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North of La Grande and east of the Mount Glen area, down the lane called Starr, sets a home erected in the fledgling years of Union County.
Owners Tim and Dorene McCarthy, and painter John Milbert, on roof, pose at the newly painted â€śHunter houseâ€ť on Starr Lane. - The Observer/CHRIS BAXTER
The house was built by Jason Smith Hunter, a prosperous landowner/farmer at the height of the Victorian era. This home was recently bedecked in dazzling jewel-tone accents akin to the Painted Ladies of San Francisco.
When Dan and Dorene Schuette purchased the property 23 years ago, she fell for the neglected behemoth and visualized its potential. Schuette, Ottersberg and now McCarthy have been evolutions of the husbands she’s lost and loved at this residence through divorce, death and destiny. Each took part in refurbishing and restoring the glory of the historical beauty along with an entire cast of friends, family and craftsmen.
Today, partnered with her husband, Tim McCarthy (a college beau from 37 years ago and a retired Eugene police officer), Dorene, the eighth owner of the house, continues her passionate pursuit of redressing the structure at 63172 Starr Lane and embracing the organic, agrarian lifestyle of yesteryear.
Mr. Hunter moved west from Missouri in part “to escape the unrest of the Civil War,” said his grandson, Jack Hunter, who resides in Cove. It was during this period that the High Victorian Italianate architectural style came into its own.
A bit of research revealed that Italianate dwelling materials were handled to emphasize mass and heaviness and to create a surface rich with shadows and highlights. Slanted bay windows are another trademark Italianate characteristic.
Painter John Milbert examines his handiwork on one of the Italianate slanted bay windows. He chalked up 300 hours of brush strokes and used 36 gallons of color on the exterior house painting project. - The Observer/CHRIS BAXTER
In the Civil War decades, the Italianate dwelling is likened to the stereotypical Victorian matron — well dressed, well behaved and self-satisfied. It presents with vertical proportions and flowery ornamentation. Its robust features are decoratively narrated as including “carved and turned balusters as porch or balcony rail, repeating columns or pilasters at portico, wide and lavishly detailed window and door surrounds, and elaborately molded cornice with heavily profiled (often paired) brackets.’’ The “Hunter house,’’ as it is referred to by locals, is a fitting example.
Recently, an extensive exterior painting project was concluded. Several issues were considered prior to painting. First, the financial investment would be significant, therefore, should they, and moreover could they, paint the house themselves? Could they afford to continue to put it off? Who would they approach to take on such a massive venture?
The siding was severely debilitated with the east and west sides exceedingly exposed. Major gaps and cracks needed filling and some siding replaced. Eventually, it would take six cases of caulk and 500 hours of prep work before the first blush of color ever touched a board.
As Dorene and Tim thought about painting the house, they noticed that most of the original ornate detail was still intact. They assumed that they’d use the original drab colors until their friend Lori, the mail carrier, persuaded them to consider reading up on the “Painted Lady” concept of applying three or more boldly contrasting colors to a Victorian building to bring out the decorative ruffles and flourishes.
They made up a mock color pattern that resembled a more subdued “Daughter of the Painted Ladies” then proceeded with abandon.
Several people were approached to do the painting but turned down the daunting task or charged more than could be afforded.
Serendipitously, a handyman friend (Craig) knew of a local man (John Milbert) who grew up in the area and had just returned from living elsewhere. He had been a detail painter for 30 years. As a youngster, John grew up admiring the old historic houses around town and now thought it a shame to see so many left to deteriorate or be torn down. He took interest in the prospect of being a part of preserving one.
John Milbert arrived at the job each day wearing his signature white clothing and never got an ounce of paint on him or any random spot. He never masked off an area or used a razor. He said his motivation was that, “I don’t like messes or cleanup” so he is careful to do the job right the first time.
He wasn’t generally afraid of heights and used some scaffolding on occasion. He would bring all five colors up at once. Usually the only delay was a windy day.
It took 20 gallons of primer and 36 gallons of color. The primer was sprayed on and all else was hand work. In all, John chalked up 300 hours of brush strokes. His father taught him that all work is dignified and it doesn’t matter what you do but if you can’t sign your name to it, don’t do it. John affixed his mark to this assignment just under a bay window.
Dorene and Tim have purposely adapted to living a rustic way of life. They raise Hanoverian horses, French Alpine goats for packing and milk, chickens for meat and eggs and they grow and preserve their own garden produce. Additionally, they house and nurture Dorene’s darling, 93-year-old mother who can no longer care for herself.
The McCarthys are pursuing the possibility of placing the “Hunter home’’ on the historical registry and would invite anyone with knowledge of the property to contact them. They can be found at www.mtemilypartners.com