The Grand Tour

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Summer is home and garden tour season-here's a preview of what tour planners are most excited about.

There's a smidgen of nosy neighbor in all of us, making it easy to understand the popularity of home and garden tours.

Whether the tour features abodes similar to those we live in or those we'd like to live in, the allure of seeing what lies beyond a garden gate is nearly irresistible. Tour proceeds often benefit community improvements, which is the primary motivation for residents to welcome hundreds and sometimes thousands of strangers into their private domains.

Among the many Central Ohio tours that will pop up like roadside vegetable stands this summer, we're taking a quick look at three that offer a rich diversity of temptations. In addition to appealing houses, each neighborhood offers restaurants, art galleries and shops for pre- and post-tour enjoyment.


June 7 to 8

Arching branches of venerable trees line the streets and create an arbor-like effect that gives much of Bexley the inviting peace and decorum of a shaded garden.

Welcoming front doors open into rooms showcasing unique blends of art, antiques, mementoes and family treasures. In other words, a vast repository of posh and practical inspiration created by professional designers and talented homeowners awaits tour visitors.

The tour offers a sampling of eclectic styles and tastes spanning the Jazz Age to the New Age. Open for viewing this year are: a 4,300-square-foot house built in 1922, a 2005 five-bedroom house filled with art and keepsakes collected during world travels, an artist's residence featuring original artworks and a South Bexley garden accented with repurposed finds, including a chandelier, potting shed and small cottage.

The mix enables visitors to "enjoy differing styles of architecture, decor and a taste of what makes Bexley a fascinating city in which to live or visit," says Bev Sapienza of the Bexley Women's Club, which sponsors the tour to benefit its scholarship fund.

Ideal for: Decorating-idea seekers and repurposing advocates

Tour tip: Each stop offers a unique experience, so plan to visit all nine-and ask volunteers for details about the houses not listed in the guide.

For more: Call 614-253-3307.


June 29

This world of cozy cottages, walled gardens and mellow brick-paved streets seems more a Columbus tradition than a trendsetting neighborhood.

But since its rebirth during the urban renewal-crazed 1960s-when concerned residents rallied to save their neighborhood from bulldozers-German Village has been a preservation prototype, serving as inspiration for other restoration efforts around town.

This tour shows off the historic area's most gorgeous interiors, letting visitors wander within the walls of restored 1870s German immigrant houses and lovingly tended gardens. It's a tour of inspiration, says Shiloh Todorov, German Village Society executive director.

Even veteran tour visitors never know what to expect. Residents have been known to literally knock off the roof to make additions or create loft-like spaces. Walls of glass might frame the view of a backyard garden, creating the effect of a living landscape mural. An enclosed porch morphs into a year-round garden room, making a seamless transition between haus und garten. And those with the resources create large residence complexes by artfully joining two or more small homes.

This year's dozen stops include cottages, complexes and at least one poolside landscape. Along the way, visitors enjoy florally frothy window boxes, containers and curbside plantings.

Ideal for: Trendsetters

Tour tip: Prepare to be wowed by what's inside, from period-appropriate restorations to thoroughly modern design concepts.

For more: Call 614-221-8888.


July 13

Bejeweled with stained glass, burnished with polished hardwood floors and trimmed in yards of ornate cherry and oak woodwork, many of the pillared and turreted houses of Olde Towne East are at once grand historical mementoes and unique private homes.

"I think people don't realize how incredible the houses are," says tour co-chair Ann Twiggs. "When you get into the homes, you're just amazed."

"Styles on steroids" is how Alex Macke, a tour committee member, describes the textbook collection of architectural styles in the neighborhood. Expect to see a variety of architecture and decor styles, including an electric utility substation transformed into a home. Other transformations are almost as dramatic in this neighborhood, where owners turn down-at-heel dowagers into design-magazine beauties; several feature renovated kitchens. Among alfresco highlights is a landscape designer's dream garden.

Residents are as varied as the architecture. "We're a diverse neighborhood, and we take pleasure in that," Twiggs says of today's mix of ages, races and families.

Be warned: Tour visitors sometimes become residents. The tour "is the best way to get people to come into the neighborhood," Twiggs adds.

Ideal for: Romantics and realists passionate about innovative restorations

Tour tip: Check out the before and after photos that document the Cinderella remakes.

For more: Call 866-234-0414.


Aug. 23

Members of the Columbus Landscape Association coax some of their clients to open their private oases each summer, allowing visitors to sample gardens on condo patios, grand estates and sizes and styles in between.

As they walk along garden paths and across terraces that transform ho-hum yards into outdoor living spaces, visitors experience a world where a planners' blueprint becomes reality. Timely landscaping information, refreshments and the opportunity to meet garden designers and staff members-on hand to answer questions-are part of the tour package.

Along the way, visitors also see offbeat or rarely used plants, inviting patios and eye-catching focal points such as pergolas.

Ideal for: Those who want to experience professionally designed landscapes, both small and large

Tour tip: Look for ways common backyard problems-from lack of privacy to a sloped site-are solved by the pros.

For more: Call 888-850-5951.