34 For a Family, Elaborate Elbow Room: TED BROWN AND HIS FAMILY ON STATEN ISLAND (June 28, 2009)

From: Habitats

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1 8 7 34 For a Family, Elaborate Elbow Room Ted Brown and His Family on Staten Island JUNE 28, 2009 Dr. Ted Brown and his family in their Victorian mansion on Staten Island. (Kate Glicksberg for The New York Times) 1 8 8 In 1888, a German-born beer baron named George Bechtel who was said to be the wealthiest man on Staten Island gave his 21-year-old daughter Annie an extraordinary wedding present. Annie was betrothed to a German-American glass manufacturer named Leonard Weiderer, and the gift was a three-story, 24-room Victorian mansion in the Queen Anne style. The 4,500-square-foot showpiece, located on the charmingly named Mud Lane, contained eight bedrooms, two kitchens, and six fireplaces , each of a different design. Annie’s bridal home was adorned with every detail beloved by Victorian domestic architects  —  hipped roofs, gables, fish-scale shingles, chimneys, bay windows, dormer windows, even a turret. Garlanding the exterior were balconies and small terraces known as consumption porches that within a few short years would prove sadly appropriate. Inside, double oak doors led to a foyer dominated by a floor-to-ceiling mantel that was surrounded by imported tiles decorated with sunflowers, a popular motif of the day. Two dozen imported stained-glass windows, courtesy of Leonard Weiderer’s glass business, exploded with stars, sunbursts , crescent moons, and floral designs pricked in luminous primary colors. Chestnut and oak paneling covered nearly every inch of wall space. As a student of Victoriana observed a century later, “The incredible Queen Anne was the home to beat” as far as 1890s Staten Island was concerned. But the couple’s time in the house was brief. Tuberculosis, a largely fatal disease in the late 19th century, claimed Mr. Weiderer’s life just four years into the marriage; so much for all those consumption porches. His young widow moved to Germany and married a second time, but five years later, in 1899, she too died, of appendicitis. She was 31. Annie’s sister Agnes lived in the house until 1928, followed by the Teitelbaums (1928  –  48), the Fraziers (1948  –  88), and from 1988 to 1999, a French chef who slathered interior and exterior with what a paint consultant described as a “Lucille Ball shade” of pink. Mud Lane had long since been rechristened St. Paul’s Avenue; the original name survived only thanks to the local historical society. Yet through all these incarnations, the house proved a survivor, the undisputed if neglected star among nearly a hundred handsome Victorians in the Stapleton section of the island. All it needed was someone who cared enough about its past to recapture its former glory. For a Family, E laborate E lbo w R oom 1 8 9 That person turned out to be a soft-spoken Montana-born doctor named Ted Brown. Dr. Brown, the 63-year-old research director of the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, specializes in autism research and works out of offices on Staten Island. At the time he began house hunting in this neighborhood, he and his family were ensconced in a two-century-old farmhouse on Long Island, and he was developing a taste for residences with the trappings of history. When he was shown what a real estate agent described as an “older house of character,” he was blown away. “Maybe I was crazy, but I just thought it would be fun to live there,” Dr. Brown says in his understated way as he and his wife, Donna, sit side by side in what they call their formal parlor, an octagonal space framed by a sweeping archway. Ms. Brown, a speech therapist who works with autistic schoolchildren (the couple met at a genetics conference in Australia), remembers the sequence of events differently. “When I first saw the house,” she says, “I thought Ted had lost it.” When the couple bought the house in 1999 for about half a million dollars, they set aside $250,000 for renovations, a figure that ballooned to $400,000. Before moving in, they worked for six months on the interior ; once in residence, they tackled the outside. Painting the façade, using sun-drenched colors like squash, copper, and antique gold, took five months. To choose appropriate colors, the Browns pored over books on Victorian architecture, traveled to Cape May, New Jersey, a capital of painted Victorians, and went through 20 quarts of paint, mixing and matching to achieve the...