At Home With Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown with (from left) wife DeeAnn and daughters Julia and Callie
PHOTOS BY Ryan M.L. Young
It’s not his dream home, but the six-room, country-style ranch built into a gently rolling hillside in Grove City is one well-known remodeling executive’s residence … -for now.
“We’ve done what we’ve had to do to get us by here,” says Jeff Brown of the unusual 2,800-square-foot space his family of four and mother-in-law call home. “When we moved in, this was a two-bedroom home.”
That clearly wasn’t enough space, so the founder and president of J.S. Brown & Co. did what he does best: build.
He converted a heated, attached garage into two bedrooms and 1.5 baths. Then he set about drawing up more plans. Bigger plans. Plans for a 4,400-square-foot home just a few dozen paces from his current one.
“By 2016, 2017, we should be able to build,” he says. His future stone-and-stucco house will have brick accents over the windows and sit atop a hill on a 13.5-acre wooded lot.
“It will look down over the pond toward the bridge,” he says, gesturing across the expansive property that’s home to two additional ponds, a creek, a volleyball court, a pool and a multitude of wildlife.
“2016 is the tentative plan—God willing.”
Plans call for a two-story great room, its ceiling lined with hand-distressed oak beams.
“One whole wall will be a fireplace with built-ins,” he says. “It’s going to be pretty cool. There’s going to be a large sitting area on the second floor where you can look down into the living room. … And the back of the house will aim toward the pool and have a screened porch on the back with a balcony over top. We’ll have a large garage with a room over top of it for sewing and crafts.
“But we can’t talk much about that,” he says, stopping himself. “That’s something in the future.”
Still, Brown has spent the past five years—maybe more—taking mental notes while on remodeling sites and squirreling away ideas that would make the perfect home.
“Any time I do a cool job or I find a picture in a magazine and think, ‘I really like that feature,’ I’ll circle it and tear it out and put it in my file,” he says. “Some of the best customers, and the most enjoyable projects I’ve done, come to me with binders full of ideas. So I’ve followed that process. When somebody can show you, ‘This is what I like,’ or, ‘I don’t like this, but I like this feature,’ it makes it so much easier.”
Brown describes his preferred design style as traditional. “I’d even lean a bit towards English country,” he says.
But there’s nothing traditional about how he plans to power his digs. Brown wants to rely as much as possible on renewable, clean-energy sources.
“I’d like to make it net-zero, if I can, where it doesn’t cost anything to live there,” he says. “The biggest downfall is being in Central Ohio, because we don’t get enough sun. But if it’s not net-zero, it’s going to be as close as I can get it.”
Log-istics of leisure
When he’s not filling accordion files with design ideas, Brown unwinds at home by heading into the woods and firing up a power tool or two.
“My ultimate relaxation would be outside on the tractor or cutting up trees,” he says. “That’s the part I love the most. I love to be out there, up in the trees—clearing and cutting junk trees and scrub.”
Just last winter he cleared at least four acres behind his home, donating the logs and limbs to a friend who sells firewood. He also graded an area around one of the ponds, putting aside all the large rocks he unearthed to use on another project one day.
Perhaps Brown’s love of the outdoors and his view of hard work being relaxing stems from his childhood. He grew up as the fourth of eight children in a one-bedroom house with no running water or indoor plumbing.
“We started out pretty humble,” he says.
Brown’s father, a Columbia Gas serviceman, taught him to always finish what he started and to “work hard or go home.”
“He taught us to do what you say you are going to do and, if you make a mistake—and you will—then own it. Then make it right and say you’re sorry,” Brown says. “He was a great man.”
Brown spent much of his youth working in his family’s garden among the 2,000-some tomato plants, which he and his siblings tended, harvested and sold at a roadside vegetable stand.
“We hated it,” he says. “But my parents were teaching us how to work hard and save. They were teaching us valuable lessons, and we were complaining all the time.”
Brown and his wife, DeeAnn, took a page from that life lesson, however, and decided to home-school both their daughters. Callie, 18, is in college, and Julia, 15, will be a junior in high school in the fall.
Last year, as a graduation gift to Callie, the family traveled in their 36-foot diesel motor home to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.
“Callie always wanted to see the Grand Canyon,” Brown says. “And I really like traveling in the motor home. I’ve driven 18 hours straight in it more than once.”
One of his favorite trips was an excursion to Denver with stops at the
St. Louis Arch, President Harry Truman’s home in Independence, Missouri, Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands and Mount Rushmore.
“We collect rocks from different places we’ve been and incorporate them into our landscape,” he says, noting he has specimens from the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
Although Brown doesn’t consider himself a collector, he has assembled a small fleet of Kubota tractors, Stihl tools and old cars over the years—including a 1931 Model AA truck—which he houses in one of his barns. He also restored a pair of circa-1930 gas pumps and installed them in front of one barn, giving it the look of a neighborhood gas station right out of Mayberry.
“I collect things that are well-built,” Brown explains.
Clearly, building and remodeling are deep-seated hobbies of Brown’s, as well as his primary occupation.
“If I had my way, I’d have a cabinet shop,” he says. “When I retire, I’ll have a shop out in the barn. I bet I’ll be 70, but that’s only 13 more years.”
Brown is content to continue running his remodeling business, which has earned numerous awards over the years, including Contractor of the Year honors in three categories from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry of Central Ohio in 2012, and to continue tweaking the plans for his future dream home.
“I’ve always said, one day, when I get a chance to retire, if I ever get that chance, I would love to have rolling hills and trees and a creek,” Brown says. “We are Christians and we believe God gave us this place. He just laid it in our lap.”
Nancy Byron is a freelance writer, editor and publicity consultant in Dublin.