Restoration of Villa Louis

1990s Villa Louis Estate and Grounds Restoration

Nina Sturgis Dousman.
Mansion’s British Arts and Crafts Interior Restored

Nina Dousman, the matriarch of the family who built and occupied the Villa Louis in the 1840s, initiated an expansion and remodeling of the mansion in 1885. She wanted the home to be a showplace for the British Arts and Crafts interior design style, which was in vogue many posh homes of major American cities. The William Morris-inspired fabrics, finishes, and patterns in a Midwestern country house represented an undertaking as bold and unique then as it remains today.

In the mid 1990s the Villa Louis interiors underwent extensive restoration to re-create the house as it appeared in the late 1880s. Family records, letters, bills, receipts and photographs, preserved in the large Dousman family archives, provided the documentation for the restoration.

Details were meticulously researched and painstakingly re-created by some of the museum industry’s most gifted designers. Rich draperies and ornate brass filigree, lushly textured wallpapers and carpeting, hand-wrought faux-grain woodwork and embossed Lincrusta Walton wall coverings were all faithfully reproduced and applied as exactly as historical research allowed.

Original furnishings, artwork, and priceless family heirlooms were incorporated into the project to make the Villa Louis one of the most authentically restored Victorian house museums in America.

In addition to the ornamental trees and flowerbeds, the gardeners also restored the heirloom vegetable gardens. Replantings were based on seed purchases documented by bills and receipts from the 1880s and 1890s. Additional plants appropriate to the period were planted to round out the gardens.

Restored dining room in the 1990s.

This Villa Louis restoration project attracted national attention, and was the subject of an exhibit at the prestigious New York School of Interior Design in the fall of 1999.

Estate Grounds and Gardens Restored

Members of the Dousman family enjoying a card party near the artesian well and fountain on the park-like grounds of the Villa Louis.

Similar records documented the grounds landscaping. Photographs revealed that the Villa Louis grounds were designed to reflect a park-like setting.

An ornamental fence and hedge separated the broad lawn from the surrounding streets and village. Major landscape features such as the artesian well and fountain, fish ponds, a grotto and a small gazebo provided a series of focal points linked by a network of gravel pathways. The pathways were dotted with small beds that contained both perennial and annual plants, creating small spots of color and texture. Villa Louis gardeners re-created the paths, planting beds, and major landscape features that formed the estate grounds at the close of the 19th century.

Specimen plantings of unusual trees such as white pine, catalpa, Japanese lilac and weeping mulberry were scattered throughout the grounds. Some of these specimens survived from the 19th century while others were replaced with new plantings.