Home Tour: This gem, nestled among the Mount Lookout trees, might feel more at home in California

There aren't many like it in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- Retired radiologist Alan Chambers' house is a hidden gem -- and that's no cliche.

Situated on a 1.2-acre lot on a no-outlet street, it's tucked into the trees at the end of a tar-and-chip driveway longer than a football field. Not your typical Mount Lookout abode, it looks more like a set of wonky boxes at first glance.

There just aren't that many houses like it in Greater Cincinnati, and that's because its architectural roots are in 1970s California. Perhaps its architect -- Chambers said it was Gerald Foote & Associates -- might have seen something like it while on vacation out West. Or perhaps he saw Jim and Angel break into a few similar houses on "The Rockford Files."

"I like the style of the house," said Chambers, who along with his late wife, Elizabeth, lived in a traditional, salt box-style house in Wyoming for about 20 years while they reared two children. "I know of only one other house in Hyde Park that's close to it."

California Modern houses like Chambers' spun off from the mid-century style of architects and developers like Joseph Eichler, whose 1950s and 1960s houses are prevalent in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas.

California Modern designs feature vertical wood siding, pitched roofs with prominent eaves, vaulted ceilings, light wood trim and hollow doors and lots of large, plate-glass windows to bring nature indoors.

That's what drew Alan and Elizabeth Chambers to the Windisch Avenue property.

"I really enjoy the seclusion of it and the fact that we had so many birds," Chambers said. "My wife and I were bird watchers." They became acquainted with many a deer and the occasional fox as well.

"It was a nice nature show," Chambers said.

The property's numerous tall trees dapple the house with sunshine that rarely shines in directly.

"It's a good place to hang art, because the sun never shines on the paintings," said Chambers, who collected and displayed original art throughout the house.

Chambers' son, Jacksonville, Florida, developer and Wyoming High School graduate Andrew Howe, has been updating and painting his father's 1977 house in order to sell it. The family's furnishings and numerous sculptures created by Howe's artistic mother had been removed when Howe hosted our tour. But professional staging in many of the rooms brought out the house's potential.

The long driveway leads to a parking pad and a two-car garage, which conceals the front door. A covered walkway, whose ceiling connects the garage to the main house, splits the two buildings and ends in a courtyard entrance that was ideal for Elizabeth Chambers to display her sculpture, her son said.

Guests enter through a newly installed glass-paneled door painted in an orange similar to Cherokee Red, the favorite color of Frank Lloyd Wright, who was one of Eichler's inspirations.

The entry hall is a California Modern classic with 8-inch-square, medium-brown tiles, which continue into the kitchen to the left and down the hall to the powder room to the right. Follow the tiles through the kitchen and butler's pantry to the dining room, where they surround a hardwood floor for the table. Then the tile floor connects to a path that circles into the carpeted living room to the floating staircase and back to the kitchen.

New appliances are going into the kitchen, which features five tall and two clerestory windows, creamy white cabinets, ceramic-tile countertops, a hooded central island, a vaulted breakfast nook and a door to the spacious side deck. You know you're in a 1970s kitchen when the microwave has its own built-in shelf.

The first-floor's showplace is the living room, with its 15-foot-high corner windows, sliding door to an elevated, V-angled deck and vault that towers to 25 feet. The design flow from the other room is guaranteed by the L-shaped fireplace's surround, mantel and hearth. They're made of the same vintage tile that's on the floors.

Seamlessly added to the original first floor in 2003 is the house's second master suite, which guarantees first-floor living to its future residents. The suite is located at the front of the house down the powder room hall, just past the laundry room.

It features three large west-facing windows, multiple built-in shelving units and a 9-by-12-foot walk-in closet with eight wide slots for a substantial shoe collection. A window made of 12 glass blocks that were popular in the mid-century lights a double vanity located between the bedroom and full bathroom.

The upstairs bedrooms -- there's a bonus room in the basement -- include a sunny, second master suite separated from a balcony office by a 6½-foot wall that doubles as a headboard.

"It's like a guest suite or a mother-in-law room," Howe said. "When you have guests, they can stay there and feel like they have their own place."

Howe said he glassed in the balcony years ago so his father could sleep or work undisturbed by his wife when she was sculpting in the kitchen.

"She kept waking Dad up by pounding on rocks," Howe recalled.

Now that the interior painting has been completed, Howe said he'll be putting his father's California Modern house up for sale soon. The asking price will be $895,000.

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