Home Tour: Thinking of remodeling, they scrapped it all for a new certified, energy-efficient house
For Laure Quinlivan, a match made in heaven
Brent Coleman | WCPO contributor
5:00 AM, Dec 30, 2016
CINCINNATI -- It didn't take a long, in-depth investigation for former WCPO-TV reporter Laure Quinlivan and her husband, art teacher Greg Ruthman, to solve their homeownership dilemma. It took a storm.
The Mount Lookout couple were thinking about remodeling their 102-year-old home and had sought inspiration at the 2010 Citirama in Northside when a black rain cloud blew over. Along with dozens of other tourists, they raced for cover in one of the open homes, in their case, a new, certified energy-efficient house built by John Hueber Homes.
"People really filled it up," Ruthman recalled. "I stopped counting them, but there must have been about 30. I said to Laure, 'There are 30 people in this room, and yet it doesn't feel crowded.'"
It was if a light had come on. They had to have this house, and they had to have Hueber build it. For Ruthman and his Peabody Award-winning wife, the investigation was over. It was time to make the story happen.
That story started quickly, as Hueber's team began demolition in the fall.
"They tore down the house just before Thanksgiving, and we were in our brand new home by April," Quinlivan said. "We couldn't believe they built it that fast."
The couple had married in 2004 and three years later welcomed son Quinn. That's when they decided they had outgrown the old, leaky house, which was one of two adjacent homes Quinlivan said had housed servants who'd worked at the nearby Barney Kroger estate. An addition out into their large backyard was the logical solution, they thought.
"We interviewed about four architects and told them we wanted to blow out the kitchen, that we wanted to build a beautiful kitchen," Ruthman said.
But then they experienced the Hueber house.
The attraction was physical, for sure, but intellectual, as well, in that it was certified gold by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program (LEED).
Quinlivan had championed the City of Cincinnati's innovative program that rewarded LEED-certified properties with 15 years of tax abatement. As a city council member in 2012, she led a rewrite of the 2007 program to increase awards based on the level of energy efficiency achieved.
"Cincinnati has the most progressive tax break (for LEED construction) in the country," she said with obvious pride. "Other cities have begun to copy it."
When the tax-abatement incentive was first offered, about 10 percent of new residential and commercial construction in the region was LEED. Quinlivan estimated that figure is up to 90 percent today. She and Ruthman helped boost that number.
Like the Citirama house, their Hueber home is LEED gold. Its green features reduced the couple's energy bills by about half. Those features include three 150-foot-deep wells that fuel the home's geothermal heating and cooling and many locally sourced materials. Other green steps taken toward LEED certification can be seen in the kitchen backsplash, which combines recycled glass subway tiles from Greener Stock in Linwood and Cincinnati-themed accent tiles from Rookwood Pottery in Over-the-Rhine.
Invisibly green is the fact that Hueber Homes created one-eighth the waste produced during traditional home construction, Quinlivan said.
Those who saw the original Citirama house will notice Quinlivan and Ruthman's house doesn't look the same.
The couple wanted the house to look like an old Victorian -- a painted lady like those in San Francisco -- so it would blend into the old Mount Lookout neighborhood. They altered the garage side of the house, eliminating what would have been Ruthman's first garage in years. But that allowed them to extend the porch the width of the house. Colorful eave and porch rail trim gave Quinlivan her painted lady. That facade, and the house's great room, have fooled guests into thinking the house is original.
"People don't expect to walk into a room like this," Ruthman said while standing where the entry hall opens into the great room. "They don't realize it's a new house."
The couple -- he's from Forest Park, she's from Toledo, and both are Miami University graduates who met at a reunion of the school's Luxembourg Chapter alumni group -- spend about 95 percent of their family time in the great room, enjoying its casual seating area, widescreen TV and fireplace.
The far corner of the room, where light streams in from two walls of energy-deflecting and noise-absorbing windows, is Ruthman's place to be.
"This is my favorite seat in the house," he said while perched at the end of an expandable pine farm table they had custom-made in North Carolina. "You don't hear any noise. It's so peaceful. This house is so tight. It's so quiet. I love to sit here and watch all the animals in the yard walk by."
From his seat, Ruthman can gaze out beyond the large deck he designed and had installed in 2016 to a deep yard and a trail that leads out the back and down to the Mount Lookout Swim and Tennis Club. The simple wooden deck, which has no rails and features two right-angle benches in the far corners that are similar to the deck it replaced, is "the last project we have for this house."
Quinlivan, who has been doing yoga for about 25 years, said her favorite place in the house is her yoga room, which she shares with Quinn and his Xbox and electronic keyboard. "Having that room, where you have no excuses not to practice, has made a huge difference. It's a great place to go first thing in the morning," she said.
The couple helped design their kitchen, basing it on one they saw and clipped out of a magazine. It features knotty alder cabinets, white and gray Carrara marble, a central island with seating and a pizza oven-style stove vent. Inspired by a skylight in his parents' West Chester kitchen, Ruthman had Hueber put a round "moonlight" in the middle of the kitchen ceiling to supplement the many LED pot lights.
Interior French doors that let natural light flow through the house lead from the kitchen to the yoga room and from the entry main hall to Quinlivan's office, which could be used as a formal dining room. The first floor also features a bar area with a built-in beverage refrigerator in the great room, a mud room in space that would have been the garage, a powder room off the entry hall and a master-bedroom suite with a sliding glass door to the backyard, a wall of closets, a jet tub, a large glass-enclosed shower, twin pedestal sinks and mirrored medicine cabinets and a storage cabinet that partially hides the toilet. Beyond the bathroom is the couple's walk-in closet.
Two bedrooms, one for Quinn that's built into the facade's gable and features slanted ceilings, flank a Jack-and-Jill bathroom on the second floor.
Ruthman, whose previous home was an old one in Clifton Heights, had never lived in a new house before.
"I like that new car smell," he said. "And another nice thing is I don't have to worry about fixing everything and putting plastic on the windows in the winter. It's so nice not to have to worry about that."
Tour the house
The Southwest Ohio Region chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council will host a tour of the Quinlivan-Ruthman House from 10 a.m. to noon on Jan. 21. It is free for USGBC members; $15 at the door for non-members.
The group will kick off its tour season Jan. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. with a free party at 1333 Pendleton St., a 19th-century home saved from demolition and remodeled by Chris Lacey of A and L Properties.
Email Chuck Lohre to register for these events: firstname.lastname@example.org.