Living the Dream
David and Molly Tanner dreamed of a country home. They built one in southern Delaware County one piece at a time.
Photos BY MICHAEL A. FOLEY/MAF PHOTOGRAPHY
David and Molly Tanner shared a fantasy for country living. Walking down a tree-lined lane. Sleeping with the windows open. Gathering a summer bounty from a vegetable garden.
The simpler lifestyle appealed to the hard-working medical student and graphic artist as they started a family in their suburban Powell home. Little did they know, this rural lifestyle fantasy would someday become a reality, fueling their creative energies, offering shared family experiences and eventually becoming widely revered in today’s sustainability movement.
In 2000, the Tanners purchased a 26-acre property in southern Delaware County near David’s parents’ home. Over the next eight years, they built a new farmhouse, started a you-pick berry business, rebuilt an old carriage house, planted a vegetable garden and built a studio where Molly creates recycled art sculptures as well as scarves from recycled T-shirts.
Early on, their move to the country proved not so idealistic. Since they were still getting started financially, the farm owner offered them a three-year land contract to allow time to save for the purchase. They didn’t hesitate to move into the century-old, 1,600-square-foot farmhouse where they lived with their three young children for eight years. “The five of us learned to share one bathroom,” Molly says.
After successfully working with an Amish team of carpenters on the property’s outbuildings, David took on the role of general contractor in building the new house.
For the design, the couple turned to architect Craig Murdick of Upper Arlington. They shared architectural inspirations from their vacation stays in Seaside, Florida, cottages and showed him Sarah Susanka’s book, “The Not So Big House,” which fit their design philosophy. They also gave him a 2,400-square-foot limit.
“By today’s standards, our friends with 4,000- and 5,000-square-foot houses thought we were odd to build such a small house,” David says. “But we like the small-house living.”
The architect appreciated their perspective. “The Tanners were into quality and details versus making lots of space,” he says.
The Tanners dedicated the most space to common areas and kept the kids’ rooms smaller. Molly told them, “The good news is you will have your own rooms, but the bad news is they will be small.” After sharing rooms for years, she says the girls were especially delighted to have their own space, no matter the size.
The couple intentionally made the central eating and living area larger to encourage family gathering.
“McMansions weren’t something that interested the Tanners,” Murdick says. “And the main living area shows their interest in creating spaces where everybody comes together.” The vaulted 20-by-36-foot space comfortably holds a square dining table and chairs for six, a large sofa and two sets of leather chairs and rattan chairs.
“My mom used to say anybody can do a big house,” Molly says. Her artist mother knew that first-hand, having decorated the German Village home where Molly was raised. “I love the character of smaller homes.”
Throughout their house, they incorporated several character-rich elements of the previous farmhouse and materials found on the property. The old farmhouse’s newel post sits atop a new stair rail that mimics the original style.
A trio of salvaged lightning rods now stands like sculpture in a corner of the great room. The couple repeated their favorite farmhouse details including the large vintage-style windows, flat-paneled doors and oak-planked floors. David also crafted a beautiful kitchen bar from black cherry trees on the property.
To bring their beloved outdoors in, they lined two sides of the room with lots of windows, including four sets of French doors that open to a deck and screened porch. In an urn in the center of the room, Molly displays a large curly twig from a filbert tree in her mother’s backyard. It’s one of many elements that reinforce the family’s passion for all things outdoors.
To finish the interior, Molly cleverly mixes contemporary furnishings with family heirlooms, yard-sale finds and original art. She prefers an uncluttered look, so she rotates art from a basement inventory of portraits by her mother, paintings by David’s father, her own sculptures and inherited works from her mother’s travels to South Africa and Mexico.
For the exterior, the couple chose a mix of wood shakes and planks, board-and-batten siding and standing-seam metal roof accents. All are compatible architectural elements from Seaside cottages and the farmhouse of “American Gothic.”
Recently, they added a deck and screened a porch that extends the length of the great room. David outfitted the porch with a narrow dining table made from a walnut tree near the barn. On the deck, he fashioned industrial-style deck railings and light fixtures with galvanized shades.
Two additional outbuildings also pay tribute to the property’s farming history. First, David and a few friends converted a former carriage house into a workshop and storage barn. For the exterior, he chose board-and-batten siding and red doors. Above one set of doors, a “Peace On Earth” sign handcrafted by Molly in twig letters offers a fitting welcome as guests arrive down a long tree-lined lane. Six metal pole lamps with welded cutouts by David add a special finishing touch and attractive nighttime accents to the crushed gravel drive.
Next, a barn-style studio was built where an 1865 bank barn once stood. David contracted a team of carpenters to frame the structure and finish the exterior with board-and-batten siding. They also added a front porch, rooftop cupola and large red barn doors. Inside, he trimmed the space and built steps to the loft using the property’s spruce trees. Today, the family enjoys the large open space, kitchenette and loft for annual holiday cookie- and egg-decorating parties, slumber parties, and art shows for David’s father’s paintings, Molly’s recycled art sculptures and friends’ works.
Living in their country home, the Tanners have now adopted several sustainable living practices. They heat their living area with a wood stove fueled by fallen trees on the property. They also tend a vegetable garden and recently built a chicken house where they’re awaiting their first eggs from their young Araucana chickens. Next season, they’re looking forward to reopening their berry patch after planting hundreds of new raspberry, blackberry and blueberry bushes. And David is planning to revamp an old stone-lined creek that inspired the property’s name, Stone Creek Farm.
“The green thing is not just checking off the boxes but adopting a whole lifestyle,” says Murdick. “And that’s what the Tanners do.”
Teresa Woodard is a freelance writer.