fireplace is one of three, all are carved Italian marble.
The clock is Parisian and is the same age as the house.
two girandoles ornamental candleholders are
European, about 1830.
1876, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote the music for Swan Lake.
Ulysses S. Grant was President of the United States. In the
Milwaukee Sentinel City Carriage Works advertised phaetons and
T. A. Chapmans announced a new
line of corsets and bustles. Morgans on Water offered a sale on
parasols. And the Emily Parker Groom house was built.
So reads the announcement that
Barbara Nestingen sent out when she moved into her dream home on
Milwaukees Lower East Side. If it sounds like the kind of an
announcement a proud new parent would send out, then it is no
surprise that when talking about the home, Nestingen refers to it
as her girl. What was love at first sight for her, however,
may not have been as obvious to the casual browser.
The house had good mechanics,
she said. The owner from 1984-1994 had done some very needed
structural updates to the house, but it definitely needed a lot of
cosmetic work. You walk into it now and it is a womans house.
You just feel it.
A womans home it has been for
the majority of its history. Constructed in 1876, probably by
George and Louise Knowles who built and occupied a twin house next
door, the home wasmiraculouslyoccupied by local artist and
teacher Emily Groom from the day she moved in with her family in
1896, until her death in 1975. At the time of her death, Groom was
an accomplished artist and faculty member at the Layton School of
Art. Her work has been displayed at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the
Milwaukee Womans Club, Immanuel Presbyterian Church and the
Charles Allis Museum to name a few.
I named the house for her
because even though her family was not the original owner or
builder, she lived here so long and the home was in such great
condition when it came to me, Nestingen said. I owe a great
deal to Emily Groom as she was such a great steward of the
antiquity, charm and beauty of the home.
Nestingen describes the home as
southern French style Victorian interior with a Gothic Victorian
exterior. She points out that the home is 16 years older than the
Pabst Mansion and has had only six owners from its construction to
The selling point of the house
was its history, she said. That and the first time I saw the
dining room, I knew I had to have this house.
The decorative three-story home has
six bedrooms, three fireplaces, and two stairways. The dining room
that so impressed Nestingen upon her first visit proudly displays
1850s French murals depicting Aesops fables. Eleven-foot
ceilings, fireplace mantels carved from marble and beautiful
woodwork are just a few of the aspects that sold her on the home.
This house features
extraordinary architectureit is just a time machine to the
past, she said. I knew I would rather fix something that had
so much character and beauty than have something new.
Nestingen first saw the home in
September of 1993 and purchased it in April of 1994. The
challenges that the house presented were the reason it remained on
the market for so long.
The bathroom situation alone
probably deterred a lot of people, she said. The full bath
upstairs was the most immediate need. Everything else was livable,
but there was a lot of work to be done.
The home has a powder room on the
first floor and a full bath on the second floor. Nestingen
completely renovated both rooms. The full bath now contains a
shower over Jacuzzi tub and plenty of storage space. The home also
was updated with a new roof, furnace, forced air heating, phone
system, security system and kitchen.
The kitchen was a challenge as
well, but it is now really a beautiful room, she said. How
many people can say they have a chandelier in the kitchen? There
are seven doors in the kitchen alonea mark of a Victorian era
home. When I bought the home it was very very darkyou needed
all the lights on at noon on a sunny day. Now it is really a warm
place to be.
The décor Nestingen brought to the
home remains true to the time period. There are eight chandeliers
throughout the home. She used shell ornamentation from Orlan Din,
who created the decorative plasterwork above the doorways in the
dining room. A 1920s Karastan rug complements the dining room.
I managed to acquire the
chandeliers at antique shops in the Washington, D.C. area from
dealers who service the embassies, she said. They suit the
home very well. The front parlor chandelier has matching sconces
that were shipped from Kensington, Maryland.
rear parlors are the reception rooms of the first floor.
chandelier is French, the Aubusson
rug is needlepoint. The frames, art and prints
More amazing, a lot of Nestingens
possessions and furniture that she owned before buying the home
suit the décor as if they were made for it. On a shelf in the
front parlor, old family photographs add to the feeling that you
are stepping into a time machine when you think that any of these
brides from generations ago could have occupied a home like this
when it was new.
When I entertain, I like to
light the house with just candles, she said. It completely
changes the feel of the house. I think that this is what it looked
like back then.
The renovation process took her
three years. She took out a wall between two smaller bedrooms on
the second floor to create a master suite with a large walk-in
closet. Interior designer Gene Berube worked with her on the
Gene is really good at seeing
that space is used efficiently, she said. Other than the
bedroom, I pretty much made the decorating decisions on my own
from the fixtures to the colors and textures on the walls. Most of
what this house needed was pretty obvious to me. The important
thing was to keep the fidelity to the past.
Along the way, she encountered some
surprises such as what was under the years of carpet adhesive on
the wood floors.
There was so much gumming from
all the years of carpeting that no one knew there was this
beautiful wood pattern of maple and black walnut in the floor in
the hallway and dining room, she said. The woodwork
throughout the house has been painted over the years. Other than
the white woodwork, Id like to think that if the original
owners walked in today, not only would they recognize the place,
but they would approve of what Ive done here.
The home also features some modern
conveniences that Nestingen considers herself lucky to have in her
Brady Street neighborhood such as a two-car garage, a big deck
overlooking a large yard adorned with 100-year-old trees.
Although this is not the first
house Nestingen has renovated, it is the one she feels most
I just cant say enough how
this is a womans house, she said. Im the first woman
to live here since Emily Groom. It has been my privilege to
restore it and revere its antiquity. It just feels like an old
Nestingen noted that the oldest
house still standing in Milwaukee was built in 1850 making her
home a unique treasure to the city as well.
There just isnt much from
this vintage left in the city, she said. It reflects an
interesting time for Milwaukee and the Brady Street area. There is
a historical bus tour of Civil War properties in Milwaukee and Ill
tell you there is just not much left.
Ask her what her favorite feature
of the house is, and she cant pick just one.
The front doors are beautiful
etched glass, she said. The marble in the fireplaces is
really unique. Of course, if I ever do leave here, Im taking
the paintings in the dining room with me. I just love this home
though, I cant ever imagine living anywhere else. I think of
this home as my child. I dont know what my future holds, but I
plan to enjoy the past as I live my future.