Janesville interior designer Anne Rosa watched her daughter, Maria, and her son, Dane, pedal their bikes in circles through the downstairs of the former Hansen Funeral Home on South Main Street in downtown Janesville.
Above the children, in a former sitting room, a contemporary chandelier hung from a white ceiling medallion that once was fitted with gas pipes—a relic from years long ago, when the two-story, limestone home was lit with gas-powered lamps.
“The kids will be bummed when they can’t ride their bikes around like this anymore,” Rosa said.
Within weeks, Rosa plans to move Interiors, a longtime Janesville interior design and home furnishing business, into the circa-1856 house originally known as the Chester Alden House.
The home, at 211 S. Main St., for years housed the Hansen Funeral Home.
Rosa and her husband Mike Mikkelson in October 2017 bought the storied, former funeral home from auction, paying about $175,000 to buy the property from its previous owner, Angela Hansen.
Since then, Mikkelson and Rosa have uncovered and refurbished the original flooring in the main entryway, and they’ve painted the walls of the house.
In an addition that once was the funeral home’s chapel, Rosa and Mikkelson have cut in large, new windows, giving the room southern exposure and brilliant, natural light. In an area of the room where the funeral often set the casket during visitations and services, Interiors will soon have shelves of samples of fabric and wall coverings.
The entire downstairs, Rosa said, will be treated with contemporary furnishings and décor, examples of designs that Interiors could draw out for people’s own homes. The entryway will become a gallery space for local artists’ paintings, Rosa said.
Interiors is set to open shop in the old house in late March or early April, Rosa and Mikkelson said.
“When we open, it’ll look just like a model home, which we think it’s just perfect for,” Rosa said.
It’s new life for the Chester Alden house, which Hansen told The Gazette in an interview in 2017 had only limited use since her husband, funeral director Brian Hansen, died in 2015.
Hansen during her interview with The Gazette last year said she dreamed she would sell the Chester Alden home to a new owner with a family.
“It would be nice to see it reused as a business—or even as a home once again. I think of children, little feet running around the place. That would make me happy,” Hansen said.
Hansen’s dream now will come true in an unexpected way. Rosa said she plans to turn part of the home’s second floor, once apartment quarters for the funeral director, into a play area for Dane, 3, and Maria, 6.
But the downstairs and its re-use as a business, give the home a future that was only months ago uncertain. Hansen, who over a few years had closed down her husband’s funeral service, had tried for months to sell the property at auction.
Lana Van Galder, Rosa’s business partner at Interiors, said Interiors had learned shortly before the Chester Alden house hit the auction block in late October 2017 that a nearby business owner was eyeing the home—potentially to tear it down and turn the lot into a parking lot.
Rosa said she and Mikkelson had looked at the Chester Alden house a few months earlier, and they saw a newspaper article that reported its auction just a few days before the auction was slated.
Rosa said three interested buyers showed up to the auction, along with a few others who stood on the sidelines, watching the auction roll out. Among those who put in a bid, she said, was an owner of a local tanning salon.
“I think if we hadn’t have placed the winning bid, that person (the tanning salon owner) would have bought it,” Rosa said.
Mikkelson said walking through the house, he has been amazed at its sturdiness. He pointed out that the basement has original, rough-hewn oak beams, some with the bark still on.
“It’s just a solid, solid house,” Mikkelson said.
Rosa said that she and Mikkelson didn’t alter the home much with renovations, because they wanted to keep intact its historic elements. Both have been involved in historic renovations in the past, and they wanted to keep the original portions of the Chester Alden house the same as they were when they were built.
The home listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Rosa said.
“Before we touched anything in the house, we walked through the (Rock County Historical Society’s) Lincoln-Tallman House to see how they preserved it. The Tallman house was built about the same year, and we wanted to do things right, not do too much,” Rosa said. “It actually probably looks closer to original now than it did when it was a funeral home.”
Interiors has operated for years in downtown Janesville. Once operated by the now deceased interior designer Dick Rost of Janesville, Interiors has for the last 20 years has operated at 225 W. Milwaukee St., Van Galder said.
That storefront is now owned by owners of an adjacent pharmacy, and Interiors will vacate it in the coming weeks after holding a moving sale, Van Galder said.
Van Galder, a designer herself, has in the last few years been the head proprietor of Interiors. Rosa has worked alongside Van Galder off and on at the West Milwaukee Street location since 2003, Rosa said. Van Galder said she plans to continue to operate an office at Interiors’ new location at the Chester Alden house.
But Rosa said she’ll take the lead role as proprietor of Interiors’ location.
Rosa said she’s looking forward to hosting a public open house at the Chester Alden house, likely in June or July.
“Among other things, I really hope that people will feel free to come in and see the place whenever they want,” Rosa said. “The house is part of Janesville’s history, and so, in a way, it’s the community’s home.”