Home: A Near East Side home undergoes an extreme makeover

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Discovered in 'deplorable' condition and purchased for $100,000, this 19th century mansion on the Near East Side lives up to its potential.

In 2007, Columbus residentPaul J. Unger was close to completing the renovation of an 1840s duplex he owned in Victorian Village when a friend, who knew his penchant for renovating old homes, mentioned another potential future project, a 19th century mansion on the Near East Side.

Unger wasn't thrilled at the prospect. The house was "deplorable," he says. Rooms were chopped up, wall paint was chipping and rats ran amok. The estate had been vandalized often, so its fixtures and copper piping were either stolen or in such disrepair that a total gut was the only plausible option.

At the right price, however, Unger saw its potential. He asked the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees, which held the mortgage on the property, if they would be willing to sell. (The building had most recently been the union's Columbus headquarters. At one time, the structure housed the Ohio Nurses Association, too.)

He purchased the structure for $100,000. Unbeknownst to him, the property also came with a squatter who stayed in the detached carriage house. Unger allowed the man to stay through the winter, with the understanding that when warmer weather arrived, the squatter would move on. He did.

Unger would learn that someone had registered the home on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, which brought with it a list of requirements and prohibited practices for renovation. Unger doesn't know who listed the property, but he understood the responsibility it involved.

With a long list of updates necessary, he opted to start at the top and work his way down. That meant first repairing the 80 roof leaks. "I counted all the puddles on the third floor, but didn't get discouraged," he says.

Once the slate roof was repaired, Unger set his sights on updating the home's third floor. He acted as his own general contractor, a title he later abandoned when dealing with renovations of the home's first and second floors.

At the top of the house, he also insulated the home's turrets to make the space "super efficient," he explains. Today, he credits the insulation used there with limiting expenses required to heat and cool the nearly 5,000 square feet of space.

Because of the home's designation as an historic site, Unger had to meet stringent guidelines to replace all its windows. "They are all wood, both inside and out, a requirement of the National Register. Those windows cost five times a normal window," he says.

The third floor is home to a new kitchen that Unger uses when he hosts parties there. A spiral staircase he built from a kit lends drama and movement to the space as it climbs to a third-floor loft, which accommodates a king-size bed. A full bathroom on the third floor comes in handy when he chooses to sleep there.

Planning the design for the home's first and second floors took a couple of years, involving a dizzying number of details. The methodical Unger didn't rush the project.

On the first floor, perimeter cabinets surrounding the gourmet kitchen are topped with a black-veined granite. "I chose granite because it's pretty and I cook a lot," he says. "I didn't want to worry about burning it." A large slab of Nacarado granite with "really cool striations" was installed atop the 12-foot center island, he adds.

To date, Unger says he has invested $650,000 to renovate his home, and foresees spending another $150,000 before the place is complete. He is currently finishing the carriage house so that its second floor will include a guesthouse complete with a full kitchen and bath. The ground floor will offer parking for Unger's various wheeled toys.

Overall, Unger has blended old with new. The home's first inhabitant, Dr. Erwin W. Schueller, a prominent Columbus surgeon and vice president and director of the Union Savings & Building Co., could not have foreseen the technological improvements the home would undergo.

Unger is enamored with technology, and because the home's walls were stripped to their studs during renovations, the house is now wired for sound and intercom. Apple AirPlay allows music to be played throughout the house with each room having its own soundtrack. A complex system of 16 cameras is on in the home at all times. Unger chose to go with a wired system he can monitor from his smartphone because he wanted dependability and accessibility. Not surprisingly, lighting throughout the house can be controlled by an app on his phone, too.

While the house boasts several captivating and unusual spaces, Unger says his favorite is his office. "It's an eclectic mix of antique décor, a rolling library ladder, built-in shelves and all the technology I want," he explains. "I can rehearse speaking (he teaches lawyers how to use technology) and put presentations together. I close the gorgeous pocket doors and it's completely quiet in there."

Still, he concedes, the third floor runs a close second. "It's like a treehouse," he says. "The loft area is so cozy and I can disconnect from everything there."

Tami Kamin Meyer is a Columbus attorneyand writer.