Isle cottage is perfect mix of sentiment and sophistication
As witness to more than 150 years of family history, Ellie Peters’ colorful Church Street cottage is a treasure trove of memories and memorabilia. Vintage furnishings, serious antiques and Peters’ own current decorative touches flow throughout, tempered by an awareness of the home’s significance in time.
“The last time this house changed hands for money was in this month — February — at the beginning of the Civil War,” Peters said. “Since that time, it has been passed down through the family, from daughter to daughter to daughter, until now a granddaughter — that would be me — is living in it.”
And the price noted in that long ago “for money” transaction?
“A hefty $250,” Peters said, holding a copy of the aged, handwritten transfer of title dated Feb. 9, 1861.
Peters’ enthusiasm for honoring the history of her home is well matched by her own ebullient decorating style. Although she insists that she doesn’t plan anything — and points out that “nothing matches” — the selection of items with which she surrounds herself and her use of color has resulted in an artful blending of sentiment with sophistication.
Red, yellow, orange, blue, green, pink — like an overturned box of new crayons — the happy hues spill out through the various rooms, playfully providing a unifying backdrop for items as diverse as a collection of children’s postcards and a massive revolving book case from the U.S. Custom House.
Child-size spurs Peters’ father wore as a young boy hang near an elegant marble-topped occasional table that once graced the parlor of Galveston’s now lost Ursuline Convent.
Themes repeated throughout include heart, flower and bird motifs. On a sobering note, there also is a copy of The Dallas Morning News from Nov. 23, 1963, its bold banner headlines announcing the assassination of President Kennedy. Elsewhere, a weathered antique armoire Peters describes as having been “in the house forever” provides contrast to a vintage metal office chair bearing an identification plate reading, “#37, St. Mary’s Hospital,” where Peters herself was born.
Peters’ most prized item, however, is the doll house her grandfather made for her when she was a child.
“It is an exact to-scale copy of the house I grew up in,” Peters said as she arranges a tiny 5-inch-by-8-inch needlepoint “carpet” in the replica’s diminutive entry hallway.
The intriguing juxtaposition of humor and history tumbles on into Peters’ backyard, where long ago several outbuildings, including a donkey barn, once stood. Today, her grandfather’s menagerie of cast-concrete animal statuary peeks out from amid hardy flowering plants. A large hammock woven in sunset colors nestles under the outdoor stairs, where Peters displays a sign that once hung over her grandfather’s office supply store. Another sign describing her own whimsical art furnishings business stands near the ground level entry to her studio workshop.
Although it is still in question how much of the structure was rebuilt after the 1900 Storm, later documented changes to the house include the addition of an indoor bathroom and kitchen. Otherwise, Peters is dedicated to maintaining the authenticity of the home.
“This is my own little museum,” she said. “I view myself as the current curator and caretaker, but I am always aware that although I make it my home, it is not my house. It belongs to the whole family — to everyone before me and all who will come after me. And actually, I guess that means it’s all about love.”