Home Of The Month: History In The Making

An antiques dealer and his partner are restoring their early-1900s eastside home with period-appropriate design in mind.
Photography by Tony Valainis

When former high school sweethearts Matthew Bridges and Jessi DiCristofolo reconnected in adulthood and began hunting for a home to share, they pictured themselves buying property in the country. They wanted an old house in an area like Pendleton or Bargersville. Perhaps New Palestine. The east side of Indy? Not on their shortlist.

If this sounds familiar to you, it might be because the post-Covid housing market forced quite a few people to become a lot less particular about details like location. However, the couple was not willing to budge on their goal of owning an old home, so they began searching historic neighborhoods in Indianapolis.

On an unassuming, narrow street on the near east side, they found their old but new-to-them home. “This place kind of fell out of the sky,” Bridges says, adding that they were actually touring the house across the street when they saw the “For Sale” sign in the yard. It didn’t have a stately street presence, and they could barely see the porch through the overgrown shrubs. But once inside, they were sold. “Walking in, we knew this was the place.”

Room by room, the couple is taking the 1912 abode back to its roots through what they call “period-appropriate design.” They explain the stories, character, and quality that come with the home as they walk around the circular main floor. This passion for preserving historic character isn’t shocking coming from an antiques dealer, which is Bridges’ profession.

Relying on both his personal collection and his business inventory at Father Wolf Antiques, Bridges outfitted the home in true Edwardian glory. The Larkin bookcase with double glass doors in the living room—which holds too many vintage books and knickknacks to count—can also be found in a circa 1910 furniture catalog. Surrounding it are other antique furnishings, such as a pair of green leather armchairs, a Sweet Burley tobacco tin perched on a wooden stool, an oversized silver serving tray, and a large sideboard with lion head carvings.

Photography by Tony Valainis
Period-appropriate antique furniture and lace dressings on the table and windows lend an air of formality to the dining room.

Pointing to the dining room light fixture he’s had in storage for well over a decade, Bridges says he has been a collector for years and admires almost anything vintage. But he doesn’t stray very far from his own unique preferences, which are a little peculiar by his own admission. “I go after what I have an eye for and what I like. I know that others will like them too,” he says with a laugh. “There are others out there.”

Some of the oddities in his collection include medical specimens, wreaths made of hair, and taxidermy animals. To make the home more welcoming, he has sprinkled these items among more traditional early 1900s accessories, such as oil paintings, a kneeling bench moonlighting as a plant stand, and charming but mismatched transferware dishes.

The wallpaper in the living room is a Victorian floral print, which the homeowners describe as “loud.” Pinks, yellows, and greens intermingle against a deep navy backdrop. The boldness might make some people opt for solids in other areas of the room, but not Bridges and DiCristofolo. Instead, they marry printed cushions and an equally loud wall-to-wall area rug.

Photography by Tony Valainis
The mustard-hued sofa in the study plays against floral patterns in the wallpaper, curtains, and area rug.

While the couple has an affection for all things old, Bridges is more of a purist, while DiCristofolo’s taste is more eclectic. They’ve each carved out their own areas of the home, something that’s subtly evident in the way each room feels. Her style is a little brighter and a bit daintier. Think a mustard velvet couch in the study, lace curtains dressing the dining room windows, a dress form with a cast iron base nestled into a corner, and brightly colored quilts both on display and folded in stacks.

Once the home was mostly decorated, the couple slowly began their detailed restoration work, refinishing almost every square inch of flooring, scraping paint off the hardware to reveal the brass underneath, removing carpet from the staircase to expose the original hardwood floors, and installing picture railing sourced from a local salvage store in the living room.

Bridges and DiCristofolo also cleaned up the front yard so passersby can see the home and admire their handiwork. Their efforts have spawned a domino effect in the area, with neighbors jumping on board to spruce up their own homes. They even garnered an impressive social media following when Bridges began sharing before and after shots on Instagram. They’re extremely happy with their city dwellings and encourage others to “take a chance on older homes,” as well as under-the-radar neighborhoods.

Photography by Tony Valainis
Homeowners Jessi DiCristofolo and Matthew Bridges share a common fondness for historic architecture and antique furnishings while putting their individual design styles and preferences on display in the bedrooms.

“This is a great community,” Bridges says. “We have great neighbors. We love living around artists and musicians, people who can really do something with the area.”

Surprisingly, their home isn’t on Indy’s historic preservation list, but it doesn’t matter to them. “It has the same significance and importance to us. It deserves to be preserved and protected,” he adds.

With Bridges doing most of the work himself—with some major assistance from YouTube—the restoration process has been slow. Luckily, time is the biggest challenge they’ve encountered. Well … and the uneven floors. “Learning things you haven’t done before takes discipline and lots of research,” he says. But in the end, it’s well worth the sweat equity.

This past spring, the couple turned their attention to their first big gut project. They overhauled the kitchen, which was previously updated in the 1960s. The goal? Take it back in time while still allowing for modern conveniences and reconfigure the layout for better function.

Photography by Tony Valainis
The newly remodeled kitchen was outfitted with salvaged light fixtures and modern surfaces that blend with the original character of the adjacent foyer.

Gone is the yellowed linoleum. In its place is an eye-catching black and white checkerboard tile. Beneath layers of plaster just inside the doorway, they unearthed the original brick chimney. Half of the walls are now covered in beadboard and slicked over with Glidden Summerwood Gold paint. Pine cabinets were ripped out in favor of a warm white oak option from Limpus Cabinet, and Formica countertops were traded for clean, white quartz. Simple, dome-shaped light fixtures from Tim & Company’s Another Fine Mess architectural salvage shop hang overhead. While the space is still small, they gained more room by rearranging the upper cabinet layout and moving appliances around. They were even able to add a small pantry, along with a whole lot of character.

Inside the beveled glass door to the foyer, a 5-foot-tall grandfather clock greets visitors. To the left of the entryway stands a 1900s hall tree. Bridges almost listed it for his clients but decided it looked too good in their home for him to part with it. Adorning the wall behind it are panoramic photographs of various Indianapolis landmarks, accompanied by a collage by local artist Kipp Normand. An upholstered sewing bench rounds out the furniture in this space. Some days the room features a mix of the homeowners’ 80-plus plants, and on others, it serves as a sunny sanctuary for their rescued street kitty. To Bridges and DiCristofolo, the foyer will always be the room where they fell in love with their future home and made the decision to breathe life back into it.

Heading upstairs, guests often ask if the portraits along the wall are of family members. They aren’t, but the homeowners joke that they’re “instant family.” The three-bedroom, two-bath home is just enough space for the couple and their pets. After both being single for many years, they prefer to have their own bedrooms, and this also means separate furnishing styles. Again, DiCristofolo’s space brings in loads of sunshine and offers a place to showcase her own artwork—a brightly colored painting over the quilt-covered bed. Next door, Bridges’ dwellings are decidedly moodier. He sourced a “close-to-matching” wood carved bed frame and dresser set like those in his 1912 Sears catalogs. A pew bench and a cabinet house more of his antique treasures.

While the couple has done a lot of work since taking ownership, their list of projects is still quite long and includes removing the worn siding and giving the outside a more period-appropriate color scheme. Remodeling the upstairs bath will be another gut job. DiCristofolo can’t wait to replace the shower with a vintage clawfoot tub. Bridges is unsure it will fit up the stairs, however.

When the duo is done restoring the eastside home, it will undoubtedly look better than when they first opened its wooden doors. But by their own design, it won’t look perfect. “Old houses tell stories, so we don’t mind the imperfections.”