A Grand Old Home Renewed
With the growth of major railroad Norfolk Southern, the area formerly known as Big Lick became a major crossroads and eventually was renamed Roanoke. The railroad brought prosperity to the city, and by the turn of the century, the area was bustling with businesses and the construction of grand homes for local businessmen and their families. In 1927, local entrepreneur Charles Lunsford built an elegant English Tudor home in what was then the city’s outskirts. Its location offered dramatic views of the nearby mountains.
Perched on its private hillside, just below Roanoke’s famous star, this grand home appears today as it did almost 90 years ago. But for a time, the home did not enjoy such grandeur. Its restoration is partly due to Vicki and Glenn Torre who have owned the property for the past seven years. They are only the fourth owners of the elegant Tudor. Agnes Lunsford, who was Charles Lunsford’s second wife, lived in the home until she was in her 80s. The neighboring hospital bought the house and used it for meetings and gatherings. Eventually the hospital sold it back to private owners. While each set of owners did its share of care and maintenance, the Torres have worked hard to bring the home back to its original elegance.
In retrospect, Vicki and Glenn Torre said they never expected to own such a striking home. They had moved back to Roanoke after Glenn completed his residency in anesthesiology. Glenn grew up in Roanoke County, but when they returned, they chose a more contemporary neighborhood there.
As time went on, Vicki developed a real love affair with the house. As she explained, “My friend lived here [in the house] and I would come to visit. I fell in love with this house!” It was in disrepair and the grounds were overgrown. “I sort of stalked it. I would come up the driveway and look at it, and I saw its potential,” she said. And despite her husband’s misgivings, she asked her friend to let her know if they ever decided to sell it.
Eventually the owners decided to sell, and Vicki took Glenn on a tour of the home. She wanted to impress him with how much had already been done to the home under previous owners. The house underwent a great deal of structural renovation when the hospital owned it. They redid the foundation and installed central air conditioning plus all new wiring. Vicki showed Glenn the phone lines—all 27 of them—and proudly took him to the boiler room with the boilers and all the pumps. Glenn was not impressed. His response when he saw it was, “There is no way I am coming into this!”
While the house remained on the market, “She hounded me for three years,” said Glenn. He finally agreed, but as he pointed out, “I honestly believe that Vicki had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for.”
From this point on, the house seemed to grow on Glenn. They both became involved with the project. “We designed everything,” Glenn explained. “We wanted to do it on our own.” So, from the inside to the outside, the Torres cleaned, painted, pulled out and replanted, all in an effort to bring the home back to its original glamour.
The house is accessed by a long, winding driveway that travels uphill several hundred feet. While the property includes three acres of thick woods, which affords a good deal of privacy, the grounds along the driveway were overgrown. The Torres called in Dewey Hale of Hale Landscaping to remove bushes and brush. According to Vicki, when Hale first came to work on the grounds, he commented, “I usually put stuff in instead of take stuff out!” He filled at least six big dump trucks full of landscaping debris, then also reworked the entire yard—installing sod, and planting new bushes and landscaping beds. “He helped us tremendously,” said Vicki. For structural work, the Torres relied on Blue Valley Landscaping, Inc. to reinstall the original walkway in front of the house and replace an extensive back patio that the hospital had installed.
A stylish portico lit by an iron chandelier leads guests to the front entryway. There are only a handful of rooms on the first floor of the Torre home, but their size makes them ideal for entertaining. The center hall is one such room. It is a perfect entryway for visitors and makes a statement.
One can imagine in days gone by, groups of party-goers dressed in their finest clothes mingling here before dinner. The front door is surrounded by windows allowing light to stream through. Floor moldings climb at least twelve inches up the walls. An ornately hand-carved pedestal table of highly polished wood is centered in the room, and a magnificent staircase bedecked with boughs of greens, pine cones and white shimmering lights greet family and guests during the holidays. A bronze sculpture of Mercury is a focal point in this splendid center hall. Glenn and his four siblings are all physicians, and his mother has presented each of her children with a similar bronze, each with the caduceus symbolizing the medical field.
An enormous living room includes a small area to the rear of the room that is reached by a single step upward. A beamed ceiling, a fireplace, shelving, multi-pane windows and built-in seating create a private area in this massive room. Hardwood floors adorn most of the rooms, but this section is tiled in a basket-weave pattern with a tile border of green and beige. Vicki pointed out that the lovely hues in the tile happen to match perfectly the draperies that she has used in two other homes. When Vicki saw the color and how well it matched, she knew this had to be the house for them.
Adjacent to the living room is a study, which Vicki calls her bird room. Soft green walls provide perfect surroundings for both her birds and family. Sunshine and Snuggles live here in giant cages—Sunshine is a Macaw with feathers of coral, blue, green, yellow and red, and Snuggles is a creamy white cockatoo. The birds not only provide a great deal of exotic color to the room but are also quite vocal and great companion pets.
