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Heart of Oak

History on display in revitalized, little-known Columbus neighborhood We’ll probably never see streetcars in Columbus again. But that doesn’t mean we can’t hang on to the little pocket neighborhoods directly inspired by that turn-of-the-century innovation. A group of homeowners are doing just that in Old Oaks, a newly revived area just southeast of Downtown (located [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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History on display in revitalized, little-known Columbus neighborhood

We’ll probably never see streetcars in Columbus again.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t hang on to the little pocket neighborhoods directly inspired by that turn-of-the-century innovation.

A group of homeowners are doing just that in Old Oaks, a newly revived area just southeast of Downtown (located between I-70 and Livingston Avenue).

For being lesser known to locals, the area is rich with history, even beyond its mix of American Foursquares, Neoclassical Revivals, and Queen Annes. Ohio State football legend Chic Harley once called it home, and it was a stop on the Underground Railroad as well. Many new homeowners are setting up shop in Old Oaks, but the area is rife with vacancies—something a handful of residents are advocating to change. They see a future for the historic district, one where willing owners will embrace updating heirloom homes, and the nearby Livingston corridor is once again teeming with local businesses.

“Given that Columbus has a shortage of housing stock, we’re hoping that people find the value in the quality of housing stock in [this] neighborhood—so many homes [here] are vacant,” said Pam Waclawski, who recently let us tag along on an Old Oaks home tour. “It would be nearly impossible to rebuild these homes with the same materials and craftsmanship in today’s climate. There’s nothing wrong with modern new-builds since there’s definitely a need for more affordable housing, but we need to consider the houses that are already available that may just need some TLC.”

“It’s not about displacement, but about preserving irreplaceable beauty.”

Not only are today’s owners preserving the historic homes that line its streets, but they’re actively embracing the neighborly feel of the former “streetcar suburb.”

The best example of the unique spirit of Old Oaks is “Wednesdays on the Porch,” a weekly community gathering that brings a sense of fellowship—without a sense of obligation (you don’t even have to clean your house)! Resident Beata Gray, who’s lived in the area for 20 years with her husband David, started the notion of stopping by for quick hellos in the neighborhood.

With such a community spirit on display, (614) wanted to explore more of the close-knit area, and get to know the neighbors a bit:

David Gray642 Wilson Ave.

Built right around the turn of the last century, 642 Wilson is a functional marriage of art and history. David Gray has committed the stories of the house to memory and, through living there and adding his own touches, he is continuing its history of care.

There are 31 pieces of stained and painted glass throughout the residence. A past owner, Gebhard Jaeger, was close friends with Theodore Von Gerichten, who owned the Capital Art Glass Company.

The panels are works of art, with painted eagles, crests, fish, scarabs, grapevines, seashells, and geometric shapes. To remove them would be a crime.

“I have lived in the house for years and I never tire of looking at them,” Gray said. “They bring a smile to my face. The work that went into these windows is outstanding.”

A pond was added in the rear garden to enhance the backyard, give a place for birds to visit, and provide the sound of running water.

During cold winter months, Gray can be found sitting by the living room fireplace, reading a good book, and drinking a Manhattan (or two). During these months the family (wife, Beata, and sons, Tennison and Montgomery) also enjoy the third floor, which provides enough space for the whole family to use as a gathering room. As the days get warmer, they move to the sunroom to look out over the backyard and watch the birds. During the summer months, the wide front porch becomes a favorite place.

Gray further recounts his learned history: Jaeger was one of the leading figures in the business life of Columbus in the early to mid-1900s. In 1905 he designed and built the first concrete mixing machine. In the 1980s the house became a church called “The House of God, Which is the Church of Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth Without Controversy.”

The Grays appreciate the dwelling itself, but the domestic love affair includes the intangible. The stories of the people who inhabit the home over time are passed down through the years, an inheritance of recognition.

On a wooden table sit multiple small picture frames. Some of the old photos look like they could have come with the house.

