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Feeling blue at the Diehl-Hedberg house

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a part of an ongoing series focusing on
historic homes and buildings throughout Jonesborough and the area.

Nancy Hedberg loves the color blue and it doesn’t take very long to figure that out when you visit her at her historic Jonesborough house.
Blue-glass wine bottles line the back walkway to her Victorian home, adding a touch of whimsy to the start of the journey. And by the time you reach the side porch just outside the back door, with its iridescent mosaic tile floor, you are enchanted by a charm that is impossible to resist.
Entering into the kitchen through the screened door, one is greeted with the impact of Hedberg’s skilled use of her favorite color and a sense of happy playfulness.
“I’ve loved blue my whole life and I’m not going to get tired of it,” Hedberg said of her decision to use a rich cobalt color to accent the home’s white kitchen and dining nook.
The color on the countertops and even the adjacent bathroom floor offers a strong contrast to the soft white of the walls, pressed tin ceilings and the other architectural details of the rooms.
Strong pieces of blue art glass, from vases to wind chimes made by Hedberg, adorn the rooms, adding to the delightful play of color dancing throughout the house.
Some of the architectural embellishments are new, such as the ornate pressed tin ceiling in the kitchen, but one would never guess it just by looking at the ceiling.
“My dad made the brackets in the kitchen,” Hedberg said. “They match the brackets on the outside of the house, and the ones in the bathroom match some brackets he found in a wheelbarrow in South Dakota.”
Father and daughter worked together on the house from the beginning. Already living in Jonesborough, Hedberg, a former teacher with the Washington County school system who now supervises student teachers at East Tennessee State University, frequently walked past the red brick house with its white trim, and eventually decided to buy it.
Her mother, who passed away shortly after the purchase, believed the renovation of the old home would be an impossible job for Hedberg, but her father, a skilled woodworker and craftsman from Virginia, saw the potential.
“My dad loves Jonesborough, and he loves this house,” Hedberg said. “When he saw it, he said, ‘Oh, we’ll have a lot of fun with that house.’ And we have.”
According to documented history of the house compiled by Nancy Wike, collections manager of the Historic Jonesborough Foundation in 1999, the Diehl-Hedberg House was built between 1865 and 1869.
Hedberg moved into the home just before Christmas in 2000 and has been working on it ever since. Most recently, Hedberg took on the exterior of the home, restoring it to its historical roots.
When Hedberg bought the home, its exterior trim was painted pristine white. But after consulting with Bill Kennedy, chair of the Historic Jonesborough Zoning Commission and her neighbor, who took samples from the layers of paint to determine the original color pallet of light and dark green, Hedberg returned the trim to its original colors.
The home’s side additions, which were added sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, are painted soft gold and the doors are a rich coral.
Inside, Hedberg also stayed true to the original intent of the house. She retained certain details such as the pattern of the white-washed brick walls in the kitchen after the crumbling plaster was removed, the charming wooden interior arch that frames the window in the dining room and the original floors and moldings throughout the house.
The interior walls are solid brick, which help keep it cool in the summer (and a bit on the chilly side in the winter).
The downstairs pass-through fireplace, which was originally bricked and had a radiator insert, is now open to both the spacious living and dining rooms on either side and is furnished with gas logs.
The house is filled with doors and windows, about which the daughter of Mrs. Lydia Diehl, the former owner, lamented saying, “There’s not a square corner in this house; it’s a decorator’s nightmare.”
The Diehl family, however, loved the old house enough to live there from 1943 until Mrs. Diehl passed away.
Hedberg confirmed the decorating challenges discussed by the Diehl daughter, describing the room she formerly used as her bedroom.
“It faces east and is filled with light in the morning, but it really is a decorator’s nightmare,” Hedberg said. “There are three windows, two doors – a closet door and an entry door — and a fireplace on eight walls, so everything had to sit at an angle except for my double bed which fit on one wall. I finally moved to another room.”
One of the upstairs bedrooms is decorated in a charming blue and white color scheme (no surprise there), while another is dressed in lavender. Both have fireplace surrounds and the sensation of space and light.
There’s also a bit of history in one of the rooms where a bullet hole remains in the closet door. One of the Diehl boys, Richard, who was 12 or 13 years old at the time, was playing with a gun in his room just after moving into the house. The gun went off and blew a hole in the door just above the lock. There were no injuries from the incident, but it would appear the family left the hole there as a reminder, and it is there to this day.
There are other oddities for which there seems to be no logical explanation, too, such as the S-curved wall at the head of the stairs on the second floor.
“No one has any idea why that wall is curved,” Hedberg said. “There’s a teeny tiny bedroom at the end of it that curves as well. It may be the product of the Victorian architect’s whimsy. I just don’t know.”
Despite the home’s quirks, or perhaps because of them, Hedberg said the home is a comfortable one with plenty of space.
“It feels good in this house – it’s a happy house,” Hedberg said. “When I bought it, the former owners left me a note, saying ‘We hope this house wraps its arms around you the way it has us.’ And it has. This house has given me roots in Jonesborough and I love it.”