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Lehigh Valley Live: Cool Spaces: Traditional meets contemporary in Bethlehem

May 25th, 2017 |

Written by KJ Frantz for Lehigh Valley Live

A few steps inside Johanna and Jim Ruest’s East Market Street home in Bethlehem and you get the feeling you are not only viewing a marvelous 1857 property but you’re also getting a peek into their lives.

Jim Ruest is a career military man and like most men in that position, his family has moved a lot. Austrian-born Johanna Ruest has made the most of multiple moves and created a home that is as inviting as it is eclectic.

The house itself, which the Ruests have lived in for four and a half years, is a bit diverse as it combines its mid-1800s front with its 1990s back seamlessly.

Upon entering, you feel as though you are in a stately mansion decorated with rich finds that Johanna Ruest has collected though many moves. European influences are apparent, with a special nod to Spain, a place Johanna Ruest has many fond memories of.

She is most proud of items she has repurposed: a Spanish table, an Irish hutch, farm equipment that she reincarnated as a pot and pan rack all add character to a house that celebrates both modern and traditional. She also has developed a deep appreciation for the history of Bethlehem Steel, apparent in many of the decorative items shown throughout the house.

The addition in the back of the house features tons of natural light, with skylights, open ceilings and seamless corner windows that offer a view of the cool outside space that features waterfall and goldfish pond, native plants and more.

And in between, a library room with rich brick walls offers a perfect transition from the mid-Victorian architecture of the original home to the contemporary, open style of the addition.

The side yard is a delight to the senses with colorful golden fish swimming in the pond, plenty of greenery and seasonal flowers, and beautiful functional paving stones leading from one level to another.

Hidden in the left corner is a recently built garden house that blends in so perfectly with its natural surroundings, you hardly notice it is there. Made from reclaimed wood and salvaged windows, it’s Johanna’s own private retreat. It blends so well with nature that even the roof was cut and designed to allow the trees to grow through its outside edges.

The East Market Street property is just one stop of many to be featured on the Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites’ 25th annual Rooms to View House Tour 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 3. In addition to homes in Bethlehem’s Historic District, the tour features properties in Center Valley and Coopersburg.

For the tour, only the main floor and gardens of the Ruest house will be open for viewing but there are two levels on top of the main floor that feature five bedrooms and three baths.  There’s also a full basement.

Tickets for the tour cost $40 for nonmembers and $30 for HBMS members. Tickets are available at the Historic Bethlehem Visitor Center & Museum Store, 505 Main St, or online at

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