“All the pictures are of family members,” Gray explains “Some gone now, of course… the boys smoking cigarettes or pipes [are] my grandfather and his brothers. The picture was not staged, as my grandfather started smoking unfiltered cigarettes at 13, smoked his whole life and lived into his ’80s, his younger brothers smoked even earlier and lived longer —that is not a recommendation, just a fact. I find that picture amusing as I look at four boys ages 10-15, smoking as if it is the most normal thing in the world. Can you imagine that today?”

Gray adds his stories to the collective memory of the house, caring for a property in the present, but looking always back into the home’s past.

Michael Herman633 Linwood Ave.

Michael Herman’s house on Linwood was built at the turn of the century by Charles Schneider. Schneider built many homes in the Columbus area, owing to what was likely the perk of having a brother who owned a brick factory near what is now 5th Avenue. Herman bought the house in 1985, and has been working on his Zen ever since.

The Thai meditation garden is a quiet place in the back of the property, nestled next to the carriage house. The focal point is the flowering Dogwood tree and Buddha head on top of a terracotta base, added when the pool was installed in 2009.

The lush South Garden is dominated by Japanese-style plantings which include Japanese maple, a Bonsai Jade (which is a houseplant that winters over inside the house), a bed of Pachysandra, a large Creeping juniper that drapes over the water feature, a Japanese Umbrella Pine, and a small moss garden. Crawling up the walls of the Carriage House is a large Climbing hydrangea and two weeping Larch trees. The one-piece fiberglass pool was installed in 2009. It only took a weekend to dig the hole, install the pool and construct the concrete deck.

Out back stands an oak gazebo structure that was built in 1906, along with the house. Its original use was as a lath house where clean wet clothes were hung to air dry. The dowel holes for the hanging rods can still be seen today.

The biggest challenge Herman faced was amending the clay Columbus soil to accommodate some of the more acid loving plantings, and also the challenge of adequate sunlight with all of the tall buildings and trees that put much of the garden in shade. Outside, near the pool, Herman replaces bits of his moss garden, flung aside by bug-hunting robins. His fastidious care of the garden and property ensures that this historic home will be preserved well into the future.

Pam Waclawski & Brandon Wilburn • 1200 Livingston Ave.

Perched on a grassy hill, with its red door, moss-colored shutters, and Greek-inspired pillars, 1200 Livingston Ave. has welcomed 12 homeowners, including current owner Pam Waclawski, who has maintained the original character while adding her own splash of individuality.

Twelve is a relatively low number, considering it was built in 1854. The list of owners includes Harry D. Shephard, who was vice president of Columbus Driving Club and lost the house in a game of poker; Dr. Edgar Allen Fry who used the lower level of the house for his physician’s practice; and the previous owner, Thomas Glass, who had a great understanding of the house’s historical significance. He was a major part in restoring the home’s woodwork, including the double staircase. Before his passing he made major contributions to the content of a book published by the Neighborhood Design Center: “The Caroline Brown Home and the History of the Streetcar  District.” Anyone that had met him will tell you that he was extremely passionate about the history of the home and surrounding area.

None of the owners were more memorable than the house’s namesake, Caroline Brown.

This house served a meaningful purpose for Brown, an emancipated slave, and many others, as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Legend has it that there is a tunnel located in a closet in the basement that has been cemented over. There are stories of Glass entering the tunnel with his father, only to go so far. He cemented it over because structurally, the tunnel was collapsing. There’s no hard evidence that this is the location of the clandestine entrance. But a telltale area of concrete in an otherwise meticulously finished basement alludes to a truth behind the storied  location of the tunnel. Given that Waclawski has been in the home for less than a year, opening up a secret  passage hasn’t been at the top of the priority list, but she can’t say her curiosity won’t get the best of her in the future.

Waclawski may tend to the secret tunnel some day, but so far, her time has been spent on the soft details of the home. Glass was the proprietor of a drapery business and, in Waclawski’s opinion, had fantastic taste. The items decorating the house are unique—some selected by her, some left behind by the creative former owner.

It’s mostly about letting the house and each room dictate what belongs, Waclawski said.

“Each room has its own personality and we’ve tried to remain true to that. We peruse multiple sources to selectively choose what we feel would fit the house.”

The combined taste of and then and now combine for a home unlike any other. To date, it’s the finest compliment they’ve received.

