Architect Rob Harris designed his own freestanding condo last year in the Harrison West neighborhood, hand-picking his ideal combination of old-fashioned details and up-to-date conveniences.
Rob Harris is into preservation, not renovation. So when he and his partner, Tim Bledsoe, both longtime Harrison West residents, were contemplating a move, they nixed the idea of a Victorian mansion on Neil Avenue. Though they adore the area's charm, Harris could never bear to change a home's original architecture to suit his modern needs.
"I couldn't take out a wall to make a dining room bigger," Harris said.
Instead, Harris, an architect for Architectural Alliance, designed his own freestanding condo last year, hand-picking his ideal combination of old-fashioned details and up-to-date conveniences.
In fact, he designed more than 60 homes, condos and lofts in the development Harrison Park, which is poised to breathe new life into the neighborhood. Much of the development has been built from the ground up on a former brownfield that once housed the Capital City Dairy Co. butter factory. The rest of the homes, including Harris and Bledsoe's, are infill housing, integrated between existing homes.
These houses are designed to resemble their older neighbors; in this case, the all-brick and limestone exterior blends nicely with nearby duplexes and single-family homes that have existed for decades.
"We're putting the teeth back in the neighborhood," Harris said.
Their breathtaking four-story home boasts oak floors throughout, nine-foot-high ceilings on every level, wide crown moldings and a comfortable back porch for lounging.
"I like the feeling of an old house-it's absolutely beautiful, the proportions," Harris said. "We have all those proportions, but we have the bathrooms and the closets. And we're cool in the summer and hot in the winter."
The house looks deceptively small from the street. Its 3,500 square feet includes four bedrooms, each with its own bath, as well as a finished basement and a sprawling kitchen.
That kitchen illustrates a perfect convergence of old and new: Integrated into the high-end granite countertops and cherry cabinets is a pantry Harris built from wood reclaimed from Ohio State's old architecture school, Brown Hall. The sash handles came from old window casements.
The home borrows a lot of features from older houses, but there are some important differences, too. The master bedroom is situated in the back of the house rather than in the front, as is common. This allowed for it to be larger, because the front stairway wasn't in the way, and moved it farther from street-traffic noise.
And instead of an attic, this condo has a third-floor suite with a bedroom and lavish bath stretching the entire width of the house. They use it as their own weekend getaway; with few windows, it's a dark and quiet place perfect for sleeping in.
Harris doesn't buy into the old expression "they just don't build 'em like they used to." "Yes," he said, "and thank God!" New houses don't have the multitude of problems created by foundations settling and cracking, he said.
"I love new construction," Bledsoe added. "I like having a nice, even floor, and the cheaper bills from higher efficiency."
Harrison West, a small neighborhood of about 1,300 wedged between Victorian Village and Grandview, has experienced a few revivals. The first came in the 1950s, when zoning was switched to industrial and homes were set to be bulldozed.
"Homeowners got wind and started a grassroots effort to save the neighborhood," Harris said. "They went all the way to D.C." Their efforts worked, and Harrison West was saved.
What Harris and Bledsoe like most about their neighborhood is the diversity. Their neighbors include college kids and a widowed woman in her seventies who's lived in her home for decades. The new Harrison Park development continues with the area's anti-gentrification efforts by including homes priced from $180,000 to more than $500,000.
The original plan from the developers at Wagenbrenner Company called for apartments only. "They said, 'There's a house over there that sold for $80,000. Do you really think we can sell one for $550,000?' " Harris recalled. "I told them, 'I know this neighborhood like the back of my hand-yes!' "Want a tour?
Tim Bledsoe and Rob Harris' home is one of 11 featured on this year's Tour of Homes and Gardens, sponsored by the Short North Civic Association, running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, September 20.
Tickets cost $15 in advance and $20 that day.
For details, visit www.VictorianVillage.org.