Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 1, Page 2 Fall 1991 This old house is new Visitors Center It's a restoration job worthy of Norm Abrams, who works wonders on the This Old House television show. Very Victorian and refurbished with an elegance that belies its shoestring budget, the former Chambers House at 196 South College Ave. has been restored to its former grandeur and transformed into the University's new Visitors Center. John Lester, president of Design Ideas Inc., a Wilmington firm specializing in restoration and remodeling, is the creative force responsible for the work. As the father who bought and refurbished the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house up the street from the Visitors Center, he is no stranger to renovation work at the University. Lester is a gentlemanly scavenger who scoured antique shops up and down the state to find just the right period or reproduction pieces for the center. His most exciting find was a set of double glass doors for the front of the building. Perfectly suited to the Victorian period, they also were a perfect fit for the doorway. Lester spotted the doors in a Lewes antique store, complete with a plaque that says the original house was once protected by the Milton volunteer fire company. "I called Dave Hollowell (senior vice president for administration) right away and asked if I could buy them," Lester said. "They cost less than half of what we would have paid to have new doors made." New brass lock plates, which look lavish but were bought directly from the person who pours them, will grace the doors when finished. "We've saved money wherever we could," Lester said. "This was not a flamboyant project, but we hope that as soon as someone sees these doors, they'll know they're coming to a special place." Image has been an important consideration for the center, which will be the first building many people see when they come to the University. Bruce Walker, dean of admissions, estimates that his office hosted more than 18,000 people this year who came to campus for tours or to participate in programs. "The Visitors Center will give us a single location on campus where visitors can come in and receive a welcome. We think this house has an ideal location. It's right next to the visitors parking lot and is very convenient for campus tours," Walker said. "President (David) Roselle had the idea for the Visitors Center," he continued, "and by using this location, we were able to preserve an historical house and make it useful." Florine Henderson, records specialist in the Admissions Office, and Faye Duffy, assistant director of admissions, will staff the Visitors Center. Another area will be set aside for video viewing of the University's recruitment tape. Upstairs will be an office for a staff member in the University Honors Program, space for a conference room and a work room. Parents, prospective students and other guests waiting to take a tour will be able to gather on the porch or in a small park planned for behind the building. Lester and his wife, Carolyn, meticulously picked out Victorian style wallpaper for the entrance-way, reception area and video room. The foyer and hallway are in vibrant rose and mauve floral on a cream-colored background. The reception area is a beige and coordinating blue print. Original wainscoting in the area has been retained. Lester also has acquired a mantel with beveled glass for the reception area, a period-medicine cabinet for the handicapped-accessible restroom, elegant chandeliers, one with original glass globes, and light fixtures throughout. The floors were refinished and American oriental carpets laid. Art work to accent the walls was chosen from the University's Permanent Collection. Even the exterior paint is a study of the Victorian period in America. To ensure authenticity, Lester photographed every nook and cranny of the outside of the building and sent the photographs to a colorist in Denver. The colorist specializes in Victorian color schemes and sent the photos back with each shingle, each spindle of the porch, each window and each piece of trim labeled in one of five exterior colors ranging from white to greys and blues. Using the colorist's photos, Lester literally had, as he jokes, "a paint-by-number house." Although no one knows the specific year, the Chambers House was built somewhere between l890 and 1893, Lester said. One can only look at his restoration job and imagine how happy those original owners would be if they could see this old house today.