Old plus new equals charming | July 20, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - July 20, 2012

Old plus new equals charming

If this collector likes an antique, she'll find a use for it

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

What does one do with an antique baby bathtub from France? Fill it with flower pots and place it on the front porch.

What does one do with an old-fashioned electric Frigidaire? Position it in the corner of the dining room to hold dishes.

Debbie Ayres, teacher and basketball coach by profession and antiquer by avocation, has become a master at re-purposing antiques in her Pleasanton home on Second Street.

"For 30 years I was a coach, and for 10 of those years I was traveling to recruit year-round, which enabled me to be in small towns in the Midwest often. That's where I found all these things," Ayres said.

"For almost 30 years I rented and collected antiques. I kept things in storage sometimes."

"I couldn't afford to buy these things of course but now I'm so glad I did," she added with a laugh.

Ayres pointed out that her house, built in 1910, is one of the smallest on the block. It was among many that were built for railroad employees on Second Street, which was laid out extra wide to give horse carts room to maneuver.

The previous owner dramatically enlarged and remodeled the house during the last decade.

"She worked with a designer and did fabulous things to the home," said Ayres, who purchased it almost two years ago. "I was nervous my furniture and antiques wouldn't be a match for it. This is my first home -- and everything has its place."

In the remodeling, half of the large front porch was converted to an entryway inside the home. The former living room and a front bedroom were opened up to the kitchen so the entire front of the house flows freely, with off-white wood-paneled support columns with see-through glass shelving that display more of Ayres' collection.

"I've had a Christmas brunch every year for 20 years and now it's so great -- I can be in the kitchen cooking and talk with all the people," she said.

The interior of the home was painted yellow and had fancy lighting when Ayres moved in, for a formal look. She's repainted most of the walls red (Raisin Torte by Benjamin Moore, to be exact) but kept the lighting.

"I'd always wanted a red room," she said. "I walked up and down Second Street and could see that five or six people had red rooms."

The Schonbek Crystal chandelier with some colored drops somehow blends with the enamel and wood dinette set in the space off the kitchen. Two smaller matching lights hang over the peninsula.

Against a wall is a church pew, which Ayres said she'd always wanted to own. On the floor is a metal basket with long loaves of French bread, sprayed to preserve their freshness.

Stools from a soda fountain provide seating at the counter, where a large scale is used for fruit.

"My home is shabby chic, where old meets new," Ayres said.

A scale hanging over the kitchen sink holds towels, and two small egg scales rest on the windowsill. Ayres said the antique cast iron skillet on the stovetop is the cooking utensil she uses most.

Resting against a wall in the living room are three seats from an old college gymnasium.

"I was working for the University of Tennessee when they redid the basketball gym," Ayres recalled. They sold the old seats as a fundraiser.

Off the living room is her "school room," with very old children's desks lined neatly in rows, some with slates, books or lunch pails. At the front is a teacher's desk with a big hand bell, a chalkboard, a hanging American flag, and photos of presidents Washington and Lincoln.

"This is my classroom," said Ayres, who teaches kindergarten through high school at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont and also has taught in public schools. "The first thing I collected was school desks."

An antique hanging light in the middle of the room is also from a school. Photos on the wall show old classrooms in France, with little boys obviously ready for the bell to ring. She has 18 school desk altogether but others are placed throughout the home, serving as magazine racks, benches and -- desks.

Down the hall, two guestrooms have more antiques -- a scooter, a tricycle, a sewing machine, and another school desk with two dolls that once belonged to Ayre's mother on the seat.

To the rear of the home the laundry room has an antique Maytag ringer washer, an even older non-electric wash tub with wringer, a washboard, a wooden ironing board and an old shopping cart filled with laundry products from the past and present. (She keeps a modern, stacked washer and dryer in a closet.)

The good-sized master bedroom has a bay window with an antique doubled-seated desk from France facing out to the large pleasant yard.

"I do use it," Ayres said. "I pay bills, I do some work."

In the master bath is a cabinet from a doctor's office, also from France, which she found at a shop in Petaluma. On top are old pharmaceutical jars. An antique stand from a butcher shop that held the brown paper for wrapping meat now serves to hold rolls of toilet tissue.

Multi-paned French doors from the side of the bedroom lead onto a back patio with an old wooden seat from a carriage.

"That's one of the first things I bought, in Iowa," Ayres said.

Although she left the front yard in the traditional design done by the former owner, Ayres revamped the multi-leveled back yard.

"I read and read and learned so much," she said, before redesigning the yard. "You're supposed to have a theme: Peace and serenity was what I wanted to create."

A tinkling fountain is surrounded by succulents and a stone patio with an antique glider and raised flowerbeds. Steps lead through an arched pergola to a second level with seating. Ayres likes to keep old furniture as she found it but noted she tries to remove rust from metal furniture for the sake of her guests' clothing.

Large red and yellow umbrellas provide more shade on the first and second levels of the yard. Gentle steps made of three-rivers stone from Idaho lead up to a third level where, although Ayres replaced the grass with drought-resistant plants, an old lawn mower rests against a tree.

"My uncle gave it to me when I bought the house," she said. "Now it's yard art."

Ayres originally moved to Pleasanton 15 years ago, when she was first working at the California School for the Deaf.

"I'd heard that Pleasanton was the parade capital of the world, plus it had five antique stores on Main Street," she recalled. "I loved old homes, and I rented an old farm house."

Then she moved to Long Island, N.Y., to coach basketball at Stonybrook University for three years, and she fondly remembers the wonderful antique shops in that area. She returned to the School for the Deaf because Pleasanton is where she wanted to settle down, and because college coaching jobs are not as stable, she said.

Ayres said she was very fortunate to find her house on Second Street to buy.

"The neighbors and living on this street are better than I could have imagined," she said.

She keeps old world charm in her home, decorating the outside of her front windows with red, white and blue bunting from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as is done on the East Coast. At Christmastime she puts candlesticks and wreathes in the three front windows.

"I love the East Coast because of the old buildings," she said. "Looking out at the old church across the street makes me feel like I'm in New England."

"Second Street is like a parade," she added, "with joggers, and people riding bikes and walking."

Near those front windows antique pewter candlesticks are arranged on a long table that converts into a bench and was once a farm table in Ireland.

To one side is the 1930s Frigidaire with the door open to display dishes and antique ice cube trays. The Frigidaire is staying where it is, Ayres said, because it weighs 300 pounds. It was 500 pounds but she removed the 200-pound motor.

"In New York I kept my linens and towels in it," Ayres said. "That's my theme: re-purposing."


Like this comment
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2012 at 1:07 pm

A picture of Ms Ayers would make this GOOD story even better or a photo of some part of the house that shows one or two of her antiques in place.

Like this comment
Posted by Dolores Fox Ciardelli
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Dolores Fox Ciardelli is a registered user.

Check out the full layout that was in the paper:

Web Link

It has photos.