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Let It Glow
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
HOME FEATURE December 2018/January 2019
home :: home & garden :: featured homes

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A charmer in the Owl’s Head Historic District of Des Moines has celebrated 110 years of Christmases Past.

From detail after detail, the historic home in the area west of Terrace Hill, home to Iowa’s governor, just oozes history. The current caretakers of the home, Sondra and Brian Ashmore and their sons, Drake and Dane, opened their home last year for the Holly & Ivy Holiday Home Tour.

The home was built in 1907 by Thomas Langan. His brother William built the home next door to the south. The two homes share the carriage house between them. The brothers founded the Langan Paper Company at Third Street and Court Avenue, which was in business until the mid-1980s. In an ironic twist, Thomas, an early automobile owner in Des Moines, died from injuries he sustained in a car accident, Sondra says.

Homes in the Owl’s Head District formed a so-called streetcar suburb in the early 1900s. Many downtown workers lived in the area and rode streetcars to work. Most homes in Owl’s Head were built between 1905 and 1915. This is the oldest historic district in Des Moines.

Victorian details

Like others, this home had some of the wonderful details that were included in Victorian-era structures—leaded glass, stained-glass windows, pocket doors, window cornices, and front and back stairways. Original tile in the front entry and an original light fixture showcase details of the era.

For the tour, Tammy Burmester, a designer for Trieste in West Des Moines, helped to accessorize the home. “I have worked on some of the rooms in Salisbury House for the Holly & Ivy tour for several years. It is so fun to decorate for the holidays,” she says.

Ahead of the tour, Sondra wanted to add some details to better show off the home’s history. One was a watercolor painting of the home, for which she commissioned artist Sharon Larson of Long Grove, Iowa. The soft-color piece has a place of honor for all to see in the living room.

She also hired carpenter Jack Ryan of Floral Hill Carpentry, who duplicated original wood on built-in bookshelves in the family room and also on the built-in buffet in the dining room. “It was masterful,” says Sondra, “because he even found tiger oak wood to match the original pieces.” The Stained Glass Store of Des Moines created the leaded-glass designs on the doors.

The home’s genealogy

On a table in the entry Sondra displayed a book with photos and research on the home’s background for visitors to peruse. Swags on the banister with greenery and gold bows welcomed visitors.

Sondra and Brian connected with previous owners of the home (1960s to 1980s), who gave them a tiny bell that dated back to owners of the home in the 1930s to 1940s. “They gave us a photo from the 1940s that shows the bell in the dining room. It likely was a bell for servants,” Sondra says. There’s also a bell on the floor under the dining room table to call for service, she says, but pressing it today doesn’t seem to bring any help! Her research shows that young Swedish women came to be servants in the south-of-Grand home. As do other homes in the area, this one features displays of various owls.

The home’s open kitchen was updated in 2008 by previous owners, who turned smaller rooms into one large space.

Holiday decorations

Designer Burmester had fun adding sparkle to the historic rooms. The centerpiece in the front parlor was a perfectly flocked tree, which fit the formal setting. She used a tree theme on the mantel, which is centered with an 1890s Antonia table clock and a bust of Buddha. A large Father Christmas figure stands tall on the coffee table.

“We used a snowflake theme in the dining room,” says the designer. “It’s simple and elegant, and white is timeless.” The white tablecloth has a subtle snowflake design. The chairs have linenlike chair covers. In the center of the table stand mercury-glass trees and crystal candlesticks for a shimmery effect. Crystal snowflakes hang from the ceiling fan. Walls above the wainscoting are decked with greenery and silver trays. A tea set on the buffet complements Royal Doulton bone china, a nod to Brian’s English heritage.

Also on the main floor is a family room with leather sofas, perfect for watching television. A beamed ceiling lends a cozy yet formal feel. Burmester used red-and-black buffalo checks for a rich but informal look and poinsettias in white and red for a seasonal punch of color.

“We truly feel that we are the home’s caretakers at this time,” Sondra says. “That’s important.”


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