Victorian finery: West Side home story
Photos by kc kratt
In 2010, after a decade of working finance in Manhattan, Ryan Osborne was ready to return to Buffalo. He began hunting for a home that would give him what he’d been missing: a front porch, a garden, and his friends and extended family. An online listing for a 5,600, square-foot Victorian house built in 1890 caught his eye, and then his friend, Tim, sent him the same one. It was on the west side, near where he grew up, and in need of repairs–and renovations–from top to bottom. He checked it out.
“When I walked into the house, my first reaction was that it has the most amazing woodwork; it blew me away,” says Osborne. The house’s front hallway is arresting top-to-bottom quarter-sawn oak woodwork: the ceilings, walls, floors, and banisters are all hardwood. Two figurative Art Deco light fixtures are the finials atop elaborately carved newel posts. Guests see the wood as old and gloomy, Osborne says, and often say, upon entering, “It looks like you live in a church.”
“I hated the exterior, because it was so bare,” Osborne recalls. “Tim said, ‘If you buy that house, I’ll put the front porch back on.’ He’s an engineer, and that’s what he and his father both do. It took one guy eight months to build the porch and the challenges were the roof lines. Not many people still know how to do that kind of work.”
Osborne called in the reinforcements. “I brought a bunch of relatives with me because that’s what we do, and they all had the same reaction to the interior. And, on a whim, I bought it. I still had my place in Manhattan, and had just purchased a place in Buffalo. My uncle is a lawyer and everything fell into place quickly. I had the inspection done and, when all the furniture was moved out of the house from the previous owners—who had it all decorated for the period of the house–I thought, ‘What the hell did I do?’ I could see every little imperfection of the house when it was empty, and I was depressed about it.”
To make matters worse, when he checked on his new acquisition on a Sunday before jetting back to Manhattan for the workweek, and during “the coldest winter on record,” he found that the pipes had frozen and burst. “It was like Niagara Falls in the foyer. Water was rushing through all the first-floor ceilings. I had full-out icicles hanging from the doorways. All the stained glass had a crust of ice on the inside,” Osborne says. “And now I’m thinking, ‘The only reason that I bought this house is the woodwork, and now it’s ruined, and there’s no way to still have it look the way it did.’ I didn’t get on that flight, and called all the same relatives who looked at the house with me. We turned the water off, started the furnaces, and it only took a couple of days to dry out. A contractor who has worked for my family members cut through the exterior of the house to fix the plumbing to save having to cut through the woodwork. They worked in ten below weather to do that work, but, finally, everything dried and dehumidified, and there was no damage.”
When the house was empty, Osborne admits to moments of finding it “creepy,” but his awe for it grew as it became a beloved home that he now describes as ornate, old, “kind of opulent in some spots.” It’s where he telecommutes to Deloitte, and proudly hosts gatherings for family and friends. His lifelong love of gardens—and Buffalo’s annual Garden Walk—inspires him to get work completed on a deadline.
“I love Garden Walk because it gives me the opportunity to walk through gardens and hear people’s stories. And now I wanted to be the recipient of all those people coming and telling me stories about my house,” Osborne says. Several people, including his neighbors, told him about the house’s past as a drug house, and multiple-unit dwelling. The two previous owners passed along an antique image of the house, beautifully framed, and showing the original porch, which was closely replicated by Tim and his father, who balanced the old design with new materials.
“The kitchen was in process of being done for my second Garden Walk,” Osborne says. “I had already done the backyard with help from Innovative Landscapes.” In a house that is very wooden, and leaning toward being cozy and dark, Osborne longed for a kitchen with a different aesthetic: light and airy, brighter and whiter.
“I designed the whole kitchen,” he says. “I knew what I wanted, classic and more traditional. It is a small space and was, when I bought the house, a tiny galley kitchen with no window. I wanted it to be more the period of the house—and I wanted big crown molding.”
After removal of a wall, rebuilding doorways to correct slanting from settling, and much back-and-forth, Osborne had what he wanted. For the countertops, he chose quartzite: white, veins of light gray, and a glassy finish. Though it has the appearance of marble, quartzite is more durable and not prone to staining, Osborne explains. The kitchen sink, in the center island, is dark gray granite, finished with a nickel faucet. The wooden base for the island is dark, to contrast the whites in the room.
Another central feature and showstopper for kitchen geeks is the luxury-brand AGA cast iron range (which is famously always on and maintains a temperature of 350 degrees), which came with the house. “I debated about changing it, but everyone who comes in loves it,” Osborne says. “This whole room was gutted, and it’s the only thing that remained. The house’s original masonry is exposed behind it and that’s the chimney for the dining room fireplace; it goes all the way up to the third floor.” Osborne, who eats out every day, is not a home cook, but the AGA is great for warming food at parties.
The subway tiles and the cabinetry are cream-colored. The pair of metal and crystal chandeliers in the room were purchased online. A wine refrigerator, a stainless refrigerator, and gorgeous marble tiled floor (with mosaic work around the island) round out this balanced interior.
The home has seven bedrooms and three fireplaces; throughout, it has untouched hardwood floors and trims. Two rooms are aesthetically antithetical: the kitchen and the nearly-finished third floor with twenty windows, décor of grays, yellows, and whites, large television, a lovely galley kitchen, and a soon-to-be-heavily-used artist easel for painting.
With all that space, Osborne says he often works with a laptop in the sunroom, which is just off the kitchen with views of the garden. He also works many hours every week in his home office in a converted second-floor bedroom, as well as on the new third floor.
Nancy J. Parisi is a frequent contributor to Spree Home.