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Fancy Digs

The Fashion House offers stylish accommodation in historic Madison

Boones renovate historic building that was once a shop

(December 2018) – The first time Todd and Mary Beth Boone walked through the two-story building adjacent to their Madison, Ind., Main Street business, Blush, they knew it was something special. Even in its rough state, Mary Beth, a former architecture and interior design student, noticed its rare historical features and good bones. She has a passion for bringing modern luxuries to older spaces while keeping them historically accurate, a skill she had practiced when designing the interior of Blush.

Photos provided

The new Fashion House (above and below) offers visitors a place to stay in a luxurious historic home in Madison, Ind.

Her idea: to create a majestic, luxurious space for guests to stay that had all the modern amenities, yet also displayed the rich character of downtown Madison and its historic architecture.
“I wanted people to be able to come to Madison and see the town the way that I do,” she said. The Boones purchased and completely renovated the new building in three short months – a worthy feat as any home remodeler knows. “The Fashion House” vacation rental home was born, and another piece of Madison’s history was preserved.
The four-bedroom unit that sleeps up to 12 guests became available to rent as of November 2018 on www.vrbo.com. It is one of the largest available vacation rental homes for groups to stay in historic downtown.
The origins of the building trace back to Arno Schmidt, a well-known merchant in Madison’s first settlements. The Alexandria Times newspaper noted in May 1908 that in the late 19th century, Schmidt operated a mercantile in the space that currently houses Blush. He employed several shopkeepers, and he was a member of the Madison City Council and Fire Department, as well as secretary of the School Board. The two-story building behind his shop was his family’s residence, where he lived with his wife, Louisa Schnabel Schmidt (the daughter of another merchant in town), and his two daughters, Emma and Clara.
The business and residence are connected by a long underground tunnel constructed of stacked fieldstone rocks. When the Boones purchased the property, the only access to the tunnel was through an old coal chute, less than two feet in diameter.
They constructed a stairwell for access, and then, once inside the tunnels, they installed massive posts and beams harvested from a local farm. Finally, they restored the stone and flooring. Now, just as the Schmidts might have done, Mary Beth uses the tunnels for traveling between the two buildings and maintaining store inventory.
The Fashion House is replete with the historical features one might expect a successful merchant like Schmidt would have put into his home in the 19th century. Mary Beth has preserved as many of these as possible. Yet, as a business owner of the 21st century herself, she knows that today’s customers also expect modern comforts and amenities.
The front foyer, accessible by the iron skeleton key, boasts the original staircase and handrails, hardwood floors and indoor water pump, while a house iPad around the corner provides WiFi access and SmartHome functions. The original iron candleabra wall sconces, now upgraded with new electrical wiring, add light to most of the bedrooms, while an Amazon Alexa waits outside the bedroom doors for music instructions. An iron grate adorns the old fireplace in the upstairs gathering room under a giant flat-screen TV with the full array of channel options.
As the daughter of an artist, Mary Beth incorporated her love of art into the space as well. Local artist Kevin Carlson painted two interior murals, one of the Madison riverfront and another showing historical representations of the surrounding Main Street business fronts. An unfinished upstairs solarium hosts occasional artists’ gatherings.
While Mary Beth said she loves the historical aesthetics of the building, she also wanted to fill a need discovered through her sister businesses. She explains, “We would hear brides complaining about the lack of lodging during their weddings, and we thought, why complain about something when we could create a resource?”
Now the vacation rental functions as an overflow for the Richwood on the River in Milton, Ky., and a high-end space for larger groups to stay downtown. Guests can add on services like a personal chef to prepare meals, salon services and transportation to and from the regional airports.
But for Mary Beth, the true success of The Fashion House is how it shows what can be done to save and restore an older building. She said she would love to see more people restoring historic buildings but with an understanding of what challenges might lie ahead and resources on how to tackle them. She points to Historic Madison Inc. for further resources. Its website seeks to connect the growing number of homeowners restoring historic Madison buildings with a network of tradespeople who can help.

“I want to leave a legacy,” she explains, “to teach others how to do this. I totally threw my heart into this house as a brainchild of all we’ve done so far.”

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