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Vintage meets modern as owners remodel Bissman, Russell historic homes

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It’s all about combining the old with the new at this two-bedroom Rountree Neighborhood cottage.

Renowned Springfield architect Carl Bissman is responsible for the original wood floor, long staircase and floor plan. But the penny floor in the bathroom is a signature of modern firm The House of Maddox LLC.

House-flipping husband-and-wife team Ryan and Kim Maddox signed papers on the house on East Grand Street last year for just over $80,000. The home needed a lot of work. And by the time they’re done in mid-March, they’ll have invested roughly $110,000.

They’ve opened up the floor plan in the kitchen, replaced electrical wiring and pipes, painted the walls a steely gray and installed modern lighting.

Yet, some things haven’t changed – especially features relating to Bissman’s work.

“We tried to keep a lot of the moldings,” Ryan Maddox said. “We tried to keep the character of the home, yet also make it a little more open and appealing for us or today’s buyer.”

Installing modern features while maintaining historical appeal is important to homeowners, Kim Maddox said.

“I think they like a little bit of both,” she said. “Some vintage with a bit of modern flare: The herringbone backsplash and granite countertops, yet we’ve got the original hardwood floors.”

Storybook appeal
Situated on the banks of Pearson Creek on the Queen City’s eastern outskirts, a home designed by well-known Springfieldian Don Russell looks like an English cottage – complete with wood shingles replicated to look like the original hand-hewn ones, a mud room with a brick floor, wood beams and massive doors.

Harry and Mary Howard built the home at 4505 E. Farm Road in the 1970s, according to documentation provided by Murney Associates Realtor Michael Cataldo.

Cataldo said real estate agents make up the majority of those who tour the home – or people who appreciate the unique history of a Russell or Bissman home.

According to locally syndicated column MOzark Moments, by Paul Johns, Bissman’s architecture career began in 1920 when he built his first home for his new wife. During his 14-year career, he designed about 300 homes in the Queen City area. He died May 31, 1951.

Russell designed his first home in 1932, according to a 1990 story in Springfield Magazine. Thirteen years later, he had designed more than 200 homes, and “Then I lost count,” he said in the story. Russell died Feb. 27, 2001.

Coming across a Russell home is rare for Cataldo, but he’s currently listing one for $375,000.

“This is more of an artsy home,” Cataldo said, standing under the cupola skylight – a design signature for Russell.

However, he’s sold a few Bissman homes – which are claimed rapidly, he said.

“These homes, if I can get one, those sold the first week,” he said. “Everyone loves a storybook cottage.”

The bottom level of the home was designed by Russell – evidenced by the wood-slat walls and doors dated to the 1800s.

“Don Russell’s standard was that he put in flying staircases, historic doorways, he tried to always do stairs,” Cataldo said. “He was one of the first to use historic eclectic style in his architecture.”

The home’s third owners, Bob and Lucia Cann, added the top level of the structure in the 1990s. However, the style remains consistent with Russell’s design staples.

That’s a challenge for someone who’s adding on to a historical structure, said Paden Chambers, a project associate and architectural historian for nForm Architecture LLC.

“How do you relate the old to the new in a respectful way?” he said. “How do you design something that is respectful, that appears to be mimicking the past? When it’s pulled off, it can really be a spectacular project.”

Balancing act
Chambers has worked on a handful of historic courthouses – including the Lincoln County Courthouse outside of St. Louis. He is only one of three architects who have worked on the building designed by Gustave Bachmann in 1870 following the Civil War. Before Chambers, Henze and Kuda Associates worked on it in 1974.

“It’s pretty wild when you start digging into stuff like that and all the pieces start unearthing and coming together,” Chambers said.

When undertaking such a project, architects must sort through the many layers they could find during the remodel. Then, adapting to the changing times while finding ways to maintain history is a delicate balancing act.

“There are many layers you have to wrap your head around and figure out what needs to be done,” he said. “We all have to understand the buildings and homes; they really are living structures, and they change over time. A really great building or design should allow for it to sort of evolve over time.”

This timelessness is something Bissman’s architecture embodied.

“When people see a Bissman home, they truly understand that this was a quality, well-built home that was well crafted, and it used really expensive, but also good, materials,” Chambers said.

It’s hard to know how many Bissman homes are located in Springfield, Chambers said, because the architect “didn’t keep very good records.” However, he estimates there are more than 100 in the Queen City. One of them in Phelps Grove is even listed for rental on Airbnb.com.

Chambers was a lecturer during the June 2017 Bissman Home Tour with Friends of Maple Park Gazebo, during which participants toured five homes – including the 1933-built Fisk Bissman Home in the Delaware neighborhood.

One giveaway of a Bissman home is the use of varying materials.

“A large amount of people assume that a stone Tudor house is one of the most familiar types of Bissman homes you would see,” Chambers said. “But you start to look at the house and see if there is brick associated with it. There is a certain way that the stone and brick is intermingled with each other.”

Perhaps one of the largest lessons Chambers has learned from Bissman is the art of change. Keeping his finger on the pulse of Springfield, Chambers said Bissman adapted to the needs of the community – whether that included building garages or homes after booms following World War I and II.

“He was always adapting himself to the time period, and I think that more so than anything is really what I relate to,” Chambers said. “You have to be flexible and adapt to situations.”

Many Bissman homes, Chambers said, are actually not in Springfield’s three historic districts on Commercial Street, Walnut Street and midtown. Rather, the homes are scattered throughout the city and have stood the test of time because of the name association.

“They are mainly being persevered just because of their reputation,” Chambers said.

And for architects and designers like the Maddoxes, being part of preserving that history is an honor.

“I love it. It makes me smile,” Ryan Maddox said. “There are a tremendous amount of people, especially in the Rountree district and University Heights that have done a great job retaining history and keeping those homes looking incredible. That’s our real desire – to kind of balance some modern convenience in the home, but retain the history.”

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