This Old Victorian

Noted tortoise researcher Peter Pritchard and his wife, Sibille, bring world travels home to their historic ‘painted lady’ in Oviedo.


Looking at its bright-blue façade and white picket fence with hot-pink accents, passersby can’t fail to be impressed by Peter and Sibille Pritchard’s Victorian home in Oviedo. But that colorful exterior isn’t the home’s only notable characteristic. It also has the distinction of being Oviedo’s oldest residence.

The home was built in 1884 for town father Andrew Aulin, a Swedish immigrant who served as postmaster for the area and ultimately gave the town its name. On March 13, 1879, Aulin paid homage to Florida’s Spanish heritage by naming the town Oviedo after a city in northern Spain.

When the Pritchards purchased the home, they were only the fourth owners in its century-old history, and the home still contained some original furnishings from Aulin’s time. The family supplemented those antique pieces with some of their own, including an ornate, French-style bed dating to 19th-century New Orleans that they’ve dubbed the “bordello bed.”

But it’s the pieces the Pritchards have collected from their worldwide travels that make the home so distinctive. Peter, a noted turtle and tortoise researcher and conservationist whose Chelonian Research Institute is located across the street from their home (see “The Tortoise and the Lair,” page 60), often picks up exotic pieces as he crosses the globe during his research excursions. In the foyer, masks of all shapes and sizes from Africa, Nepal, Tibet and other far-flung locales grimace from one wall in stark contrast to the vintage flocked wallpaper. Just down the hall, antique religious artifacts from Colombia adorn a table.

Sibille, when she’s not immersed in her duties as president of the Orlando Ballet’s board of directors and senior vice president of Brooksville Development Corp., frequently joins her husband on these expeditions and brings back treasures of her own.

House Full of Memories
The couple have collected so many unusual items over the years that they’ve dubbed one room in
the home “the eclectic room” for the diverse décor there. In this room, a cozy parlor tucked behind the home’s staircase, unusual items crowd the fireplace mantel and wood-paneled walls. “We like to collect things; this is the room that shows our travels and personalities,” says Sibille, who demurs when asked her age, citing a quotation she says she first heard from the poet Maya Angelou: “A woman who will tell her age will tell anything.”

In this aptly named room, a sofa handcrafted with Afghani carpet upholstery and saddlebag cushions sits beside a coffee table made from an overturned ox cart. Artifacts from China, Africa, Tibet, Mexico, Vietnam and elsewhere invite inspection and spark discussion. A chest and shelf made in Mexico are filled with all manner of animal figurines and other curiosities. There’s an antique Chinese marionette suspended from one corner of the ceiling, and carved and painted canoe paddles from Suriname above the sofa. Another wall is dominated by Sibille’s collection of paintings of children. And amid all this international jumble, a bit of Floridiana can be found in the form of a funky parrot-and-palm tree fringed lamp. “That’s so Florida,” understates Peter, 65.

The exotic and unusual can be found throughout the two-story, four-bedroom house, including a framed page from an illuminated musical manuscript hundreds of years old, cupboards hidden behind bookshelves in the dining room and Chinese chests in the hallway.

The couple raised their three sons in the home. They have many happy memories of the boys racing through the center hallway to the kitchen after school, bringing friends home to play and enjoying family holidays
together. Those memories were jarred by tragedy last fall, when Dominic, their middle son and a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, took his life. Suffering from depression perhaps exacerbated by his war experiences, 33-year-old Dominic shot himself in an upstairs bedroom shortly after sharing a pizza with his father and older brother, Sebastian.

While grieving for their son, the couple were determined to resume a sense of normalcy as soon as possible. “Life goes on,” says Sibille. “It’s hard, but it does go on.”

And go on it does. The couple continue to travel frequently, but there’s no place like home when they return to Orlando.

‘Divine Intervention’
When they first moved to the area in the 1970s, the Pritchards rented a place in College Park before finding out from a friend about a historic home in Oviedo that was up for sale. Although they didn’t know a thing about the town or even where it was, they were curious enough to make the drive to Oviedo, which was primarily a small farming community at the time.

Sibille was smitten at first sight of the place, which reminded her of the Colonial-era architecture of her
native Guyana. The Victorian-style home was a little worse for wear after suffering years of benign neglect, but Sibille could easily envision what the house would look like with a good—and bright—coat of paint over its flaking white façade. “I always wanted a ‘painted lady,’ ” she says, referring to the 19th-century practice of painting Victorian-style homes in several, often flashy, shades to accentuate their architectural features.

“We both liked the house as soon as we saw it, but it needed a bit of work,” adds Peter. Unfortunately, the home was already under contract to another buyer, which left the couple crestfallen. But soon after they visited the home, they discovered that the deal had fallen through. “It was divine intervention,” says Peter.

The Pritchards bought the home in 1975, and Peter soon became proficient at doing the labor-intensive repairs a 100-year-old home often requires. “One of the skills I had to learn was drywall,” he recalls. Fortunately, the solidly built home didn’t require any major structural work. “There are advantages to old houses when a two-by-four was a real two-by-four,” notes Peter.

The Pritchards have maintained the home’s period character, resisting the trend to “update” the floor plan by changing the original footprint. Typical homes of that era didn’t have the open layouts so common today; instead they had smaller rooms that were easier to heat. In the Pritchard home, each of the three main rooms downstairs is of approximately equal size, and each has a fireplace. They use one room as a parlor-library, one as their “eclectic room” and the one closest to the kitchen as the dining room, which is dominated by a grand Spanish Colonial-style plank table. For them, having clearly defined and separate spaces works. “We like it this way,” says Sibille. Other ties to the past are also preserved in the home, from the red flocked-velvet wallpaper in the foyer that was hung more than five decades ago to the colorful tile surrounds of the fireplaces that date to the original construction.

The home’s décor is clearly influenced by the couple’s travels and Peter’s research, and nowhere is that more apparent than in an enclosed patio just off the kitchen. Here a huge, 800-gallon tank houses a variety of freshwater snapping turtles, some bigger than dinner plates.

It’s a perfect marriage of work and travel—and knowing that there’s no place like home. “I like to settle in and put down roots and I like older homes,” says Peter.

“We love our house and we love Oviedo,” adds Sibille. “We came here when Oviedo was very small. The people here adopted us and made us a part of the community.” It’s a safe bet that the Pritchards and their historic home will be a part of the community for years to come.