The Rose Bungalow Blooms Once Again



BY LEE RENNICK | PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIN KOSKO AND SUBMITTED BY POLESKY FAMILY

When R. C. and Kittie Rose arrived from Arkansas in 1911 with the intention of building a Craftsman two-story bungalow-style home in Murfreesboro, they had no idea that almost 110 years later Steve and Molly Poleskey would fall in love with all of the efforts that went into their original design. While many Craftsman houses in the city have been razed, the Poleskeys bought the home with the idea of lovingly restoring it to its former state while updating it for a modern family.

Transplants from California, Molly Taylor-Polesky, PhD, is a history professor at Middl Tennessee State University, where she teaches Digital History and Steve left his job in management at Google to jump into the construction industry as a partner in Hedgewood Builders.

“When the real estate agent brought us to the house the first time,” said Taylor-Poleskey, “I was blown away. I had never really noticed the house before, but my jaw dropped when we walked through that four-foot oak door and glimpsed the treasures inside. The house felt grand, but also
cozy. The woodwork was all original with small windows that still let in lots of light. It was amazing no one had ever painted over the old wood.”

Initially, they thought that the house would be a fun place to see, but they had not intended to buy an historic house, yet. They had intended to wait about five years before looking for one. Instead, they fell in love and went for it.

“My main goal,” said Poleskey, “was to set the house up to last for another 100 years. Structurally it was sound, but we updated all of the HVAC, plumbing and electrical. We also wanted to make it ecologically friendly, using geothermal and solar power. We put in a lot more insulation. It has been all about creating a balance between preservation and being environmentally friendly.”

“Ultimately, we felt like preserving an old home rather than building new is the largest ecological choice,” said Taylor-Polesky.

Both Molly and Steve wanted to reuse original pieces found stored in various places in the house. One of the first things they decided was to restore all of the original 40 windows by re-glazing and adding weather stripping instead of buying all new windows. They wanted to keep the original wood windows with the original thicker glass instead of more modern synthetic ones with double panes. They brought in carpenter Harold Mercer to do the window restoration work.

“The house was so well built,” said Pole skey. “The original builders, the Roses, chose quality materials, including lots of virgin-for-est lumber and we tried to keep as many of the original features and the layout as we could.”

While staying true to the original style, they did add a porte cochere to the side of the house and a large screened in porch at the back of the house with a small workshop area. Also, some of the floor plan was changed to add a bath and a half, as well as make the house flow better for their lifestyle. Yet all of these additions look original to the house.

The overhanging roof and large front porch are a defining feature of a Craftsman bungalow, which the Roses modified to create their home. The Poleskeys kept the decorative rafters and the original fish-scale siding, but they made design improvements to the original front porch, adding to the time-honored detail of the home. They traded in wood railings for cement and stone “railings” between the two column piers to create an appealing sitting area, replaced the stucco with Tennessee limestone, widened the front stairs and added some copper Arts and Crafts lighting. Poleskey brought in a number of crafts men to do the restoration work, mimicking the Rose family. According to a report written by Shereen Sampson in 1997 on the home, Kittie Rose brought two craftsmen with her from Arkansas to do the interior woodwork.

They men brought most of the raw materials with them and lived on site for the two years they worked on the home. This attention to detail is perhaps the reason that everything was in such fine condition over-all when the Poleskeys bought the home. 

Another reason the house was in such good shape was because the Jenkins family, who bought the house in 1926, kept it in their family for 90 years. They lived in the home until the mid- 1960s and then it became a rental in 1970 until 2015 when it went up for auction. Much of the time it was rented by one family. It was sold to a developer who put on a new roof and gutted parts of the house, but by 2017 the developer decided to let it go. That is when the Poleskeys got involved.

“We were excited to have found it in the state it was in,” said Taylor-Poleskey, “and be able to do all of our own finishing touches.” These ‘finishing touches’ took two and a half years to complete.

Those finishing touches are so seamless, that it feels as if they merely restored what was there, replacing rotted boards and rebuilding decorative elements. Instead, they slyly repurposed many original items, including lighting, tiles, doors and wood work. One of the most-clever uses of reused materials was Dayton Brown’s employment of original mill work to construct the range hood. He also built the mantel for the back patio and rebuilt a number of the corbels.