The dining room is elegant with its picture-frame molding and banquet-sized table. For the holiday centerpiece, Vicki chose heralding angels on a bed of greens. The Torres replaced a small chandelier that hung in the center of the room with a much larger crystal and brass fixture. The room is ideal for holiday parties and the couple entertains frequently. Each Christmas season the Torres display a wooden nativity scene that was hand carved in Germany. A cherished family heirloom, it was originally Glenn’s mother’s until she entrusted it to Vicki and Glenn.
The furnishings throughout the home are quite spectacular and fit well in the large rooms. Vicki has done a superb job of decorating. “We like old things and we find treasures at thrift and junk shops and sales,” she said. Many of their pieces, like the nativity scene, have also been handed down through the family.
Every room in the Torres’ home is overflowing with charm, and one of the most pleasant is their den. Originally the breakfast room, since it is adjacent to the kitchen and dining room, the den is ideal for entertaining and serving intimate meals.
Older homes are infamous for their elaborate details, and this home is no exception. The floors of their den are tiled terracotta squares, the ceiling is wood-paneled and beamed, and the fireplace wall is covered with elaborate stonework in hues of pink, yellow and brown.
This room houses one of the family’s several Christmas trees. Vicki decorated this tree with birds, ribbons and pheasant feathers. According to Vicki, they are the third family to use this bird theme in the room.
Built into the colorful stonework just above the mantel is a small cranny that is perfect for Santa and his reindeer. Flanked on both sides of the hearth, gnome-like andirons stand sentry. Vicki has collected the Christmas decorations over the years, and they all fit perfectly in clever little spots. An exquisite 19th-century French armoire stands against one wall. They discovered this treasure on a trip to Philadelphia.
Unique to this house are unusual sconces, chandeliers and other fixtures. Many are iron and match the Tudor style of the home. When new fixtures were necessary, they searched until they found an appropriate style that followed the traditional lines of the home. “I spend hours on the Internet to find these things,” said Glenn.
The den leads into the butler’s pantry. Originally the pantry had beautiful hanging cabinets of butternut wood with sliding doors. Nathan Bowman of Bowman’s Cabinets in Ferrum restored them to their natural beauty and was able to match the same wood for the kitchen cabinets. Marble counters complemented and completed the project.
While most of the downstairs simply needed a touch-up, the kitchen was ready for a major change. Here the Torres focused their efforts. “You can’t hide a new kitchen!” exclaimed Vicki. “But I wanted it to blend in with the den.” They worked hard with their choice of cabinet design and wood to create a new kitchen that appeared old. According to Bowman, “The Torres knew what they wanted and stuck to the authenticity of the design.”
The Torres took great pains to keep everything in the home’s tradition. “Our goal has always been not to change things,” explained Vicki. “We wanted to respect the architecture. We feel like that is our job.”
Rod Schroeder of RJS Building Services did most of the renovation work here, and the Torres attribute much of the success of the project to him. “We went in and took out a large wall,” said Schroeder. When a back porch was removed and the kitchen extended, the Torres had to duplicate a 16-inch wall, door, windows, and even the hardware. The house features beautiful double windows with multiple panes and deep window sills. None of it could be easily copied, but today the room looks like it never has been touched. Schroeder pointed out that while he did the work, the Torres were responsible for the design of the project.
One of the standout features in the kitchen is the stove backsplash, made of white tile and featuring an elaborate relief design. Vicki’s objective was to find something handmade that had an English motif. She found it online and it suits the room perfectly.
The highlight of the room and perhaps even the house is a hutch that Vicki designed. This piece is truly indicative of the Torres’ style. It came about because Glenn and the children gave Vicki an Italian soup tureen decorated with the design of a rooster and hen. She wanted a place to display this special piece and envisioned it in an old-fashioned cabinet. So she designed the piece to display her tureen as well as provide extra storage. Nathan Bowman built it to Vicki’s specifications. Her cabinet includes chicken-wire grillwork, lovely lines and a special shelf for her beloved tureen.
The counters are white and grey Italian marble. “Everyone thought we were crazy to use marble instead of granite,” said Vicki. But she pointed out that this is standard in kitchens in Europe. A double-tiered chandelier of iron keeps in the tradition of the room, and hand-cut terracotta tile covers the floor.
A gingerbread house sits on the huge marble-covered island; holiday wreaths hang at every window and the extra-wide window sills provide just enough space for candles and greens.
This grand old home has certainly worked out for the Torre family. Glenn and Vicki are quite pleased with the project. Vicki pointed out that now her love affair is actually Glenn’s love affair with their wonderful home. She thinks that the house might be getting too big for just the two of them. “I am the one who could leave. But Glenn has now fallen in love with it!” With simple but large and elegant rooms, and exquisite details all around, what’s not to love?