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Advertisement: A fresh but familiar look for Neill-Cochran House

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Past exhibits at the Neill-Cochran House include this realistic Thanksgiving scene.

The primary rule of historical preservation sounds like the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

Visitors to the Neill-Cochran House Museum for Austin Museum Partnership's 2012 Austin Museum Day will hear about what it takes to perform a major restoration project while keeping this credo in mind. They'll also see the beautiful results.

This year's guests will find many changes that reach back to the past. For two years, the House has undergone major restoration work from top to bottom. Masonry work was done below ground, on the exterior and inside the building for stability.

The House was emptied of its antique collections, creating an eerie aura made more frightening by the extensive renovation work.

Still, until the site became too risky to enter, it was the venue for two weddings and many public tours. Heritage tourists enjoyed seeing the guts of the building while expert craftsmen performed their jobs.

Because the museum has had an interesting past, it wasn't until the mid-1870s that a family called it home and decorated it. This made wall archaeology and paint analysis challenging.

Many trim colors were discovered, and one of these historic colors was chosen for the repainted floor. For the rooms, a committee of staff and volunteers, under the guidance of historical interior designer Candace Volz, chose a palette appropriate to the period.

After having white walls since the 1950s, the house now wears colors appropriate to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Two rooms upstairs have been reinterpreted using furnishings from the Cochran family. For the first time since its inauguration as a museum, the Neill-Cochran House will have a collection on display that has actually been in the house.

In addition, a third room in which hidden wallpaper was discovered behind an anachronistic bookcase will house rotating exhibits, the first of which — "How To Restore a Historic House: What We Did and Why"— opens on Museum Day.

Restoring a building as important as the Neill-Cochran House Museum — built by the same master builder as the recently restored and re-opened Texas Governor's Mansion — is tedious.

These two Abner Cook buildings have many contractors in common, as well a workers who respect the structures and their stories.

For this project, no stones were left unturned, but they were all numbered and put right back where Cook's workers placed them in 1855. The results are glorious.