Old photos are helping BGSU students re-create the look of the Red Parlor at Spiegel Grove.
FREMONT - Interior design students seldom get a chance to work on a real house, much less the home of a president.
But a class of Bowling Green State University students had the chance to do exactly that, and the results of their work are still helping the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont.
Officials there hope the fruits of the students' labor will help them for the next several months, as the center embarks on a capital campaign to raise $600,000 for an extensive renovation and restoration project.
The project arose in part after folks looked at old photographs of the Hayes master bedroom and parlor and couldn't visualize the rooms in color, said center spokesman Nancy Kleinhenz.
"We had some comments that they weren't impressed with the way the rooms looked," she said.
But with a $400,000 federal appropriation requiring matching funds, that sort of response simply wouldn't do.
"We sought the help of students to create color renderings of those photographs, as we didn't want to colorize the photographs," Ms. Kleinhenz said.
The project made its way to BGSU's Debra Zappitelli, who was teaching a senior-level class in the history of interiors. Her 30 students were learning about the Victorian period in America and England, dovetailing perfectly with the time frame of the Hayes home.
"They never thought in their wildest dreams they would tackle something like this," Ms. Zappitelli said. "What a great challenge to put that into real-life experience."
She divided the students into teams of four or five, and set them loose. They had just two weeks to try to re-create on paper the looks of two rooms in the historic home, using the black-and-white photos, descriptions from newspapers and journals, and their own research on textiles and trends from the times. Details gleaned from a visit to the house and a behind-the-scenes talk with Gil Gonzalez, who oversees the center's photographic resources, helped round out their knowledge.
"We asked a lot of questions about what would have been in there," said student Kate Burnham, a 21-year-old Toledo resident. "You go in and you think, 'this looks dated and historical.' But Gil Gonzalez took us in and told us all the things that weren't historical to the Hayeses."
Meaning the President Hayes and his wife, Lucy. Succeeding generations lived in the house until 1965, and many redecorated, Ms. Kleinhenz noted. But this project seeks to cut through those renovations and bring the house back to its Victorian glory.
Now that she's done her homework on the Hayes home, Miss Burnham loves that idea.
"It was a really beautiful space to begin with," she said. "I'm glad they're choosing to go back to that, as opposed to what the family redecorated with.
"It's a really warm space, very family friendly. An amicable space, you could tell through the design."
As it prepares to launch a campaign to raise $600,000, the center hopes the full-color drawing of the bedroom and the "Red Parlor" will make potential donors feel amicable as well. In fact, this project went so well that the center may call BGSU again.
"We hope to have students do the same with additional rooms," Ms. Kleinhenz said.
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