Listen as you step into Lisa and Len Massena’s home, and you’ll think you hear the whistle of a train engine, or maybe the clip-clop of horse hooves. And if a woman dressed head to toe in Victorian finery welcomes you, you might swear you’re due for some quality couch time with your therapist.
No need to panic, though. It’s not your imagination, but a product of the Massenas family’s hard work, patience and a love of things from a simpler time.
For the past several years, they’ve worked to transform their Old Lake Highlands home into a virtual Victorian museum. To that end, they’ve increased their square footage to hold the thousands of items Lisa Massena has collected over the years.
“I’ve just always loved the Victorian period, even when I was a little girl,” she says. “I’m fascinated by how they lived their lives, and just am naturally drawn to things from that time.”
When the Massenas bought the home 22 years ago, it was little more than 1,200 square feet. They’ve added on more than once since then, and today they’re still at it, adding several new rooms to the back of the house. When they’re done, they’ll have more than tripled the size of their home, with approximately 5,200 square feet of living space.
Len Massena has designed most of the changes and additions himself, with Lisa then taking over the job of decorating.
It’s a job she has committed herself to whole-heartedly. The family room is an excellent example of how Massena has combined the conveniences of today with her love of things from the past. She decorated it entirely in a jungle theme, after reading that most Victorian homes had a jungle room. Items in the large room include an antique trunk, large plants, an indoor fountain, stuffed animals and animal print fabrics throughout, along with one of the biggest TVs you’ve ever seen — an 80-inch screen built into the wall.
Though it’s the only jungle room in the house, the Massenas’ love of animals is apparent throughout. There are three large aquariums in the house. And then there’s the master bathroom. Behind the 1880s tub, which Massena had fitted with 24-karat gold claw feet, is a wall of glass that opens onto a small room filled with a variety of birds.
The Massenas literally brought the outside in with this room, which used to be their patio. It’s heated to 85 degrees and has a lamp post and trees, along with 12 species of bird. A mural of outdoor scenes covers its back wall and ceiling, hand painted by a local artist who has painted several other murals in the home.
One of those is in the master bedroom, which boasts a beautiful painted scene of clouds and angels on the ceiling. A four-poster bed, one of the few reproductions in the home, dominates the room. Massena had it custom-made to replicate a Victorian bed she liked, since there was no such thing as a king-size bed back then.
Visitors could spend hours in this room alone, looking at all the decorative details. Jewelry items are everywhere, including hair jewelry: not jewelry for hair, such as a comb or barrette, but intricate jewelry made out of hair.
“They would cut their hair when it was wet,” Massena says, “and braid it or design it into jewelry. Their skills were incredible. And they had time to do it.”
Massena has many other items that use hair in some way, which seems to have been a popular thing in Victorian times. Take, for example, the wedding rings that open up to expose a lock of hair, or glass broaches with hair inside.
“It’s kind of morbid,” she says, “because it started with mourning pieces, with locks of hair cut from a loved one who died. But they certainly used whatever resources they had.”
One of the Massenas’ most recent enlargements to the house is the kitchen, finished earlier this year and now double its original size. The kitchen is impressive even by today’s standards, with a large island and lots of room, but its highlight is the Aga oven, which Massena had shipped from England.
“I was looking for a new oven, and none of today’s popular ovens would have looked right,” she says. “So I saw a small picture of an oven I liked in a magazine and ended up buying it. I just got it because I liked the way it looked. I had no idea what it was at first.”
It’s an oven available through only two distributors in the United States, made entirely of cast iron with four ovens that are set at various temperatures and stay on all of the time.
“It came in two huge crates,” Massena says, “and someone had to come and put it together. We had to bolster up the kitchen floor to handle the weight. It’s taken a while to get used to cooking with it, but the food I’ve cooked in it so far is very moist and has excellent flavor.”
The remaining rooms in the house, the living room and dining room, have at least as many antiques and displays as the other rooms in the house. Which is why there’s often a good bit of traffic in the house. “Friends and neighbors come to see the house, and then they want to bring friends and show them,” she says, adding to her latest visitor: “You’re the 12th person here today.”
But it’s about a lot more than just showing off for Massena.
“I really enjoy the whole process,” she says. “Not just collecting things and showing the house, but learning about the history. I think it’s fascinating what these people were able to do. I can really see myself living back then.”