Medina: Jan and Chet Simmons’ start in their home wasn’t exactly promising.
They moved in the day after Christmas in 1985, when Jan Simmons was five months pregnant. They had to dismantle the Christmas tree and get ready to move on Christmas Day, even though they had two small children. A storm had dumped several inches of snow on the area, and the subzero cold invaded the house through doors left open to bring in the furniture.
It was, she said, “a brutal move.”
Luckily, things improved after that rocky beginning. In fact, the Simmonses have developed such a deep affection for the house that two of the couple’s three adult children still insist on staying overnight every year on Christmas Eve, “because Christmas morning is so special in this house,” Jan Simmons said.
Sunday, the couple will open their home to the public as one of the stops on the Holiday Home Tour, sponsored by the Medina Community Design Committee. It is among nine buildings on the tour, five of them historical homes.
The tour is one of two holiday home tours in the area this weekend. The other, the Sugar Plum Tour, is also on Sunday and involves homes in and around Akron.
The Simmonses are only the third or fourth family to live in their house, an Italianate-style home built in 1860. It’s one of two nearly identical homes that were constructed side by side for the daughters of H.G. Blake, a congressman and founder of Old Phoenix Bank. The two daughters, Elizabeth and Helen, married brothers.
The Simmons house was originally home to the younger daughter, Helen, and her husband, O.H. McDowell. Sister Elizabeth and her husband, R.M. McDowell, later built an eight-bedroom Queen Anne house across the street, which will also be open during the tour.
The Simmonses’ house retains many of the original elements that give it its period charm — herringbone parquet floors, slate hearths, paneled doors. The first-story windows extend almost from the floor to the nearly 11-foot ceilings, “which we love, although it’s harder in the winter to love them,” Jan Simmons said with a laugh.
In most of the rooms the wide moldings are painted, as they apparently were originally. Jan Simmons said painted woodwork was fashionable among people of means at the time the house was built.
The exception is the parlor, where the window and door casings are dark wood. The carved fireplace mantels in the parlor and living room were also left unpainted, to Jan Simmons’ delight.
The house is full of the quirks and enchantments of its age.
The front door, for example, has glass windows covering ornate iron grates. The glass panels open in, so the home’s occupants can speak through the grates to someone on the porch without having to open the door.
The shallow gas fireplaces have cast iron surrounds and in some cases iron mantels. One of the bathroom sinks is marble, probably installed whenever the house got indoor plumbing.
The house serves as a backdrop for the antiques and vintage items the Simmonses have amassed over the years. Collecting antiques is a passion that was sparked in Jan Simmons back in high school, when she did a decorating program for 4-H Club and used old pieces that include a milk can she still displays in a hallway.
A display of Americana in the front hallway includes a collection of commemorative White House Christmas ornaments, a U.S. flag that flew over the Ohio Statehouse on one of the couple’s anniversaries and photographs of Jan Simmons’ father and uncle in their military uniforms. There’s even an announcement for the high school graduation at which Chet Simmons’ grandmother lost out on valedictory honors to a boy who had the same grade average but was given the title because of his gender.
The parlor has a working Victrola on which the Simmonses still play music now and then, along with a wicker buggy Jan Simmons’ father bought at an auction when she was 5. Over the parlor fireplace hangs a period lithograph of President Lincoln’s Cabinet, found in the home of Chet Simmons’ grandmother.
In one of the upstairs bedrooms, an old bathtub salvaged from a house that had burned is outfitted with a pillow and quilt to serve as what Jan Simmons calls a reading tub. When it was moved from the Simmonses’ old house, it took a bunch of strong men and a pulley to wrestle it up the stairs, she said. It was a place where her children — Quinn Simmons Behler, Whitney Simmons Harkavy and Jay Simmons — could curl up and read when they were younger, but now and then it was also pressed into service as an extra bed for their college friends.
Items that have played roles in the family’s history are displayed throughout the house. There’s the vintage cello daughter Quinn used to play, the highboy that traveled on a boat from England with one of Chet Simmons’ ancestors, the turkey crate that belonged to Jan Simmons’ grandfather, now topped with glass to serve as a coffee table. Even some elementary-school artwork by Chet Simmons’ late mother, Betty, is framed on a dining room wall.
And tucked somewhere behind the kitchen pantry, there’s a time capsule Chet Simmons created with one of their children. They made the memento when the Simmonses remodeled the kitchen about 12 years ago, installing cabinets that reach to the ceiling and a pantry carved out of space under stairs that lead to what were once the servants’ quarters.
The couple has made other changes over the years to make the house more livable, including upgrading the insulation and turning a storage space on the second floor into a laundry room. But Jan Simmons said they’re willing to put up with chilly drafts in winter and a lack of air conditioning in summer to live in a house they love.
In fact, they never even considered living in a newer home, she said. “It just gives a kind of a sense of longevity.”
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.