A thorough Olde Town East renovation

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

A former Masonic lodge in Olde Towne East is renovated to create an energy efficient and rather large family home.

A circular front porch on this Olde Towne East home is the perfect viewing spot for watching the colors of fall.

After raising two children, Yann Guezennec and his wife, Colleen, were looking to downsize from their large, Old Arlington home in which they had lived for 26 years.

"We always said once the market got hot, we would sell our house," says Colleen.

The Guezennecs decided they wanted a property with plenty of space that would allow their adult children to live with them, if their children ever needed to move back home. The couple enjoys the charm of older homes, so they weren't surprised to find a property they liked in Olde Towne East. What they didn't expect was to find the space they liked zoned commercial, as a former Masonic lodge.

Their new home presented an exciting opportunity for Yann, a professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State University: the ability to install a geothermal system under their backyard to inexpensively heat and cool the house. The system necessitated that excavators dig 150 feet into the back yard, to accommodate a looped tubing system, similar to a garden hose, through which a liquid would circulate to a heat exchanger, efficiently extracting the earth's geothermal heat and circulating it through the house.

Less than two years later, the Guezennec's backyard offers no hint of the activity that lies underneath it. Their large lawn is lush and green and Colleen's incessant green thumb is evidenced by the explosions of color in her extensive garden.

"I had always talked about a geothermal home and thought one day I'd have a geothermal system," Yann says. Not only is the unusual method of heating and cooling their house energy efficient, the system came with tax benefits, too. "We took advantage of the tax abatement program available in this area and pay (nearly) 80 percent less (at least for the next 10 years)," says Colleen.

The couple converted the property into a two-family dwelling so when the need arose, their adult children could live with them without having to actually occupy the same space. "This is the way to live with adult children," says Colleen.

Records indicate the Guezennecs' home was built in 1890, though there are hints that it may have been erected 30 years earlier. The couple paid painstaking attention to certain aspects of the renovation so they could return it to a state similar to its original form. For example, after finding 160 double-panel, wooden shutters in the home's attic, the shutters were cleaned and reinstalled on the home's 50 windows.

Original, wooden floors were previously covered with thick layers of subfloor and carpeting or linoleum tiles. A trim carpenter found the original floors after digging around in an area that had water damage. With the help of a talented finish carpenter, problem areas were resolved. Today, an artistic arrangement of cherry, white oak and walnut woods covers the floors of Colleen's office.

The couple had several other priorities when it came to updating the property. Because they wanted separate living quarters for their children or, perhaps renters, they needed two kitchens and separate entrances for each abode, as well as sufficient bathroom and bedroom space. Storage in the master suite was expanded when unused space was discovered behind a wall. A large, deluxe shower was installed in the master bath.

Not all kitchens are created equal and that's the case with the two in this home. One is flooded with natural light and brightened by white cabinets and marble countertops. A built-in table welcomes diners, and there's also plenty of room for standing around and chatting while dinner is being prepared. The other kitchen, which is smaller and darker, evokes the mood of an old-time library. It features dark cabinets and a small refrigerator tucked under the counter.

Without a doubt, Colleen's favorite room is her office. She likes its three extra-long windows offering a view of the front yard and street. Yann, who tends to be the family's cook, favors its kitchen. "It's bright and is a fabulous space," he says. He has an office on the home's second floor, but Colleen jokes that the kitchen is his "second office."

Colleen's love of the outdoors is evident in the home's overflowing gardens. Not only do numerous annuals and perennials beautify the property, but countless vegetables and herbs dot the landscape, too. Yann spent at least one summer evening making homemade pasta sauce featuring home-grown tomatoes and basil.

The Guezennecs' home maintains "the grandeur of its time period," says Yann. "It is very current." Its 11-foot ceilings lend airiness to the space, yet its cozy furnishings and soft colors inject it with warmth and comfort.

Another aspect of the home that surprised the couple was its close proximity to various activities. "I appreciate more of what Columbus has to offer," says Colleen. "While Old Arlington has nice parks, they aren't in the same league as Franklin Park or the Topiary Park." She concedes, though, that homelessness is far more prevalent in their new neighborhood than it was in their former one.

One might think Yann's commute to his Ohio State office is longer from Olde Towne East than it was from Arlington, but he has found that not to be the case. The couple also appreciates being a short drive from Downtown Columbus with its various eateries and performance spaces.

"Here, the scenery is wildly diverse," says Colleen. "Immense grandeur (is) alongside long-term neglected homes."

Tami Kamin Meyer is a Columbus attorney ?and writer.