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Tomsk: The House with Firebirds
In Tomsk, both the luxurious lacy edifices and the sagging wooden huts are a time machine that will take you to Siberia of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when this was a cozy province inhabited by peasants and merchants.
Tomsk is one of Siberia's most "wooden" cities, with numerous landmarks of rare wooden architecture. Some of them are slated for renovation, while others feature brand new facades and roofs. Unfortunately, quite a few buildings remain in a lamentably poor condition.
To go back in time we paid a visit to a young family of architects, Yevgeny and Maria Ospishchev, who live in one of Tomsk's most stunning wooden landmarks, the House with Firebirds, along with their two sons.

Hidden behind a fence, the front yard of the house features colorful flowerbeds and a large swing. The entrance is marked by planters filled with flowers and in the second-floor windows of the family's apartment, the wind gently blows on airy white-lace curtains. Almost square-shaped, the House with Firebirds reaches for the sky with its towers and the even walls contrast with prominent facade elements, including bay windows and baroque-styled lacy window frames.
"We were looking for a smaller apartment, but when my husband came across this house and looked out its bay window, he said it's exactly what we need," says Maria Ospishcheva. "We were lucky to move in right after both the entire house and this particular apartment had been renovated. The previous renovation was in 1965 and the condition of the house had left much to be desired."
Maria Ospishcheva
Lives in the House with Firebirds in Tomsk
Yevgeny Ospishchev, his wife Maria and their sons Yan and Sever have been living in the House with Firebirds since 2012. They occupy a major part of the second floor. The house has a total of seven apartments.
At the very top, on the gable cornice, are two wood-carved birds who have spread their long peacock tails. In early Russian arts and crafts, birds could embody good and evil; symbolize celestial elements, such as light, wind and the rain; or serve as protective charms. Today, the firebirds are a symbol of Tomsk. They are replicated on postcards, refrigerator magnets, street art and even the city's drain covers.
"Globally speaking, without any reference to time, space, currencies or states, my home lies where my family is," says Maria, holding little Sever in her arms. "On the other hand, I still view the mansion as my home. Each family needs their own house, land and the sky above their heads. I guess this concept is rooted in my village childhood. Up to age 13, Yevgeny also lived in his family's house on their own plot of land until they bought an apartment in the city."
Maria Ospishcheva
Lives in the House with Firebirds
Historically, the House with Firebirds was part of merchant Leonty Zhelyabo's mansion, which featured four structures. In the latter half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, Siberian merchants played a significant role in the region's urban trade, architecture, culture and education. In Tomsk, the merchant Zhelyabo traded in footwear, leather goods and travelers' supplies.

In 1896, he began construction of the family mansion, which was a wedding gift to his daughter. Of the four houses that would form the future family estate, all of them were designed by the architect Pyotr Fyodorovsky. This one, built in 1903, was the most spectacular, resembling both a fairytale castle and a wedding cake crowned by birds, the protective symbols of a family hearth.

Although modern, the Ospishchevs' apartment has retained the ambiance of the mansion's original atmosphere. The secret lies in the airy and well-lit window bay with numerous windows, which Yevgeny has insulated, in order to make the "summer kitchen" comfortable enough for year-round use. Maria has painted the floor tiles with a maiolica pattern. At first, the Ospishchevs arranged their living room with a dining table in the window bay, but later decided to make it Yan's room.

"My husband hesitated before giving the room to our son, as it was the favorite spot of the entire family and our guests," laughs Maria. "But I said: 'Yevgeny, can you imagine what it would be like to grow up in a room like this?'"

It is hard to imagine a better room to grow up in: Red rowanberries rest in front of the window, sunlight bursts from every corner and with the use of a wood-carved cornice you could study lying on your bed.
"Every day in this house is comprised of small things," Maria continues. "You wake up and can go out into the yard in your slippers with a cup of tea to see what new flowers have sprouted up in the flowerbeds and say hello to your neighbors. Who can do this in apartment blocks? Wood is history, natural beauty, our memory and our roots. I honestly fail to understand why we don't build houses like this anymore. As I grow older, I realize that Tomsk is impossible to resist. It is small, low-key, with a soul of its own and with its own history. It is these wooden houses that embody the city's soul. Even if it's just a small house among the multi-story apartment blocks, it catches your eye and makes you wonder: 'How did people use to live here?'"

Maria Ospishcheva
Lives in the House with Firebirds in Tomsk

Text by Anna Gruzdeva.
Edited by Joe Crescente.
Design and layout by Yulia Shandurenko.
Images credits: Ivan Zuikov / Siberia: Joining the dots, Shutterstock, Photoxpress.

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