Modern updates to complement a storied past
It took one open house walk-through and a little bit of vision for Nicole Weidner to know that she'd stumbled on the perfect home where she and her then-fiancé, Gregg, could start their lives together. The home, a 1933 fixer-upper in historic Beechwold, had seen better days. With only two former owners—including an OSU law professor and a federal district judge—it had gone through few updates, though its charming attributes and sprawling gardens immediately appealed to Nicole.
With heavy interest from other potential buyers, the couple knew they had to act fast. Gregg, who lived in Pittsburgh at the time, agreed to buy the house sight unseen.
“I called him and I was like, ‘Gregg, I love this house. This is the house,'” recalls Nicole, who says she could picture holding their wedding in the backyard.
Each of them had renovated previous homes and was confident they could tackle the challenges involved in modernizing this space. But their timeline was ambitious, requiring extensive work on the interior and exterior of the home in the nine months prior to their September 2013 nuptials.
“Every renovation is stressful,” says Gregg, “but what was especially stressful was that we had a deadline.” Aiming to have at least the yard, kitchen and a bathroom finished in time for the celebration, the couple worked with architect Richard Taylor on plans to modify the design. They interviewed a number of contractors at the start of 2013 to find the right one to help them reach their deadline. Ultimately, they selected Miller Troyer for the interior work.
“The biggest thing we worked on was getting the house to live more like a house should in the 21st century without losing the early 20th-century character and charm of it,” says Taylor.
Reconfiguring the layout so that the main living spaces felt more connected required moving entire rooms. At the rear of the home, a wall was removed between the living room and what was then the den to make room for an enlarged kitchen. The new kitchen, with a granite-topped island, a tile backsplash and detailed custom cabinetry, gives the space modern function but retains the look and feel of high quality craftsmanship from the home's original era. An existing bay window can now be better enjoyed from within the reimagined space, bringing in more natural light and views of the gardens in the backyard. Even their two cats, Rudy and Cassie, seem to enjoy the view.
The renovated space also meant that square footage from the dining room, the former kitchen and a comfortable media room could then be incorporated at the front of the house. In the rear of the house, the reconfiguration provided the homeowners with additional closet space, cabinets and access to the home's original laundry chute.
Other measures were taken to help the main floor flow together while paying homage to the home's original Colonial Revival roots. New hardwood floors updated the dining room, and archways that mimic the exterior design were copied indoors to transition various spaces within the house. Original details, such as light fixtures and a milk delivery door, now used as a mail bin, were repurposed and repositioned whenever possible.
With the kitchen now open to the living room, the couple can enjoy the coziness of the fireplace nearby, which was updated by local woodworker Brooke Owen Smith with a new surround and a custom mantel that matches the exterior trim.
“All that reusing of space without adding on helped preserve the almost perfect symmetry and balance of the house's massing,” says Taylor. It also positioned the main living spaces near the home's original screened-in porch, something Taylor says he wanted to make a part of Gregg and Nicole's daily living.
The screened-in porch is where the couple spends the most time during the warm-weather months, says Nicole, because it's the perfect place to enjoy their beautiful yard and feel connected to nature. “I think what made me fall in love with the place was actually the property, the yard. I saw the potential,” she says.
As a serious gardener, tending to the grounds is her therapy. “It was all overgrown and a bit of a disaster,” she adds, so she worked with landscape designer Will Lehnert on renewing the outdoor spaces and living areas. Tom Barton, of Barton Brickscapes, installed new bluestone patios and flagstone walkways.
Whimsical yard ornaments, topiary figures and carefully positioned fountains were added. “My goal was to have it so that everywhere you looked you saw something interesting,” says Nicole, adding that the screen porch and second-floor patio off of the guest bedroom offer quiet places to observe wildlife such as barred owls, deer and foxes that regularly pass by.
Renovation never comes without challenges, and for Nicole and Gregg those challenges involved complying with the Columbus Historic Resources Commission's requirements for exterior updates. The couple agrees that the home has been well worth the work involved, even though they're still focused on completing the second-floor master bath.
Sharing an appreciation for vintage quality, they have furnished their spaces with pieces that have meaning to them, scavenged from antique stores and markets, as well as artwork collected from favorite artists.
Nicole, who decorated the spaces, says she's enjoyed bringing the entire vision together. “There are a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this house,” she says. But having work done in time to hold their wedding in the backyard gives the home special meaning to the couple and a memory they will always cherish.
“Projects like this require clients that understand the cultural value of homes like this,” says architect Taylor. “They need to be totally on board with retaining and enhancing the character of the style of the house while they update it, and saving it for future generations to enjoy.”
Gregg and Nicole's sensitivity and dedication to updating the house is the biggest reason for the success of the project, he adds.
Meanwhile, the couple is pleased with the progress they've made. “The house will be good for another 100 years,” says Gregg.