because it was faded and damaged. A wallpaper expert from Portland, Bo Sullivan, came out to document it; he had never seen such patterns before.

Laura: While demolishing the kitchen corner behind the former stove, we found a piece of the original linoleum flooring. We used stencils and stickers again to re-create the pattern on the fir floorboards. We first masked off and painted the green layer, then masked it again and painted the gold layer. Then we applied stickers to paint about 6,000 dark green squares, before finishing it up with two clear coats. This took about five weeks.

Brosius Astoria Living Room

photo by: Leah Nash

The main parlor fireplace was reunited with its original overmantel.

Mike: We also found original stained-fir wainscoting in that kitchen corner. So in the back servant staircase and second-floor area, Joanne painted 75 linear feet of trompe l’oeil boards on the plaster walls to match. Nobody can believe the wood isn’t real.

For anyone interested in restoring their period home, choose your contractors wisely. Wait for the right people rather than jumping in, and make sure their goals match your goals.

We intentionally started with the deferred maintenance—the fun stuff that everybody sees had to wait. When we moved in, we had about a dozen buckets in the attic to catch precipitation. The foundation consisted of two brick wythes with water getting inside them—and we live in an earthquake zone. We had the roof fixed and turned the attic into a guest suite, and our contractor had to dig into the basement to redo the foundation. We also had 35 original fir-framed windows removed and restored, which included replacing all of the old sash cords with chain.

This project took an incredible amount of time and money, and we went way beyond our expected budget. But this house has been here for more than 130 years, and our goal is to have it be here for the next 130 years.

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By: Wanda Lau

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