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9 Feb 2013


This rustic-chic Galveston house has haunted beginnings

In a historic Victorian that was once reportedly inhabited by ghosts, a Houston boutique owner finds a bright, rustic-chic Galveston getaway
By Melanie Warner | February 6, 2013 | Updated: February 8, 2013 8:51am

Clockwise from the top: Helen Carmody Stroud in her dining room. The brightened-up kitchen. The barely gray facade of Stroud's Victorian home. An artful nook under the stairs.

Photo: Michael Paulsen, Staff / © 2012 Houston Chronicle


Helen Carmody Stroud grabs the pull on the white-trimmed floor-to-ceiling window and draws it open. The petite redhead then steps onto the balcony and takes a seat on a hanging swing.

The breeze blowing in from the Gulf on this day in Galveston is cool, and sun floods the gray painted wood plank flooring of the outdoor space, which is just large enough for the charming swing, an Adirondack chair and a small wicker table with a container of seashells on the bottom shelf.

The owner of the Rice Village linen and home store Olivine, Stroud, who also has a home in The Woodlands, bought this circa-1899 Victorian home in 2008 after Hurricane Ike using an inheritance from her aunt. In the ensuing months, she transformed the dark - and reportedly haunted, but more on that later - house into a bright, casual weekend retreat that combines rustic French country coziness and just a hint of coastal flair with elements paying homage to Stroud's Louisiana roots.

"The truth is, when I first walked into this house, I thought it was so creepy," said Stroud.

This diminutive balcony is accessed via what Stroud believes is a "trunk room," which in homes of this era and style is where the well-heeled, well-traveled Victorian families would store their traveling trunks. It's possible also that this small, single window room is a "bedroom" what we now call bedrooms were at the time referred to as "chambers." Whereas the chamber was a room for sleeping and dressing, the bedroom typically contained a daybed and would be used for naps, so that beds in the proper chambers weren't messed up.

"It was not my taste at all," said Stroud. "There was stenciling. The kitchen had big, huge ceramic tile [that] was a dark wine color."

So Stroud ripped the dark tile and drab brown cabinets out of the kitchen, opting instead for painted gray wood floors and white Ikea shelves and cabinets. The countertops are butcher-block style, and the pièce de résistance is a deep, white porcelain farmhouse sink paired with a curvaceous Perrin & Rowe faucet.

Stroud made the executive decision to use the front living room as the dining room, and the dining room as the living room. She appointed each room with a combination of both rustic and soft, feminine elements, which along with the natural pine floors, creates an inviting atmosphere.

The living room, awash in white and gray, is appointed with four chairs and a sofa all slip-covered by Houston-based upholsterers and furniture purveyors Hein Lam. The coffee table has a wrought iron base and oval marble top, and a distressed wood table is nestled under the flat screen TV. A handful of decorative items - such as a shell-covered trunk and baskets - and art are placed on tabletops and the walls, but the overall look is sparse.

In the dining room, Stroud departed from the white and gray color palette, opting for blue walls. Stroud's daughter, Catherine Stroud, created the farmhouse-style table using salvaged wood acquired locally at Antiques Warehouse, with the help of its owner and family friend, Scott Hanson.

Off the dining room is a generous foyer, with a long, blue wooden bench and grand wicker chair, which during Stroud's popular Mardi Gras and Halloween parties doubles as a seating area for partygoers. It also is home to Stroud's grandfather's plantation desk.

Upstairs, the three bedrooms - or chambers, as they were - are a showcase for bedding from Stroud's store Olivine. Layers and layers of linen drape and decorate each space.

Despite the bright, comfortable décor, Stroud said many a family member or friend has encountered a foreboding presence, especially in the middle of the night.

"I have ghosts following me everywhere," said Stroud. "They love me."

Stroud said ghosts and Galveston go hand-in-hand. While it's not a typical topic of conversation in Houston or The Woodlands, where she resides with her husband, surgeon Daniel Stroud, in Galveston, ghost stories are as common as seaweed on the beach.

Reports of dark figures chanting and pushing on Catherine Stroud, choking a family friend and clamoring up and down the stairs disturbing Stroud's sister's sleep led to a visit from an MTV psychic and TV crew to rid the home of its ghosts - by luring them into the trunk room to cross them over into the light through the window. Stroud, however, credits her long-time friend Sonya Fitzpatrick, the Animal Planet host of "The Pet Psychic" and "Pet Psychic Encounters," with ridding the house of its harrowing hauntings after the show's taping.

Not all of the ghosts were malevolent though, said Stroud, who often sensed the presence of two female spirits when she was picking out paint colors for the house, which has a barely gray exterior with white trim and blue and purple accents on a decorative wood border between the porch and balcony.

"It's kind of sad," said Stroud. "I miss the women. They guided me."

These days, sans benevolent, design-savvy Victorian ghosts, Stroud finds herself more in Galveston than in The Woodlands. Four years ago, Stroud said this idea wouldn't even have occurred to her, were it not for having seen a post about historic Galveston houses on Joni Webb's design blog, Cote de Texas.

Now, the shop owner looks forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when she and her husband can call Galveston and the storied Victorian their permanent home.

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