An Upper Arlington couple trades suburban life for a Neil Avenue Victorian—and then they add a guesthouse, too.
Taking the slow way home led Lisa Morton to fulfill not one dream, but two.
During her career as a corporate banker, Lisa bypassed the freeway and usually drove tree-lined Neil Avenue on her way home to Upper Arlington.
“Someday, I want to live on Neil Avenue,” she often told her husband, Jeff.
Today, the couple does just that, living in an 1895 Queen Anne Victorian two blocks south of Fifth Avenue. The property also is home to the realization of another long-held desire, that of being an innkeeper.
“I have to pinch myself that I am here,” Lisa says.
Although Jeff was initially a hard sell, when the home came on the market in 2004, “we pounced on it,” Lisa says. “It was a really great example of what a Queen Anne house looked like.” Unlike other many homes in the neighborhood, the house had never been broken up into apartments or made into a rooming house—with the exception that it once served as boarding house for widows.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
The 2,800-square-foot dwelling has four fireplaces, two parlors and an impressive entry hall with pressed-tin wainscoting. As is typical of construction during the era, the downstairs flooring and woodwork are crafted of sturdy quarter-sawn oak, while upstairs softer pine is used.
Gallery-sized family photographs dominate the entry stair hall, which is adorned with grand Victorian-era light fixtures and figurines. Heirlooms from the couple’s families fill each room, along with pieces of art too numerous to count. Coming from different backgrounds—Jeff’s father was career military, Lisa’s a faculty member at Ohio State University—they share a love of antiques and history.
Wanting to honor the home’s history, the Mortons decided to preserve most walls, windows and original flooring in the home. Where doors were removed for construction projects, they appear elsewhere, such as in the couple’s master bedroom dressing room, formerly an adjacent nursery. Original but mismatched brass doorknobs and an “I Love Linda” carving in one door only add to the charm, the couple says.
“It’s part of the story of the house,” Lisa adds.
By the time the Mortons arrived in Victorian Village, many urban pioneers already had moved into the once-decaying neighborhood and were restoring homes to their former grandeur. Like others, this home underwent a thorough review process before demolition and renovation started.
Major projects included removing doors and parts of walls to create a visual line from the front to the rear of house, which allowed more light to flow in. A bathroom and porch were added to the rear, the kitchen was updated, and upstairs bathrooms and hallways were reconfigured. The Mortons split one enormous bathroom into two, so they each could have one of their own. Lisa’s bath includes a period tub, which was discovered in the basement. Like doors and floors, it also received a major makeover.
The Mortons approached interior design with the aim of staying true to the home’s original footprint. The oft-seen, open floor plan, with a sprawling kitchen and entertainment space, does not exist, nor do ensuite bathrooms or walk-in closets. The new bathrooms, upstairs, are at the opposite end of the hallway from the master bedroom, and with closet space at a premium, the couple carves out storage where they can.
“Our stuff is everywhere,” Lisa says.
The rooms are painted in vivid colors to complement the couple’s extensive collection of antique patterned china. Large-screen TVs don’t dominate any living space.
Staircases are steep and the windows are original, rebuilt with new weights and ropes. Regulations at the time of their renovation made it difficult to replace the vintage window glass. “Nothing about this house is energy-efficient,” says Lisa, but the lack of 21st-century amenities is outweighed by the home’s authenticity and character.
The rooms are small by today’s standards, with fireplaces and mantels more an integral part of the rooms where they are situated. By contrast, ceilings are high, and the combination of scales required a deft hand to achieve the right balance for furnishings and such. Some of the couple’s original furniture was dwarfed by the high ceilings, they say, and a 12- by-20-foot rug fit nowhere. (It now covers the floor in the guesthouse loft.)
The kitchen retains its original butler’s pantry, a feature Lisa loves. Cabinetry is white with vintage-style glass knobs, offset by new black granite counters and 12-by-12-inch, black-and-white floor tiles set on the diagonal. The room achieves a spacious feel thanks to large windows with wide sills that accommodate plants and other accents. Accessories and window treatments are blue and white.
The third floor is an inviting nest with beautifully refinished heart pine flooring and cozy window nooks for reading and working. The room provides views of the street scene below but is high enough that it is quiet.
“I love this space,” Lisa says.
A TV and modern furnishings qualify the space for “man cave” status, adds Jeff. It includes his favorite painting by a Kentucky folk artist, one of many the couple has purchased at local galleries. The Mortons started collecting in earnest when they moved to Victorian Village and have lost count of how many pieces they own, numbering their collection “in the hundreds.”
At the rear of the 180-foot-deep lot, the couple built a 950-square-foot loft over a carriage house, now known as the Victorian Village Guesthouse. Lisa and Jeff envisioned it as space for visiting family and friends—and they lived there during construction on the main house. But, says Lisa, “it ended up being super underutilized.”
During the financial crisis of 2008, when she was laid off, she decided to go after another long-held dream and turn it into a guesthouse for travelers. The couple transformed the overgrown rear yard with a carpet of grass bordered by brick walkways, perennial beds and serviceberries. Antique statuary lends a period feel.
The loft sleeps four and is appointed with both antiques and modern amenities. It is not technically a bed-and-breakfast inn because tenants don’t get any meals included. But the space has a full kitchen and bathroom. Visitors include families of OSU students, football fans, wedding guests and “someone from Kalamazoo who heard Columbus was a cool town,” Jeff says.
The former suburbanites appreciate the area’s walkability—it’s within a mile of both the OSU Oval and Nationwide Arena. The best part?
“When my friends come down to the Short North for dinner, I never have to worry about finding a parking space,” Lisa says.