CINCINNATI -- The stars aligned in November to inspire Josh Jansen and Lauren Farquhar to put some finishing touches on the interior of the 1865 Over-the-Rhine Italianate they've been renovating for seven years.
As Thanksgiving dinner hosts, they hustled to refinish and reupholster a set of eight antique oak chairs to place around Jansen's great-grandfather's quarter-sawn oak dining room table. As hosts of Future Leaders of OTR's third annual Holiday Home Tour on Dec. 10, they completed touch-up and clean-up jobs that made the rest of the house eye candy for the estimated hundreds who will come to see it.
It has been a long haul for the young couple -- he's from Delhi Township, she's from Kansas -- who met in 2008 and married in 2013. The Victorian house on Fourteenth Street -- built when nearby Washington Park was a cemetery and 12 years before Music Hall construction started -- has been at the center of their lives for eight years and the catalyst for the creation of another partnership, their entrepreneurial remodeling business, Storied Homes.
Jansen bought the shotgun-style house, which was first occupied for several years by tobacconist Heinrich Otten and his family, after a long search with a real-estate agent. He admits his timing was fortuitous.
Property value spikes
"I bought it in 2008, when the market was at the bottom," said Jansen, who is a Xavier University graduate. "I really didn't know what the OTR market was going to be like."
The $195,000 the couple spent -- to reconfigure stairs, expose bricks, resurface walls, paint, upgrade air-conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, etc. -- on the 2½-story, 2,500-square foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom house has turned out to be money well spent as the value of OTR properties has skyrocketed since then. The housing website Zillow estimates Jansen and Farquhar's home to be worth more than $300,000, with an increase of more than $30,000 coming in the last month alone.
That equity growth, however, doesn't mean the couple is ready to cash in and sell.
"Between the sweat equity and how much money we put into it, this is our house now," Jansen said." It would be hard to sell it as simply a business decision."
Jansen had some construction skills he had picked up from his pipe-fitter father, but otherwise was an inexperienced remodeler in the beginning. Farquhar, who earned her degree in interior design from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, knew her way around buildings and had years of experience working in commercial design in New York.
Jansen was first to move into the home, which was a two-family at the time. He lived on the second floor, where there was a working kitchen (now the master bathroom). He recalls the first stages of the project setting a tone that eventually led to them hiring a contractor to finish the job.
"I had some friends help with the demo, and from all the decades of soot build-up, we all looked awful when we were done," Jansen said. "We had to take showers right away."
Another wake-up call came when he discovered while working around a ceiling light fixture that original gas lines, though not used for years, were intact and live. He sealed them with a new nipple.
"When I was done, I turned the gas back on and could smell it. I turned that off real fast," he said.
Redoing the back patio in 2013 was a landmark project. Jansen said he finished it on Farquhar's birthday and proposed to her the next day. They married in Kansas City’s 1914 Union Station and proudly display a photograph of the wedding party in their dining room at the front of the house.
The couple designed and constructed a new kitchen "from floor to ceiling," Farquhar said. That room, a laundry/mud room, and a full bathroom fill space in the back of the house that was added decades ago on top of a concrete slab, not a stone foundation like the rest of the house. Its electrical and plumbing systems had to be replaced, although, the couple saved as many of the old radiant heaters as they could, as they did throughout the house.
The new kitchen features a gray-and-white color scheme Farquhar carried throughout the renovation. New are reclaimed Douglas fir floor boards, IKEA cabinets with green milk-glass knobs and metal bin pulls, stainless-steel appliances, marble subway backsplash tiles and a butcher block-topped island over which hang two brass pendant lights like those used in early 20th-century general stores.
The dozens of after-work and weekend hours they spent assembling the cabinets took a toll on the novice do-it-yourselfers. They had learned a lot but knew that many big jobs lay ahead -- one bathroom to create from scratch and two to remodel, in particular.
"Once we were done with that project, we were tired," Jansen said. "It was time to hire a professional contractor to finish it up."
Had they continued on their own, Farquhar said, "it would have taken us another eight years."
Once their contractor completed the plan Jansen and Farquhar designed for the rest of the house, they set out to buy furnishings and artwork, which are a blend of antique, vintage and contemporary. They repurposed two bathtubs that came with the house, brought in family heirlooms and shopped online and at local antiques markets for matching decor.
The best bargain they got, Farquhar said, was an early 20th-century mirror for the downstairs bathroom she bought for $9 on the online auction website Everything but the House.
"I was the only person to bid on it and I was just thrilled," she said.
Farquhar is also proud of a piece of artwork she displays above the laundry cabinet Jansen constructed around the corner from that bathroom in the laundry/mud room. Across from a brick wall on which the couple hangs their bicycles is a framed cloth bag from Elite Laundry & Dry Cleaners in Laramie, Wyoming, where her grandfather worked while he was in college.
Those who take the Dec. 10 tour will see a lot more than what’s described here, and they might notice that a few small projects are unfinished, but that’s how old houses are, the couple said.
Home Tour information
Future Leaders of OTR's third annual Holiday Home Tour is a self-guided, walking affair scheduled for 3-9 p.m. on Dec. 10. Jansen and Farquhar's Italianate is one of six never-before-seen homes and two churches on the tour.
Tickets are $25 and can be reserved at americanlegacytours.com.
Anyone interested can pick up a guide to the 90-minute tour at the host agency’s office, which is across from Washington Park at 1212 Race St.