Home Tour: We may never know who built this house, but we know who lovingly restored it

Owner and previous owner form lasting bond

CINCINNATI -- If you're like most people, your seller vanished after you got the keys to your new home.

Realtor-buyer Kim Williams and financial planner-seller Jahn Gazder are an exception to this rule.

Williams bought a beautifully preserved, 1901 four-square house in Oakley from Gazder in 2011, and the pair have been bonded ever since, so much so that Williams insisted Gazder help lead us on a tour of her home.

Gazder, it turns out, still loves the 4-bedroom, 2½-bathroom place that he and his wife, Paula, gave up when single-floor living became imperative for them. His recollections of restoring and remodeling the handsome home poured out during the tour, as did his praise for the family room and garage additions, kitchen modifications and decorating pulled off by single mother Williams.

Likewise, Williams complimented Gazder's work as if they were part of a two-person mutual-admiration society.

Also on our tour was Ruth Himes, whose grandfather, wallpaper salesman Louis M. White, and grandmother, Effie Foreman White, bought the house in 1912. It stayed in the White family for more than 80 years. During our visit, Himes shared her recollections of the hand-pull water pump in the kitchen, the horse barn out back and the fact that her grandparents were the first people on the block to have a telephone and automobile.

That phone, in fact, was somewhat the epicenter of Hyde Park Avenue. When neighbors got their tellies, they had to run their lines through a control panel in the Whites' basement to get service, Gazder said.

The father of Himes, Ralph Foreman White, slept in a third-floor bedroom during his days at Walnut Hills High School, where he was class president as a senior, Himes said. One of Ralph's three sisters, Helen, was vice president at Walnut and lived in the house until her death at age 98.

"I loved this house all my life," said Himes, who spent many a day in it with her Aunt Helen. "I can picture everything so well."

What Himes provided is some pretty good history for a 116-year-old house that didn't belong to well-documented residents. But one mystery remains: Who built it? Our U.S. Census and city directory searches online, Sanborn map studies at the public library, and research conducted by the Hamilton County Recorder's Office came up empty. Who built and who lived in the house during its first dozen years might never be known.

But Williams and Gazder, based on the exotic wood trim in the hallway, living and dining rooms and the fact that the exterior siding is redwood, believe the builder had widespread lumber connections and the money to build great architectural detail into his house. It's possible he was in the construction business.

Original woodwork maintained

Except for the front door, the interior survived the post-World War II whitewashing era in America. The exterior, however, was "green with the best of them," Gazder said, when he and his wife bought it. Cincinnati architect John Senhauser worked with the couple to achieve an early 1900s color palette.

Inside, the Gazders turned much of the three-year-long restoration and remodeling over to contractor Mark Hornbaker of the Acanthus Group in Over-the-Rhine. St. Bernard Plating and Polishing Co. restored or reproduced the house's hardware, including the staircase's floral-patterned brass handrail brackets. The Gazders' concrete driveway and sidewalk projects were completed by Ford Development Corp. of Loveland.

The Gazders gutted and rebuilt the kitchen to modern standards, refinished the wood flooring, reconfigured the second floor to create a master-bedroom suite, split the third-floor attic into two bedrooms and a full bathroom, upgraded the knob and tube wiring, installed new plumbing and heating and air-conditioning systems and replaced the unsalvageable slate roof. Updating the walls, some of which were damaged plaster, was also a big job, Gazder said.

As many as 11 layers of wallpaper -- remember, that was Louis White's business -- had to be stripped carefully. "It was charming for about 10 minutes, until you had to take it off," the New York native joked.

Selling the house, Gazder said, "was very emotional for me. We were very tied to it, and it was important to sell it to someone who loved it almost as much as we did. I didn't want to sell but am glad it went to Lisa."

Enter Lisa Williams

Williams is a Florida native who grew up with mid-century homes but is "just enchanted by the old homes we have here in Cincinnati." She was nine months pregnant with her daughter, Lizzie, and walking her golden retriever in the same Drake subdivision where the Gazders lived when she passed their home, saw a "for sale" sign and fell in love. The house had everything she wanted but a family room and a new garage. The back porch is new, as well.

Enter architect Doug Burkey of RWA in Mount Lookout. The two mapped out an addition that gave Williams, her daughter and their two dogs -- Cavalier King Charles spaniel Lady and Lhasa Apso Clara -- a 450-square-foot hangout room. It has a coved- and floral-patterned ceiling and a new Rookwood fireplace modeled after one in the Cincinnati pottery's 1912 catalog.

The mantel is flanked by custom stained-glass windows that feature the letter W -- for Williams and White -- and pick up the red-rose motif in the tile and existing windows in the living and dining rooms.

"We made them to pop out so I can keep them in the family," Williams said of the new windows, which were crafted by BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studio of Middletown.

Williams had Burkey design a garage at the end of the gated driveway, employing architecture that closely matches the front of the house.

"I wanted to maintain the historical character of the main house," said Williams.

The 2,144-square-foot White-Gazder House -- now the Williams House -- could be Williams' forever home. She has hopes of passing it on to Lizzie so the "W" windows can stay put. She said she is proud of the improvements she made but gave more credit to her tag-team partner, Jahn Gazder.

I could never do what Jahn did," Williams said. "I couldn't have walked into this house and had his patience."

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