The Helliges' Queen Anne-style home masqueraded as a haunted house before the creative couple got hold of it.
"It looked like the house on haunted hill," said Dennis Hellige. "It was a pet shop, a beauty shop, an antique shop and the Jaycees used it as a haunted house in the 1970s."
Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic parish across the street was getting bids to tear it down for a parking lot in 1994, when the Helliges, who lived a few blocks away, decided they wanted it.
"We knew it was bad," said Susan, "but we saw a lot that we loved about it. It had good bones."
They aren't sure exactly how old the house is.
"They said 1860s, but we think 1880s or '90s," said Susan. "Queen Annes weren't popular till 1890s."
The 3,500-square-foot brick house with its pocket doors, transoms, stained glass and deep windows is chock-full of character.
During renovation, the Helliges removed more than 500 pieces of trim, including a Gothic archway between the foyer and parlor, labeled where they went, stripped them and put them back up.
They also designed an open kitchen with an eat-in area that fits with the style of the house. The former kitchen was upstairs.
Outside, they painted the discolored brick, tuckpointed, replaced gutters, put on a new roof, and built new porches in front and back.
"We were outside redoing things when a car went by and someone called out, 'It's about time,'" said Dennis. "It's been a work in progress."
Susan's decorating style is comfortable, not stuffy. She mixes antiques with new pieces. She likes curtains that don't block window light.
"My mother- in-law (Rosemary Hellige of Showcase Interiors in Breese) makes all the curtains. She's the best."
Both Dennis and Susan like the home's character and openness.
"This house is big," said Susan, "but comfortable and really, really livable, not full of antiques you can't touch."
One of her favorite features?
"The big windows. Even on a cloudy day, you don't have to turn on lights. There are 29 windows in the house (including four sets of bay windows). I like the way it was laid out. It's a big house, but comfortable."
The house has 10-foot-high ceilings on the first floor, 9-foot-high ceilings on the second floor and a 12-foot-high cathedral ceiling on the third floor. A second-floor balcony offers a view of downtown Collinsville.
The third floor is open, but cozy.
"This was our rec room," said Dennis. "It's nice up here. There used to be an old church across the street. The (stained glass) window is from there."
So is the wood in the landing they created when they put in a new staircase between the second and third floors. Dennis had his grandfather turn the spindles and make a newel post to match what they had.
Before the Helliges moved in, pigeons had made the third floor their own.
"I took out trashcans full of pigeon parts," said Dennis, a senior technical systems designer.
"I sit behind a computer all day for AT&T. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is sit around. My grandpa was a builder in Breese. I went to Mater Dei. I took a building trades class."
"When he was a kid and anyone needed help, he'd help out," said Susan, who grew up in Salem. "His dad was an electrician."
Dennis recently finished a 900-square-foot retro-style rec room above the garage.
"This spring, buddies came over," he said. "We bought beer and food and hung dry wall. We got it all plastered in one day."
"We did it in '50s style," said Susan. We like it up here. It's nice and bright."
A row of deep windows, recycled from a friend's house, make it a great place to winter plants. Carpet squares, 3-by-3-feet, easily can be taken out and cleaned or replaced.
For the holidays, the Helliges put up a silver Christmas tree from the '60s. An old '40s Philco refrigerator keeps it company.
"We pretty much use the whole house, other than the spare bedroom," said Susan, who began decorating right after Halloween.
Trees are up -- including one alongside the bed in 16-year-old son Evan's room.
Holiday decorations are sprinkled throughout the house. Stockings hang from the third-floor staircase rail. Greenery and ornaments nestle above kitchen cabinets and on windowsills. Pillows with snowman and Christmas tree designs dress up sofas and beds.
"I like to buy good pieces that will work in any room," said Susan. "I like to be able to switch things around. Different pillows make a huge difference. So do different throws."
What do people comment on? They always like the third floor, the attic space, the openness," said Susan. "The way it's laid out, said Dennis.
Don't miss: "A hair wreath framed on a living room wall. "My great-great-grandmother (Rebecca Hyde) made it in 1888."
Susan's decorating tip: "If you're first starting out, go for good curtains if you can. In our house, we replaced all the hardware such as cabinet knobs. Little details make a big difference. People notice details. They don't realize they're noticing, but they do."
If you go:
What: Collinsville Holiday House Tour
When: 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec.7
Where: Begin the tour at one of Collinsville's Blum House, 414 W. Main St. Pick up your information packet before embarking on the self-guided tour.
Tickets: Available at Ashmann's Prescription Pharmacy, the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce office, the CounterTop Shop, or The Flower Basket. Tickets may also be purchased from a Student Council member or at the Blum House on Dec. 7 beginning at 2 p.m.
Who benefits: Collinsville High School Student Council
Sponsor: Collinsville Main Street Community Association
Information:618 558-1372 or 618-365-4275.