“Someone once told us, ‘This is a house that you wouldn’t find anywhere else filled with things you wouldn’t find anywhere else.’”

Just like there isn’t anywhere else quite like Old Oaks.

For more info about the area, visit oldoaks.us.

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Home & Garden

This Old House: Local organizations strive to preserve beauty of historic Columbus homes

Laura Dachenbach

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The charm of old houses. The fear of old houses. Italianate or Queen Anne or American Foursquare, they are undoubtedly beautiful. But what are you getting yourself into? An endless project? A money pit? Renovations are never as easy as HGTV makes them look. But is owning one of these architectural masterpieces really out of your reach?

If you’ve ever thought about owning an older or historic home, the resources of the Home Preservation Program, part of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, can help you learn to restore and preserve the architectural beauty of an older home, not only for your own enjoyment, but to create a historic legacy for years to come.

The slightly over three-year-old program, a free service, was started by the city of Columbus, but has since received additional sources of funding to help its mission. The program has made 182 site visits for individual homeowners.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

“We’re not selling anything,” said Susan Keeny, director of the Home Preservation Program and an architect by training. “We want to go out and help people with their decision-making when they renovate homes. We also have a whole list of contractors that work on older homes so we feel confident that when we give somebody a list ... that those are people who know how to work with old buildings.”

One of the first steps of purchasing an older home is finding a qualified home inspector or structural engineer, and the Home Preservation Program offers a list of such professionals. “If you do get into structural issues, that could be expensive,” said Keeny.

The renovation process can take a while, so Keeny recommends a priority list that will get an owner moved in and stable: electricity, plumbing, and HVAC systems generally need to be brought up to code.

“Tackle the important things first, and every step you make, you’ve added life to your old house.”

Although renovation isn’t a good option for everyone, it shouldn’t be an unnecessarily intimidating choice. Keeny points out that old or new, all homes require care and investment. And sometimes the investment in an older home is less than one might expect.

“You don’t have to throw out old windows. You can repair them,” says Keeny. “If your wood windows are well-repaired, and they’ve got weather- stripping and you combine them with a storm, either inside or out, you get just as much energy efficiency as with an expensive new replacement window.” Keeny added that a replacement window must be replaced in its entirety, while original windows can be repaired a bit at a time, and are likely to last longer.

In fact, any old wood that looks good probably is good, since much of it comes from old-growth forests.

“We don’t have those forests anymore, and that wood has much denser growth rings—it’s allowed to grow longer. So it’s inherently disease-and rot-resistant,” says Keeny.

The Home Preservation Program holds hands-on workshops to help homeowners with projects like window repair. Other popular workshop topics have included masonry repair, porches, and garden design. Homeowners and prospective homeowners observe that many of the features of an older home were made with basic tools, making many projects more manageable than they anticipated.

Eric Fryxell began work on his 100+ year-old home in Woodland Park: “I have long wanted to fix up a neglected old house. This is because I’m fascinated by the past, recycling benefits everyone, and old houses generally are more attractive and well-built than new ones.”

He reclaimed the house from a poorly-done flip. “Fortunately, the flippers were so cheap they did not damage the house. It had gorgeous original unpainted trim, the old ceilings and original walls.”

In the middle of his renovation process, Fryxell met Keeny at a Home Preservation Program presentation, and found the connection invaluable. “Susan was immediately enthusiastic and helpful, soon coming to my house and working on planning the kitchen, which was the next major and overwhelming step. She produced at least half a dozen plans and was most generous with her time,” Fryxell said. “Dozens of times I anticipated our consultations with pleasure, and was always inspired and comforted by them. Susan was more than an architect. She was also a general advisor and psychotherapist through the ups and downs of a long, exciting, and stressful process.”

In addition to repair and maintenance workshops, Columbus Landmarks and the Home Preservation Program holds Saturday workshops to help people research the history of their older homes. Fryxell has found information on the original owner (and likely builder) of his home, as well as others who have resided at the address throughout its history.

Fryxell has been at work for about four years on his home since its original improvements were shoddy, but he doesn’t regret his decision to purchase an older home.

