Home Tour: The livin' is easy in this four-level LEED-certified house on the Ohio River

Panoramic views of city and water

CINCINNATI -- Bodies of water have been a big deal in the lives of Tom and Flo DeWitt. They grew up around them. They met on one. And now they live on one.

Tom sailed and skied in the Finger Lakes District of Upstate New York as a boy, and Flo, whose front yard was Lake Michigan in northern Indiana, reared their three children around water as well. But that was just a swimming pool in the backyard of their longtime Kenwood home.

The couple, both doctors and married for 42 years, had planned to make their empty nest on Lake Michigan land they own near where they met in Michigan City, Indiana. But because Cincinnati had been their happy home since the mid 1990s, they launched a water-view property search here in 2012.

Ironically, a condominium they passed on in order to build along the north shore of the Ohio River in the East End is visible from the deck of their 2014 home.

The development's model home sold them on the location after they'd visited homes with river views in neighborhoods as far west as East Price Hill and as far south as Bellevue.

"We went to this open house in the model home there on the corner of Riverside Drive," Flo recalled. "Tom had just injured his ankle ... and it had an elevator. It just suddenly made sense to have a house you could age in. We loved looking at the river and said, 'This is it.'"

"There was something about this house: the layout, the sense of peace, the decks with the great panoramic view of the river and the city," Tom said. "And we were able to redesign some parts of the plan."

And the parents of a daughter who works in the solar energy business were able to achieve gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and the 15-year city tax abatement that comes with it.

The 3,600-square-foot home designed by architect Saul Naim and built by Charles Soucek of CFS Homes in 2013-14 is a four-level affair that's decorated throughout with water-themed art and artifacts.

The first floor features front and back entrances, a two-car garage and a bedroom/multipurpose room. Visitors pass a raised, landscaped garden designed by Brandon Druffel of Dan Druffel Inc. that features regional stone and native plants that contributed to the LEED certification.

Through the front door and down the hall is the three-story elevator and a staircase that leads to the second floor, which is gently divided space where the couple live and eat. A wall of glass in the lounge space opens onto a spacious deck above a seldom-used Schmidt Boat Launch parking lot. Beyond that is the river view the DeWitts wanted so badly.

There are three bedrooms on the third floor, including a master suite with an in-wall gas fireplace and a bank of glass windows and a door that faces the river. The master bedroom's open patio includes a partially covered hot tub and a spiral staircase to the fourth-floor party space and its 360-degree view of the neighborhood.

Up to 20 people at a time have gathered at the three tables to watch Friday night and Fourth of July fireworks and boats of all kinds from the Trex-covered, 450-square-foot deck. It takes up the half of the roof not covered with 28 solar panels, which help keep the DeWitts' electric bills low.

"We went from $200-something to $40 a month," Tom said of their bill. "It was fun to learn about LEED, that it's not just about energy efficiency but about where you get your materials -- the distance -- and how they were made."

Some special features

  • The couple's white, gray, black and stainless-steel kitchen features a six-sided, non-geometric island and a long black granite peninsula that seats four.
  • The antique dining room table the DeWitts bought in their "early days" in Ithaca, New York, has a whopping 13 leaves and can seat up to 14 people.
  • A heron -- like those that fly by their house on a regular basis -- that's perched high on their Ohio stone hearth is made of driftwood they collected from the riverbank along with supplemental pieces provided by its maker, northwest Indiana artist Laura Marie Panozzo.
  • The DeWitts not only built for aging in place -- doors are 36 inches wide, light switches are low where possible, the master shower is roll-in style -- they did so with the intent of maximizing the light in the house. South-facing windows in the living room, for example, were raised up from the floor and close to the ceiling so that low furniture in front of them wouldn't block light or the view.
  • The couple moved walls to maximize the efficiency of a first-floor bedroom's bathroom, installing a pocket door that guests can access from the living space on the other side.
  • The ground level features stained concrete floors, raised mechanicals and a water-pump system in its walls as a precaution against flooding. That hasn't happened yet, but the Ohio River has risen high enough for kayakers to paddle right up to the DeWitts' front steps.

Easy and simple

"It's easy to live here and it feels simple," Flo said. "We can shrink and expand as we need to. We just had 10 house guests for a weekend. It can hold all that and feels like you can keep everybody together. It's just great for entertaining."

Tom said he finds entertainment outside the house as well. The couple moors their riverboat at the Ohio River Launch Club a short walk upriver, and they use paths to bicycle to nearby Otto Armleder Memorial Park.

More often, they watch the action on their beloved water, and they do it from multiple levels, even when it's windy on the roof.

"The river color changes, and the water changes from smooth to whitecaps," Tom said. "What's neat here is what you see go by: little motor boats and kayaks."

"And 'wedding cake' riverboats," Flo added.

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