Keeping to the original Craftsman style has been a must as the Poleskeys have worked on the home. This style of house came into being with the growth of the middle class in the early twentieth century and an increase in individual family home ownership. It was also a reaction to the decrease in pride in workmanship brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The basic principal of the style was simplicity of design and quality of materials after the over-done architecture and furnishings of the Victorian period.

In Sampson’s study of the structure, she notes that the Rose family’s design has features of a Swiss vacation chalet common to many Craftsman homes. It is also a blend of extravagance in the wood working and frugality in many of the fixtures. Instead of the traditional copper Arts and Crafts light fixtures found in Gustov Stickley’s The Craftsman magazine, Kittie Rose bought her lighting, door knobs and cabinet pulls out of the Sears, Roebuck and Company catalogue. And they can still be found in the home in excellent condition. 

On the main floor, the Poleskeys have kept what was once called the reception hall intact. They simply fixed what needed to be repaired and removed the more modern tiles that had been placed around the fireplace and replaced them with handmade purple faience tiles created to look like originals found in the library. The library is also very much as it was created originally, except for the half bath built under the stairs where there was once a closet.

Changes essentially begin at the stairs. While the small vestibule with the built-in storage seat and a mirror with pegs to hang guest’s coats are original, the staircase has been changed. The servant’s stairs off the first landing have been removed to give the kitchen more room. As you open the original pocket door leading to the grand dining area, the real changes begin. Although you would never know it. The wall between the kitchen and the dining room and those creating the butler’s pantry have been removed making a more open concept. The swinging door that once separated the kitchen and dining room has been used elsewhere in the home.

The original built-in china cabinet and buffet, as well as the storage cabinets in the butler’s pantry have been kept and the woodwork has been seamlessly redone to make it look as if the house always looked that way.

A laundry room was created from the old porch that had been enclosed years ago. The Poleskeys cleverly added a laundry chute to it from upstairs using an old root vegetable bin from the butler’s pantry to get their sons, Raymond who is six and Ricky who is four, to put their dirty clothes in the laundry. The ploy worked. 

One major change is the good-sized screened porch that the Poleskeys added to the back of the home. They designed it to the Craftsman style, but with a more rustic, mountain feel, like Craftsman bungalows that can be found out West. Josh Hendrick was brought on board to create two stained glass windows. One of the windows features a squirrel with nuts, that has become a family emblem according to Poleskey.

“Molly’s father is a landscape architect,” added Poleskey, “and he has always had a sort of love hate relationship with squirrels. We also use the motif in other parts of the house.” When the house was first built, there was a screened in sleeping porch on the second floor, it is now part of their daughter Anna’s nursey. Sleeping porches were added to many homes in the 1900s as sleeping in the fresh air was thought to be healthy. When the Jenkins lived in the home, Mrs. Jenkins had the room filled with living plants and used it as a sitting room, but it too was eventually enclosed. 

Other changes on the second floor, where all of the private rooms are located, include taking out the old dressing room that was found between the two larger bedrooms at the front of the house and turning it into a master bathroom. They cleverly used the original to the home claw foot tub, which they found in the dining room when they first saw the house. They also took out closets and built new ones, but reused all of the historic doors and woodwork make them look authentic to the home.

All through the process of rebuilding and remodeling the Rose Bungalow, the Poleskeys have reached out to authorities on everything from colors to natural plantings in the yard. Deborah Belcher, who heads the interior design department at Middle Tennessee State University is an expert in reuse of existing structures and gave them advice on many of the historical elements of the home. While they turned to Shane Gillespie for the finish carpentry and Todd Foote of Earthscapes for help with the landscape design and planting choices.

“My father did the plans for the outside,” said Taylor-Poleskey. “My Dad likes fotherguilla bushes, which are popular in New England, where I am from.

We found they were on a list of underutilized plants in Tennessee, so we used some of them. And the University of Tennessee Extension Service gave us other tree recommendations.”

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