“True, had I known that it would be so long and frustrating, I may not have bought a house that needed so much work. At the same time, I am really enjoying the process,” he said. “It is satisfying to have control over the future of an old house—its quality, and aesthetics. I feel that I saved a beautiful house from the ravages of open concept, granite countertops, gray walls, painted trim, and recessed lighting!”

But the Home Preservation Program doesn’t see just individual houses. It sees an entire piece of Columbus history populated in neighborhoods with older homes, subject to neglect and possible demolition.

“Those are the ones we want to save because when those start going, you don’t get those back,” said Keeny.

To see if the Home Preservation Program can help you, visit columbuslandmarks.org/home-preservation-program.

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Home & Garden

Columbus Cribs: Grove City home combines farmhouse feels, industrial inspo for beautiful blend

Regina Fox

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On a little plot of land by The Pinnacle in Grove City, one local woman has transformed a house into a haven for design, style, and expression for her and her family.

Nicole McCullough, a stay-at-home mom to her two-year-old daughter and one on the way, has always had a creative flare. It took life when she and her husband moved into their new home in The Woods development about a year ago. Now, their home is filled with storied antiques that have been repurposed, cute DIY projects, and unique pieces of interest that combine vintage and industrial for a look all its own. Welcome to Columbus Cribs with @littlehouseinthecity614.

614: What would you call your home style?

NM: I like the country farmhouse style with white tones and vintage pieces, my husband likes the industrial look with darker tones and rustic pieces, so together we create something unique. I don’t really know what style you would call it though. We live in a brand new home and we are slowly but surely trying to create some old charm and character within it.  

614: What are some of your favorite items in your home?

NM: My most favorite piece is my dining room table. I got the table itself at a flea market and then my dad removed the top and put on an old barn door that was from a barn on our property built by my grandpa. My dad had asked and asked my grandpa for that barn door and my grandpa always told him no but then when I asked him he let me have it. Haha, so my dad was a little salty about that deal. 

We added a bench and two accent chairs on each end and I just love the whole look of it and the way it turned out. Our dining room in this house showcases it perfectly. We got an amazing chandelier from Capital Lighting in Polaris, and a cool distressed canvas sign off Etsy from wordsofwisdom. 

Another favorite piece is my chest and mail cubby in my office. I got the chest on sale from Arhaus and the mail cubby was a great find at Elm and Iron!  I had been on a hunt for a mail cubby for quite awhile. I was kicking myself in the butt because I had passed one up once when I wasn’t exactly sure where I could put it and then when I went back for it it was gone. So when I saw this mail cubby one day while browsing Elm and Iron I had to get it and it fits perfectly!! 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BxAkvRtlU4c/

614: Can you tell us some of the places you have found your items, or places you like to shop? 

NM: Local stores I love are Arhaus, Elm and Iron, and The Heritage Square Mall.  I also enjoy going to vintage markets, and such. I just went to the Country Living fair last weekend and had a blast! 

614: What inspires your design style?

NM: I grew up in the country in a log cabin and was surrounded by antiques. Going “pickin” is one of my mom and I’s favorite pass times.  I would say this is where my style started from and it has evolved from there as I got married and combined my husbands style and such.  

614: What do you try to avoid while decorating?

NM: I try to avoid to much clutter!  I tend to like to pile a lot of stuff into a tiny space and it drives my husband crazy. So I will pile a bunch of stuff together and then slowly take away some things until it looks right! I think I redid these shelves a hundred times before I got it right. Sometimes I had it to cluttered and sometimes there wasn’t enough!  I love these shelves though, my husband made them! He is pretty handy and we do a lot of DIY projects.  

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1PQrtznSi6/

614: Any tips for fall/Halloween decorating or transitioning from summer to fall decor? 

NM: I LOVE fall/Halloween decor!! I tend to decorate for fall really early.  It’s like as soon as I burn a pumpkin spice candle I go crazy!! I would say just to find your style and go with it.  Whether that be more subtle or going all out.  I also like to get a little more decor to add to my collectio n each year but I like to go after the holidays when everything is on sale! 

