Historic home furnished in secondhand treasures

2014-01-05T00:00:00Z Historic home furnished in secondhand treasuresBy Gerald M. Gay Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Emery Nicoletti and his partner Scott Wert were working with a clean slate when they moved into the historical Drachman house on East University Boulevard in 2012.

The couple of 28 years had sold their previous home on Tucson’s east side, fully furnished in rustic, Southwestern decor, to Nicoletti’s mother.

That left them with more than 4,000-square-feet of space, including nine bedrooms, and only a small amount of personal belongings to fill it.

Rather than look for the same Tres Amigos-style pieces with which they were accustomed — “it just wouldn’t have fit,” Nicoletti said — the two went a different direction to pay homage to their new home’s pedigree.

Located in the West University neighborhood, the house was built in 1902. The family of prominent Tucsonan and state senator Harry A. Drachman lived there for many years.

Over the course of six months, Nicoletti and Wert scoured Tucson’s thrift stores, mostly its Goodwills, for antique furniture they felt fit in with their new surroundings.

They picked up artwork and vintage lamps, solid wood desks and shelving.

Nicoletti estimates that 90 percent of the furnishings and decorations found in their home, from the mahogany dressers and tables to the CorningWare in the kitchen and the blankets in the bedrooms, are secondhand.

At times, the hunt became a borderline obsession. The couple hit stores all over town, in the Foothills, midtown and on Tucson’s west side, sometimes several times a day, to find the perfect pieces for each room.

They brought items that were worn from use, but had potential, to their four-bay parking garage and guest house, just beyond the backyard for refinishing.

The experience became a labor of love.

“Originally we were not into it,” Nicoletti said. “This wasn’t our taste at all, but this house called for older, warmer stuff.”

The buying frenzy resulted in a fully furnished residence decorated in a blend of styles reflecting the house’s long and storied history.

As Nicoletti tells it, the Drachman house was built for a University of Arizona professor in 1902 and was purchased by the Drachman family in 1915. It was converted into office spaces in 1985, first housing a law firm, then a health clinic before being purchased and converted back into a home in 2000 by Robert and Cathy Morrison.

Remnants from its earliest days can still be found throughout.

The original light fixtures still hang from the ceiling in the dining room. The resurfaced claw-foot bathtubs in both the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms have the 1902 stamps along their bases. The home’s basement is a veritable museum, filled to the brim with things left behind by previous tenants; a World War II sailor’s uniform; a vintage Ouija board; a fraternity paddle from the 1920s; a tangled collection of phones from its law office days.

Nearly all of the windowpanes in the home are original.

“If you move back and forth you can see the ripples in the glass,” Nicoletti said.

Black-and-white photos of Harry Drachman and his family hang in the original master bedroom, now a guest room for Nicoletti’s mom on the weekends, on the first floor.

“Members of the Drachman family dropped them off at my office,” he said. “I wanted to put them in there for nostalgic reasons. It was a neat energy to put Harry back in his bedroom with his wife.”

Most of the furniture purchased for the home complement their surroundings, but more contemporary pieces pop-up from room to room.

A glass barnyard scene by artist Chrissy Goral is mounted against a window in the kitchen. A Marilyn Monroe painting by Sean Cannon sits against the yellow brick wall of the home’s spacious sleeping porch.

“The guy who originally bought it probably paid $5,000 for it,” Nicoletti said. “I picked it up for $25.”

Nicoletti and Wert didn’t do any major restorations to the home. The Morrisons did most of that when they were the owners, which was fine by Wert, an executive with Health Net.

“I didn’t want to live in an old house that needed a ton of work,” he said.

The couple has done their part to keep things in tip-top shape.

Evidence of upkeep can be found throughout the home, particularly in the backyard.

Lush green grass, surrounded by citrus trees create an oasis for dinners outside and social gatherings.

A series of chicken coops, home to more than 30 chickens, provide all the eggs the couple can eat.

Nicoletti and Wert built the coops after discovering fragments of the original coop in the same spot.

“A lot of the neighborhood residents come to us to get their eggs,” Nicoletti said.

Despite the look and feel, Nicoletti likes to let others know that their home is not a museum.

“When people come over, sometimes they do not bring their kids because they are afraid something will get broken,” Nicoletti said. “We tell them not to worry. There are no priceless family heirlooms in this house.”

Their main goal was to find a comfortable space in which to live. The house sits less than a mile from Nicoletti’s Metropolis salon on North Fourth Avenue. It provides a close connection to Tucson’s history while giving the couple plenty of space.

“We loved our old house,” he said. “It was beautiful and showy, but this feels like home.”

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at ggay@azstarnet.com or 807-8430.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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