We collect nuggets of information for our records in applying for historic status as well as for future caretakers of Chiles House. We post these on our Facebook page, but will also update this post here with them.
Vanessa Byrd – The woman who saved Chiles House.
We had the pleasure of showing Chiles House to the woman, who with her partner, bought and restored the house when it was literally falling down around Hope Ryan and her son. She told the story of how she heard from a realtor friend (and friend of Mrs. Ryan) that the house might be for sale. She showed up “with a contract in hand…even though I had only ever seen a peek of one room.”
Vanessa said the floors of the living room and kitchen were collapsed. The living room “looked like a skate park.” The fireplace, which we discovered is one separate piece, stood holding on for dear life at the end of the room. The window to the left of the fireplace would eventually be replaced. They put in the rounded pass through to the coat closet and door area to the porte cochere. The beautiful wide plank wood floors we discovered are not original but are wonderful replacements found by Vanessa. She noted that much of the Black Walnut wood paneling in the living room had survived but a number were repaired and even some replaced by a wonderful artist who sadly passed five years after the completion of the work.
The heavy Gothic looking wrought iron fixtures here and throughout the house were manufactured in Monrovia (??) California and she said they made a special trip out to pick them up when the delivery charges for them turned out to be prohibitive. he fixture in the living room is a round wheel with a dark plastic bottom to cover the light bulbs. There are four arms of lights mounted on and reaching up from the wheel. They resemble torches. This orange and wrought iron light style was used throughout the house.
The servants staircase was eliminated by Vanessa and team to add the laundry room on the first floor. She believes the staircase actually went into the basement from there as well as up to the second floor. She is looking for pictures of “Before” to help aid her memory. There was a large pantry originally in the kitchen she said. The new kitchen is very different than what they had done. She noted that at the time the dining room was in good shape. The floors are original and the walls at that time were a pink color. The dining courtyard was redone and a fountain added with a combination of brick paths and planting space. Her partner painted the gold trim on the base of the arches.
The library was also in good shape and needed little work from what she said. Also the butler’s bedroom was in good shape. This was the part of the house that Hope and her son were living in as they were the only parts of the house that were habitable. They used a “spigot to fill the toilet.” The butler’s bath was in good condition and all of the original Italian tile still exists though several pieces have been broken in the ensuing years.
Upstairs was in much worse shape. The master bedroom roof and windows had been badly damaged by a type of beetle. The window frames were all replaced to look as close as possible by the same artist who did the work downstairs. The wall closest to the bathroom and existing closet did not go all the way at the time. She recalled a door to a closet existed once you went past the edge of the wall by the windows facing the street.
The master bathroom was a hazard and like other rooms upstairs blocked off with warning tape. However, Ryan’s son, who was “reluctant” to move out ignored the tape and attempted to take a bath in the original sunken tub Vanessa was trying to preserve in place. The tub with Ryan dropped through the floor into the first floor.
All the tile was replaced with a similar black tile as existed at the time. The floor of the deck off the master bedroom had rotted away and no longer existed. They added the awning here as well as the floor. She noted that pictures she had seen showed an awning in this spot (as well as the front of the house) which they wanted to recreate.
The guest room off the main upstairs hall appears not to have been touched much either. They added the bathroom at the top of what was then the servants staircase, finding the inset tiles in the black shower (as well as other items they added to the house) at the antique stores on Swannanoa Road near the house. The purposefully made the floor tile mimic the pattern and layout of the original tile they found in the other bathrooms. She believes the original entrance to the servants staircase was in the main upper hall but wasn’t sure.
She noted they found and added the stained/leaded glass window overlooking the motor courtyard in the guest bedroom.
The famous Pink Bathroom is still pretty much how she found it. This back part of the house stood up better than the front half. The hall and two back bedrooms are also pretty much how she found them she said. She and her partner painted the interior of the house (as did Kevin and Rhonda Gentry after them as will we.)
The carriage house had no roof and the side walls were ready to collapse according to Vanessa. They added the roof, reinforced the walls and replaced the carriage doors with a series of french doors and windows above. They had also added a movie screen to try to use the space as a home theater. Based on her “after” pictures, the current motor court was more of a side garden spot with brick paths and beds laid out. They planted the Cypress(?) trees along the fence line at the same time as the neighbors did when the neighbors built the existing fence.
The walled garden had more trees and plants and a table and chairs by the wall bordering the alley/Holland Pl which gave the yard a more Mediterranean feel. Vanessa noted the yard at the time they purchased it was lush with roses and other plants. There were some bulbs on the motor court area along where the fence is that Vanessa said came from bulbs belonging to Hope Ryan’s family.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars” were invested in the property by Vanessa and her partner and by the end they were doing work themselves. Vanessa notes how at 9 months pregnant she was hanging roof tiles by their wires to get the job done.
One last thing she shared with us, besides her photo album of “after pictures.” was a color copy of a souvenir set of postcards (date unknown) celebrating “America’s Beauty Spot” featuring the Kenilworth Inn, the Biltmore Estate and Chiles house (although not by name).
They sold the house to Kevin and Rhonda Gentry. Vanessa said that Kevin Gentry told her he had admired the house since he was a boy. This was a common theme we heard from people who know the house and we share their feelings of love at first sight.
THE ROOMS OF CHILES HOUSE
I love the look of the master bath at night. The sunken tub was a real innovation I understand.