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Stepping back in time

| Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006

Bill and Cindy DeRunk used to live in a two-story red brick house in Shaler that was packed with Victorian antiques they had been collecting for years. Their home had a Victorian flair, but, as Bill will tell you, "no matter what you do to a two-story brick house, it's not going to be a Victorian."

When they moved to Butler two years ago, the couple finally was able to place their rosewood coffee table into a formal parlor, move their claw-footed table into a dining room with a pine hardwood floor, and spread their myriad of authentic Victorian decorations along the mantels of their home's five fireplaces.

Living in the 130-year-old Victorian home is "a dream come true" for the husband and wife that came after years of house hunting and countless hours spent restoring the 6,000-square-foot mansion to its original style inside and out.

The DeRunks' "Prom Dress Pink"-colored, three-story home is among six stops on the Annual Holiday Tour of Homes, sponsored by the Butler County Symphony Association. The collection of homes ranges from an 1860s farmhouse to a 1940s home designed after a plan from the 1940 World's Fair in New York, to a 6,500-foot spread built in the 1990s that represents the pinnacle of contemporary living.

"The houses this year are so eclectic, so different and so unusual. There isn't one house that isn't terrific," says Joyce Catt, chairwoman of the tour, which enters its 17th year.

The self-guided tour runs from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 18 and centers mainly on homes in and around downtown Butler, with one stop in Harmony. A cookie reception will complete the expedition from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the North Main Street Church of God. Tickets, available at locations throughout Butler, include a map of the homes with descriptions and hand-sketched illustrations of each house.

More than 100 volunteers will be stationed in the six houses to guide visitors through the rooms. About 700 people -- with feet clad in booties -- are expected to wander through the array of architecture on the tour, which usually raises about $4,000 for the Butler County Symphony Orchestra. Entering its 58th season, the orchestra is one of the few remaining community orchestras still in existence.

"(Organizing the tour) is a tremendous amount of work, but it's well worth it because we want to keep our symphony going," Catt says. "It's a really important part of the culture of Butler."

The DeRunks are working on conserving an important part of the history of Butler.

Their gingerbread-covered, turret-topped home was built between 1872 and 1876 by W.S. Boyd, who owned about 100 acres around the home and constructed others like it nearby. The house passed through five owners before the DeRunks bought it for $241,000 in December of 2004. The house was in good condition, but attempts to modernize it were evident, like a massive black-tiled shower that expands over one corner of the upstairs master bedroom.

Ironically, it was when the couple was standing in the home's kitchen -- which at the time had been modernized to include a center island -- that they knew their five-year search for the perfect Victorian was over.

"We looked at each other and smiled," Cindy says. "We knew this was the one. It had everything we were looking for."

High ceilings, three porches, a carriage house, three sets of pocket doors, five fireplaces, a portico, working gasoliers (chandeliers with gaslights), a butler's pantry and a grand staircase lined with intricate lincrusta (a textured wallcovering) for Cindy to decorate are just some of the details that made the home at 119 Glenn Ave. ideal for the couple.

The house also came with 44 shutters, hundreds of balusters, 49 windows and a poorly repaired slate roof that had to be restored. Carpet had to be ripped up, 1,000 pieces of slate had to be replaced on the roof, wallpaper had to be hung, tin ceilings had to be installed and 75 gallons of ten colors of paint had to be applied on the outside of the house.

"I realize that most people don't like coming home from work to work even more; sometimes I don't either," says Bill, 45, who is the information technology director for Family Home Health in Monroeville.

"The satisfaction of knowing we're preserving a part of history" is worth the $75,000 and year and a half of time the couple has spent to restore their home, says Cindy, 44, who used to work as a nurse but whose full-time job now is perfecting the house.

The couple has furnished the color-rich house with authentic antiques from the turn of the 20th century that reflect the renaissance revival of the time. "One of the Victorian mottos was 'too much is not enough,'" Cindy says.

An operable pump organ from the 1870s sits in the formal parlor, with a piece of music sitting on it that was found in the home's basement. A rich walnut hall bench sits in the home's music room, intricately carved with cat faces. In the hallway stands a wooden Bissell Hall Sweeper from the 1880s. A red velvet hat trimmed with ribbon is perched over a painting in the servant's quarters upstairs.

Entering the kitchen, one sees a calico cat perched next to a pile of red apples under a bell jar on a circular table. Something seems to be missing from this kitchen, though: a refrigerator. The DeRunks found a cabinet maker who replicated the beveling and hardware found in the rest of the kitchen to fashion a covering for this modern kitchen appliance, which is set into the wall.

"We made it look like it's been here 130 years, like everything else," Bill says.

The pantry room reveals one of the only hints that the year is 2006 -- a bag of Starbucks coffee sits next to an automatic coffeemaker. The only television in the house is tucked into a bedroom upstairs. Cindy prefers to imagine genteel ladies of the Victorian era sipping tea while sitting in her parlor rather than watch "Oprah" or "Desperate Housewives."

"I guess we've taken on a little bit of the Victorian lifestyle," Bill says. "Everything is so technical now, it's nice to come home and really remove yourself from this era."

Cindy knew she wanted to immerse herself into the Victorian way of thinking on a trip the couple made to Cape May, N.J., 15 years ago.

"I just fell in love with the area, the homes, the furnishings, and I said, 'Someday, I'm going to do this,'" she recalls. As she stands next to her husband in their long driveway worthy of a horse and carriage, she gazes at the pink, green and white-trimmed Victorian they share with four cats and says, "This feels like home."

Additional Information:

Butler Annual Holiday Tour of Homes

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 18. A cookie reception runs from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Admission: $15, or $18 the day of the tour. Tickets can be purchased at the Butler County Symphony Office, 259 S. Main St.; May's Music Shoppe, 247 E. Jefferson St.; Flynn's Tire and Auto Service, 236 N. Main St.; Truly Yours, Clearview Mall; The Thinking Cap, Point Plaza Shopping Center; and Meridian Gift Shop, 298 Meridian Road.

Where: Six homes throughout Butler. The cookie reception is at the North Main Street Church of God.

Details: Call Joyce Catt at 724-679-5069

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