The Purple House on Palmyra
The Purple House on Palmyra

Avid cycling enthusiasts, Kris Gericke and Mike Wilson relax on the porch of their purple house on Palmyra. One of the first farm houses in Old Towne, their home has undergone an extensive renovation that maintains the historic integrity of the residence, which dates to the late 1800s.

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When Kris Gericke and her husband Mike Wilson first laid eyes on the landmark “Purple House on Palmyra” in 2005, they knew right away that the historic Folk Victorian home was the place for them. And while the home—which was one of Old Towne’s first farmhouses—needed extensive work, the couple set forth to uphold the home’s historic features, not withstanding the purple exterior that had characterized the residence in recent years.

Previously residing in a small bungalow on Cambridge Street, Kris and Mike were eager to take on the new project. Removing all the carpeting, the couple renovated virtually every room in the house, removing layers of wallpa- per, paint and linoleum in the process.

“A lot of different people have owned the home over the years, so there were lots of additions,” says Kris. “We uncovered floors in at least three of the rooms that look original. When we tore out the low acoustic-tile ceiling, we found the original plaster medallions. Now the ceilings are 13 feet high. We installed decorative tin on the ceilings in the living room and dining room.”

Featured in the Old Towne historic home tour in 2007, the house was originally built by the Dixon family, farmers from Pennsylvania who arrived in Orange in the 1880s via Iowa. Serving as a farmhouse for an orchard, the home was originally located across the street from its present location. Tax records show a home was located there in 1888.

Among the original elements of the house include this stunning fireplace made of rare stone, a clawfoot tub in the bathroom, pickets on the balcony, and mahogany trim and double-hung windows throughout.

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“We found a blurb in an old newspaper that James Dixon built a house in 1887,” says Kris.

Eventually, the home was moved sometime in the early 1920s by a new owner, the Dierkers. Kris says she has been told that descendents of the Dierker family still live in the area.

Today, the entire footprint of the home remains true to the original, said Kris. Other original elements include all mahogany trim throughout, along with the fireplace, balcony pickets on the front porch, double-hung windows and clawfoot tub.

Some portions of the house, like the kitchen, had to be completely gutted.

“The kitchen had a door going into the master bathroom,” recalls Kris. “We blocked that off and put another door leading from the kitchen to the backyard. The stove used to be under the window. We moved the stove to a center island in the kitchen, and relocated the sink underneath the kitchen window. The floors in the kitchen are all original; we had them stained.”

The couple’s kitchen nook contains antique church pews from an old church in Oakland, California, that survived the 1906 earthquake but was damaged in the 1989 quake. Above the table hangs a photograph of the church. The wood flooring is original to the home, salvaged from beneath layers of linoleum.

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Kitchen cabinets carry out the farmhouse kitchen theme, while the kitchen nook is outfitted with old church pews. A quartz countertop graces the kitchen’s cooking island.

In one of the bathrooms, flooring has been re-tiled with replica ceramic tiles in hexagon patterns. Period-style fixtures in the home feature griffins and gargoyles for a touch of gothic intrigue. Kris also installed stain glass in the front door and side porch door.

“I always wanted stained glass, so I designed the pattern and had it custom made at The Glass Eye in Orange,” say Kris.

Inside the home, an eclectic mix of antique furnishings and contemporary furniture illuminates the premises.

Built in the late 1800s, the historic home was relocated to its present location across the street by the Dierker family in 1920. Featured in the Old Town historic home tour in 2007, the home traces its roots to a family of farmers from Pennsylvania, who owed an orchard across the street.

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As for the exterior paint, Kris and Mike decided to tone the existing purple down a notch, not before discovering layers of yellow, blue, green and pink paint hiding beneath the vibrant purple.

“The home was a much brighter purple before, but we toned it down,” Kris says. “The porch was green and now it’s blue.”

Currently the president of the Orange County Pharmacists Association, Kris works as a pharmacist in the area, while Mike continues his career as a project manager. Both Kris and Mike are cycling enthusiasts. Mike competes in Cyclocross events, a combination of road and mountain biking. Fittingly, a bicycle weather vane is perched atop the home.

Showcasing a handsome flagstone patio, the backyard provides a peaceful retreat for gatherings. In the front yard, the couple recently planted new landscaping with a mix of colorful flowers.

“In the summer, we like to sit on the porch or in the backyard,” Kris says. “I love the character and uniqueness of old homes.”

This ornate brass door handle is one of many intricate gothic-style fixtures that Kris and Mike have added to the home. The head of the winged griffin is pressed to open the door. Stained glass was purchased from The Glass Eye in Orange.

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With their three rescue dogs named Pixy, Roadie and Endo, the couple enjoys taking walks in the neighborhood. They frequent shops and antique stores in Old Towne, especially Muff’s Hardware for antique fixtures and knobs.

“We both also like to ride our bikes to town. We enjoy being able to walk to the Plaza and visit the stores. Old Towne is really the only neighborhood in Orange County that has this small-town setting. I am able to walk to work, which is a plus.”

For visitors who toured the home in 2007, several new additions have taken place since then, including a new roof and rain gutters. Kris says even though there are more things to do with the backyard, the couple does not have any big plans with the house in the near future.

For now, Kris and Mike are content to relax at home and enjoy the results of all their hard work.

“People thought we were crazy to take on the purple house, but we are really pleased with the results,” Kris said. “It’s still the purple house on Palmyra.”

Article Published in the
Feb/Mar 10 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Karen Anderson Photos by Will Hare
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