Do you have a sweet Columbus Crib or know someone that does? Let us know at [email protected]

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Home & Garden

Easy Being Green: 3 places to stock up on houseplants

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Your space is your little part of the world. What can you do to make it a little more alive? Plants are an obvious step in this direction, but bad luck and bad experiences can intimidate the new gardener. Fortunately, plant stores and garden centers around Columbus help make greenery more accessible to everyone, ranging from absolute beginners to gardening experts. Here are a few local options to help bring springtime blooms into your living space and gardens.

Stump

Stump is aesthetically designed around the plants it sells. No ceramic creatures sit on the shelves, no butterfly magnets stick to the wall, even the soil is tucked away. The store is just plants in pots, providing inspiration for how the pieces on display could fit within a home.

One of the distinguishing characteristics about Stump is that it focuses on providing one-on-one consultations. Co-owner Brian Kellett says Stump employees like to talk to customers about how much care people are willing to invest in their plants and what their living situation is like. Travel frequency, available space and light, and how many people live in the house can all shape the advice Kellett may give. Even owning pets can be an important piece of information, since no one wants their plant to kill their cat. (Or vice versa.)

“The biggest misconception is it’s not as difficult as you would think,” Kellett said. “There’s certain rules that you kind of play by, like don’t over water.”

Kellett and his wife, Emily, first opened Stump five years ago. While Emily was studying industrial design at the Columbus College of Art and Design, she started doing research on the horticulture industry, and with Brian, was inspired to open a plant store targeting millennials. Brian also studied and later taught at CCAD, and together they applied their artistic background into the aesthetics of the store: a minimalist, greyscale design that showcases the vibrancy of the plants they sell.

Because Stump focuses on houseplants, most of the species it sells are desert and tropical plants. It’s a great starting point for beginning plant parents, says Brian, especially since Stump provides personal service, and the experience can help prepare someone to be more confident in going to a larger garden center.

“It actually works really well because people build up their confidence at Stump and then they’re like, ‘Oh, now I can go to Oakland or Straders and I know what I’m looking at. I know what section of the garden center to look at,’” Brian said.

Check out: stumpplants.com.

Strader's Garden Center

The Strader’s Garden Center on King Avenue is small. Of course, it has all sorts of plants perched from floor to ceiling, including currently the trendy air plants that can grow almost anywhere in a house. But it’s also a treasure trove for quirky yard and house decorations to accompany the greenery, while also providing the tools needed to tend to the plants and keep up with yard work. 

Strader’s Garden Centers is one of the most iconic garden stores in Central Ohio. Jack and Ruth Strader opened the first Strader’s Garden Center more than 60 years ago on King Avenue. Now, it’s grown to eight total locations through Central Ohio, some of which look very different from Stader’s current shop in Grandview.

Along Riverside Drive, near Dublin, Strader’s has an expansive greenhouse with rows and rows of plants, along with a selection of outdoor decor, making it a one-stop shop for all landscaping and gardening needs. They offer fairy gardens and bird houses, along with seasonal plants and flowers to create a garden center with pretty much everything a gardener needs.

Check out: straders.net.

Oakland Nurseries

Taking gardening and landscaping even one step further is Oakland Nurseries, which has wrap-around services and products for everything gardening and landscaping-related. Back in 1940, Gustav and Bertha Reiner founded Oakland Nursery in Columbus, and 10 years later they moved the business to its current Oakland Park Avenue location. The Reiners spent 40 years in their home in the North Linden area, and since they died their house has been transformed into a meeting and education space for green organizations in the area.

With almost 80 years of experience bringing plants into houses, businesses and public spaces around Columbus, Oakland Nurseries has plants for every person and every occasion. 

Inside their garden centers, like one would expect, are seemingly endless variations of flowers, shrubs and trees, including the charming pawpaw tree, which bears America’s largest native edible fruit. This year, Oakland has over 300 varieties and over 10,000 rose plants available, the largest plant selection in Central Ohio. 

But the garden center team provides much more than plants. They also do landscaping, irrigation systems, lighting, streetscapes and holiday decorating. To get people excited and educated about plants, Oakland hosts programs like herbal mixology cocktail classes and “paint and sip” classes where participants make art and drink mimosas. 

So no excuses readers. Get digging. It’s time to plant some roots.

Check out: oaklandnursery.com

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