ST. LOUIS — Twenty-three years ago, when John Nellesen and Craig Burfield were looking for a house to move into together, they looked at about 100 houses. Nothing seemed right.
Months later, they ended up back at the first house they toured, a bungalow along Bellerive Boulevard in St. Louis’ Carondelet neighborhood that they thought was out of their price range. When the price came down, they returned.
Nellesen loved the stonework and tile roof. Burfield loved the porch. In warmer months, they spend their time relaxing on the front porch, greeting neighbors and enjoying the trees in the park-like median.
The house, about 2,200 square feet, was built in 1926 and designed by prominent St. Louis architect Preston Bradshaw, who designed the Mayfair Hotel in downtown St. Louis and the Chase Hotel. He designed this house for personal friends. Bellerive was developed as a residential subdivision beginning in 1910.
The house had been renovated over the years. The wood trim and picture rails remained, and hardwood floors had been preserved under blue shag carpet. Nellesen and Burfield stripped wallpaper, ripped out drop ceilings and painted over bright, “Pepto Bismol colors,” as Nellesen puts it. “It just needed tender, loving care,” he said.
Stained-glass windows with a grape motif had been removed from the dining room to make room for an air conditioning unit. They replaced the windows when they added central air conditioning; original floor plans to the house note the windows originally cost $5.
Both men collect antiques, artwork, statuary and anything interesting that strikes them. Nearly every piece has a story: the clay vessel Burfield’s mom, a flight attendant in the 1950s, brought back from Peru. The single, brass bed with the flowers and cherubs that used to be Nellesen’s baby crib. The marble bust of a little girl (they nicknamed her “Nancy”) found at an estate sale that Nellesen cleaned with Aim toothpaste because it was covered in nicotine.
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They enjoy shopping estate sales and antiques stores but not as much as they used to — the house is full. “I bring home things, and I don’t let him know,” Burfield says. “But he doesn’t know that I know,” Nellesen stage-whispers.
There are about 35 clocks in the house, and even with daylight saving time, they keep them ticking. “The ‘fall back’ is the horrible one,” said Burfield, laughing, noting that it’s harder than simply moving the hands forward one hour.
The house is warm and inviting, and the pair want it that way. They enjoy hosting dinner parties and bought a dining room table that seats 10 in order to accommodate a 10-person supper club they were once a part of. They still host holidays and other get-togethers and can serve significantly more than 10: they have 32 sets of China, and each set can feed 10 or more. The kitchen, which they renovated three years ago, has a large pantry that stores the china.
The house has three upstairs bedrooms, a bathroom with a tub and shower, a central hallway large enough to accommodate a table in the center and a sleeping porch. One bedroom is the master and another has a couch and television and is their more relaxed hangout area.
A third, smaller bedroom is the “Royal Room,” Burfield’s favorite, where he keeps his collection of royal-family-themed memorabilia. His father was from England, and he still has family there. One of the oldest collections is a set of Queen Victoria glazed metal cups from her jubilee in 1887. One of the newest items is a ceramic container for Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding. Burfield was in London at the time but will be in New York for the next royal wedding in May.
Nellesen’s favorite room is in the back of the house, a former upstairs sleeping porch now known as the “Orchid Room.” Several of his orchid plants thrive in the south-facing windows, including a huge plant that’s 35 years old and produces huge purple corsage blooms every September. Nellesen enjoys naps on the room’s couch, and crystals hung in the windows catch the sunlight and send its rays dancing across the room.
Now that Nellesen is newly retired, the couple is looking forward to hosting more dinner parties. They’re also looking forward to warmer weather, so they can sit on the front porch and enjoy what drew them to their home in the first place.