Retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Herb Brown and his wife, Beverly, renovate a 120-year-old Victorian home overlooking Goodale Park.
Stained glass transom windows in the home's new conservatory reflect the glass in the dwelling's original rooms.
Moving from their sprawling brick home on the northern edge of Ohio State’s golf course in Upper Arlington to a century-old Victorian located in the urban center of the city was a certain change for Herb and Beverly Brown.
“We’re longtime empty-nesters,” says Beverly, as she reaches to pat a black pug named Newton, one of their three dogs. “Friends of ours in Victorian Village had us over—they were renovating their house—and I just loved it. We started looking for something in the area.”
Herb, an author, playwright and former Ohio Supreme Court justice, and Beverly, a clinical counselor, spent four months in a concentrated search. They were in contract on a Neil Avenue property, but remained intrigued by a quirky, somewhat rundown home around the corner on Buttles.
“It was cozy, and had good vibes,” says Beverly. “But it needed an enormous amount of work.” Ben Niswander, owner of Taliesin Construction, walked through it with them, visualizing the possibilities. “He reassured us,” she says. They nixed the Neil Avenue deal and made an offer.
Over the next year, as designer Damon Baker was introduced to the project and began shaping architectural concepts based on the Browns’ lifestyle and wish lists, the 3,200-square-foot home underwent dramatic alterations. Some spaces—the kitchen, a mini gym in the finished basement, the bathrooms—were modernized. A conservatory was added. The entire second floor, once a cluster of little rooms, was gutted and reconfigured to accommodate two master bedroom suites and a study for Herb. And what used to be “a dusty, scary attic,” according to the contractor, morphed into Beverly’s office and a sitting area. New heating and air conditioning units, plumbing and electrical systems were installed throughout the home.
It was imperative, however, to retain the Victorian charm and authenticity of the house, built in 1890.
“The front of the house was museum-quality Victorian,” remarks Baker, explaining why some rooms required a little less attention. In the living room, for instance, the original fireplace tiles were in good condition, as well as the carved oak mantle, the stained glass window and most of the ornate plaster moldings. Interior designer Virginia Salamy, owner of Sunflower Design, suggested new fabric for the Civil War-era sofa handed down through Herb’s family, and selected a Victoriana wallpaper, called Thistle by William Morris, to add a simple richness.
In the powder room off the foyer, Salamy took inspiration from the original sink basin, which was stamped “supplier to Queen Victoria” on its bottom. She hired an artist to stencil a pattern that is inside the basin on the walls. A $10 secondhand mirror was painted to match in gold and black.
Vintage push-button light switches found in the four front rooms, including the dining room and parlor, were retained and left in their original positions high on the walls, as was the custom of the period. Conversely, the doorknobs are low, comically so, given Herb’s commanding height of 6-foot-4. “People were just shorter then,” he says with a laugh.
On the second floor, each of the master suites was designed with its own bath. The challenge was to make them Victorian, despite the modern luxuries of heated floors and rainfall shower heads. Beverly chose Wedgewood blue for one bedroom, adjoining a bath done in tones of cream, white and yellow. A clawfoot tub and white shutters reference the period. The second suite features a bay window due to the shape of the exterior turret and has light green, striped wallpaper, dark woodwork and a floral Stickley rug. The adjoining bath is in earth tones.
For his study, Herb wanted it dark, in somewhat of a British design. “Herb likes the heavy, masculine look for a serious study,” Beverly explains. Niswander built the custom cabinetry and finished it with a deep, rich stain. The walls are painted in Benjamin Moore’s historic peale green, and window shades were fashioned in a paisley print of green, mustard and maroon from fabric titled Decoratif Caviar by Robert Allen. Salamy found two Frank Lloyd Wright-style lamps with colorful stained glass shades at a consignment store. “They’re not quite Victorian,” says Beverly, “but I really like them.”
The kitchen required some heavy lifting. “Last remodeled, I think, in the 1970s,” notes Baker. Construction crews cut through the first-floor chimney on the back wall of the house, and, after adding I-beams for support, opened up the kitchen so that it would connect to the new addition: a light-filled, hexagon-shaped conservatory.
To capture and reflect some of that newfound light, Salamy and the Browns selected a paint palette of ecru and muslin, which is repeated in the conservatory. Pale sage green kitchen cabinets were purchased from Lowe’s. Green flagstone flooring by Casa Dolce Casa was used in both rooms, while radiant heating keeps the conservatory floors warm in winter. Countertops are made of Verde Butterfly, a dark green granite. All appliances, in brushed stainless steel, are by KitchenAid. A few hours at Hamilton Parker yielded the backsplash tiles—Pratt & Larson’s rustic bisque and a custom-colored Victorian rose. Three stained glass pendant lights from Lowe’s were perfect to hang over the center island.
It is, however, the conservatory that best links the old and new, the indoors to the outside forces of nature just beyond the glass door.
Its six-sided shape mimics that of the turret that anchors the front of the house, as well as the hexagonal roof slates on the carriage house at the rear of the property. “We wanted to reflect elements that were already there,” says Baker. A border of stained glass in soothing hues of green and yellow, designed by Salamy and manufactured by SGO Designer Glass of Columbus, seems as authentic as the many colorful windows original to the home.
The garden’s pergola, handcrafted by Niswander, and the plantings, selected by Cathy Gehres of Gehres Landscape Associates, both suggest an earlier time. Gehres liberally mixed hydrangeas, hostas and boxwood. “I wanted an old-fashioned garden with structure and formality,” she explains. Enclosed by a tall wooden fence to ensure privacy, the garden is framed by trees—legacy sugar maples on one side, chanticleer pears on the other, all with uplights for dramatic nighttime views. “The enormous elm tree next door, especially when it’s silhouetted against the azure and pink of an early evening sky, is an exquisite backyard view,” says Beverly.
At the front of the home, however, it is a different story. “We’ll sit on the porch and see all the neighbors go by—an interesting mix of young professionals, parents with strollers, people walking their dogs,” says Beverly. “Then you look across the street to Goodale Park. And just beyond the trees, you can see the metropolitan skyline, with all the lights twinkling at night.”
Rhonda Koulermos is a freelance writer.