Home: A Carriage House Restoration in Clintonville

Teresa Woodard

Suzanne and David Fisher were in the middle of a home-decorating project at their 120-year-old carriage house in Clintonville when they noticed some structural issues after moving their china cabinets to make room for new furniture. The floor was sinking and walls were cracking.

Suzanne called their decorator Donna Rosenthal and said, “I think you better come over here.”

“The floors were sinking, there were cracks in the wall, art was shifting on the walls and the second-story floor started bowing,” says Suzanne.

The Fishers called on friends in the construction industry and a state-wide barn preservation group, and all encouraged them to move forward with saving the historic carriage house and barn. “So many people came to help, offer advice and encourage us to work toward a solution,” says Suzanne.

The result was a 16-month reconstruction project that started with installing temporary supports, ripping out rotted foundation rafters, pouring new concrete footers and installing a new frame of beams and supports throughout the first and second floors. In the process, they also updated the heating system with a more efficient one and expanded ductwork to the second floor. The reconstruction work was led by contractor Ron Brofford, who is their son-in-law's father.

“It never was a question if we wanted to give up,” says Suzanne, 78, who also endured shoulder surgery and some heart issues during the renovation. “We knew it would get done eventually, since we had a wonderful group of people to get the job done.”

The Fishers are no strangers to historic properties. In fact, they founded 49-year-old F&W Properties, which owns and manages rental units in many historic buildings in Olde Towne East, Marble Cliff, Clintonville and Woodland Park.

When the couple purchased the carriage house in 1974, they were drawn to the property's rich history. As Suzanne turns the pages of a scrapbook filled with old black-and-white photos passed along from a previous owner, she shares its history. In 1895, the Evans family built a grand mansion, known as Oak Hall, with an elaborate carriage house that included horse stables, a hayloft, storage space for tack and carriages, and living quarters for a barn manager.

The carriage house's exterior was finished in wood siding and cinder-block walls covered with a heavy stucco. Its steeply pitched roof was shingled in slate at the time and was outfitted with a charming cupola to circulate air in the hayloft. The original estate house burned in a fire in 1906, but the carriage house was spared. The Evans family moved on to Hollywood, California, to join their son Nelson who owned a celebrity portrait studio.

In 1929, the property was subdivided to sell. The Pavey family bought the carriage house and five lots in 1930 and turned the carriage house into their residence, even adding elements such as ornate trellis panels reclaimed from a Cleveland Avenue mansion. Decades later when the Fishers were introduced to the home by a real estate agent, they were surprised to find it, down a lane off of North Broadway and hidden by mature trees.

“We had lived around the corner on Indianola for seven years and didn't realize this was here,” says David. “When we first drove back the lane, we said, ‘this is it.'”

Before moving in with Suzanne and their young children, David's first task was to refinish the original pine floors.

“For the first three years, the radial saw sat in our dining room,” says David. He first renovated the small galley kitchen and bathroom then converted the third floor to living space for his two sons.

In 1998, the couple decided to build a two-story addition with an expanded kitchen on the lower level and the master bathroom upstairs. They also added a garage.

“When you own an older home, you're never done working on it,” says Suzanne.

Outside, the couple transformed the nearly one-acre wooded property into a shady haven for hostas, flowering dogwoods, allium bulbs and a variety of shade perennials including bleeding heart, ferns and Solomon's seal. The Fishers collected more than 200 hosta varieties as they swapped with friends, traveled to a national hosta convention in Raleigh, North Carolina and participated in area hosta swaps. Their collection goes beyond the classic green hosta foliage with unique varieties such as ‘Deep Blue Sea' that has blue corrugated leaves and ‘Designer Genes', with yellow leaves and red stalks.

They personalized the gardens with a charming treehouse, sculptural art and vintage finds, including an assemblage of a friend's old organ pipes and a clever ornamental fence of hay hooks.

Along the back side of the property, the couple added a patio featuring an impressive collection of old bricks, primarily made in Ohio. David says some were found on the property, while others were collected at brick swaps and salvaged from old sites. David recalls making multiple trips to an old East Side firehouse to gather as much brick as possible in three days before its demolition.

“At the turn of the century, Ohio had hundreds of brick companies to supply paving bricks for streets and sidewalks,” says David as he walks along the patio pointing out bricks from Hocking Block, Star Brick, Athens Block, Nelsonville Block and others.

The Fishers eventually got back to their home redecorating project in 2017 once the structural repairs were completed. Rosenthal helped the couple choose new flooring and wall finishes, before finishing the project. She also helped the Fishers select new rugs, upholstered furniture, a custom entertainment center, accent pieces and lodge-style light fixtures to complement the space and the couple's antiques and Southwestern art pieces.

On the first floor, the original front barn door opens to shared living and dining spaces. Working together with Rosenthal, the couple chose a neutral color palette with off-white stucco walls and dark brown, paneled accent walls and ceilings. New, gray-stained oak floors cover the repaired foundation. A faux finish painter dressed the new structural beams with a leather-like texture.

In the kitchen, the original sliding barn door adds plenty of style to the updated space. Cabinets were repainted gray and outfitted with new pewter hardware and quartz counters. An added island features a textured granite top. The breakfast nook's large windows are trimmed with new window treatments to frame the views of the gardens.

On the walls of a nearby guest bathroom, Rosenthal cleverly arranged Suzanne's collection of more than 20 crosses purchased at antique stores and on trips to Santa Fe, Austin and Sedona.

The upstairs is accessed via a narrow staircase featuring a stained-glass window from an old Bexley home. Second-floor updates include two guest rooms, a book loft and the Fishers' master suite. The original time-worn pine floors remain in the master bedroom, while new Berber carpet was added to the other bedrooms.

The centerpiece of the master bedroom is an impressive Eastlake-style antique bed set, an heirloom from David's grandmother. The highly geometric style was introduced by British designer Charles Lock Eastlake, reflecting his aversion to over-the-top styles of the Victoria era.

“We had to hoist it up through the barn loft opening,” says Suzanne, referring to the original opening still present in the master bedroom's floor as she explains that the home's staircase is too narrow to accommodate large pieces. “A lot of furniture has gone up through there over the years,” she adds. A large entertainment unit to furnish a guest bedroom was also recently hoisted through the opening.

To complete the master bedroom, Rosenthal selected a classic floral rug, lamps, botanic-print Roman shades and a large, slipcovered chair and ottoman. For the adjoining master bath, she worked with local artisans to create a custom vanity with antiqued black cabinets, copper sinks, copper wall panels and trim. Two copper mirrors are hung with leather straps. Other updates include a walk-in shower and marble floors.

The Fishers are grateful to have the project now completed. “I've got my 10-year, 20-year and 25-year projects finished now,” says David.

“Over the years, I've never found a place I like as much as this or with as much character as this,” he adds. “So, we're settled and here for good.”