CINCINNATI -- Over-the-Rhine hair salon owner Jim Brofft won’t forget the many parties he threw in his 85-year-old North Avondale Tudor Revival home. But he’s ready to put them behind him and find a buyer who appreciates all the work he has put into the house.
“This place had trees growing out of the gutters and lots of water seepage,” said Brofft, who grew up in East Price Hill and is an Elder High School graduate.
But when friend and Realtor Mike Sweeney showed Brofft the corner house at the entrance to the Avon Hills subdivision on Mitchell Avenue in 1995, he was smitten. Brofft bought it on April Fool’s Day in 1995 for $85,500.
“Mike said ‘Have I got a house for you!’ I walked in and said, ‘You mean I can afford this?’” Brofft said. “I had visions of grandeur.”
Shoring things up
The house’s bones were awesome. The three-bedroom, three-bathroom house retained its original woodwork and plenty of old hardware, as well as arched Tudor doorways and thick walls with cake frosting textured stucco. The vaulted and wood-beamed living room with its iron-railed balcony was a showstopper.
But like most old Tudor Revivals, it was compartmentalized, and it had a huge attic with unrealized potential – not quite the party place Brofft envisioned. And like any other house that had been neglected and damaged by water, its roof and insulation had to be replaced, gutters repaired, walls shored up and plaster fixed before any changes could be made to the interior.
Brofft made those and other improvements to the property in the first seven years, but wasn’t satisfied.
“It was a big house to begin with, but I just had to add 800 square feet and a three-car garage,” Brofft said, chuckling. The result would be an old/new house with 3,630 square feet of living space.
'A sensitive addition'
His plan to eliminate a bedroom and bump the house out over a new three-car garage, opening up and redoing the entire kitchen was a “sensitive addition,” a term used by the National Park Service, which administrates the National Registration of Historic Places.
According to the website of Brofft’s Realtor Adam Sanregret, the National Park Service outlines these main points to ensure a successful sensitive addition:
- Preserve historic integrity of the property.
- Preserve the its historical significance by making visual distinctions between old and new.
- Preserve significant materials and features.
Brofft intended to preserve his Tudor’s historical qualities and materials and add on in a distinctively modern style that blended with the old.
To that end, Broftt’s builder knocked out non-load bearing walls to open up the 12-foot by 19-foot kitchen, crafted an 18-foot by 14-foot breakfast nook in what is essentially the same space, and placed a 16-foot by 28-foot family room and 14-foot by 28-foot solarium over the new garage and old garage (now storage space).
Brofft learned how to tile to save money when he remodeled all the bathrooms and added a new one in the attic, which he planned to make his master bedroom suite.
The house’s windows were old and leaky and the huge basement, finished with a full bath and “catering" kitchen, needed upgrading, too.
And, oh yeah, he just had to dig up and replant the sloped front yard, remove a crumbling stone retaining wall out back and build a new one 20-feet further out, construct a stone walkway up to the front door and bump out the curved front porch by five feet.
When the party ends
When the work was done, Brofft had the two-floor party palace of his dreams. And that’s what the house became for many years.
The air-tight basement – most of the windows are glass block – became the music room where at many parties longtime Cincinnati band the Wolverton Brothers would play. Upstairs, a DJ would spin records and Brofft’s party crowd would spill out onto the front porch.
Those are bygone days, Brofft said, and he’s ready to downsize into new digs that require less maintenance.
Take the tour
Guests can enter the house through the original curve-top front door or a side door off the garage that leads to the family room. Those that come in the front will pass a stone wall and climb a handful of steps the City of Cincinnati installed in 2002 when it lowered the old “pony path” sidewalk on the Red Bud Avenue side of the house.
Broftt’s stone path splits a yard that slopes dramatically to Mitchell Avenue and was landscaped by Brofft with a lot of redbud and locust trees, ditch lilies, irises, ivy and grass.
“Every tree out there, I planted every one, every single one,” Brofft said. “I planted a lot of redbuds. I thought: ‘It’s on Red Bud,’ so why not?’ ”
The front walkway bends to the right at the imposing porch and its 4-foot-tall iron railing. Through the old front door is a 12-foot by 16-foot entry hall that features its original period chandelier and door hardware.
Straight ahead are two large bedrooms and a bathroom with a surprising feature: an original 6-foot long bathtub sunk to floor level that Brofft wrapped in glass and white marble walls. The same marble covers the floor and rises to wainscoting level in the light yellow room.
To the left of the entry hall and through a new Tudor-inspired arch are the kitchen and bay-windowed breakfast nook. Brofft had new oak floors put down in the room as well as the adjacent family room and solarium.
Custom distressed and glazed cabinetry by Cincinnati woodworker Sean Druley hang above the sink. In the middle of the room is a food preparation and cooking area attached to a half-moon butcher-block topped island.
The 388-square-foot family room in the new wing of the house features a wide bay window with seat beneath another Tudor-like arch. Two arched cutouts in the far wall open up into a 360-square foot room Brofft calls his “orangery.”
A friend gave the solarium its fancy name after seeing similar rooms in old Parisian houses in which oranges are grown, Brofft said.
The solarium has a wood-framed, 15-pane window and oak floor with inlaid walnut rectangle in the center. French doors lead to a long patio with cream and brown checkerboard tile and tongue-and-groove beadboard ceiling. The patio faces a new retaining wall and backyard hill that Brofft landscaped and fenced in completely.
Left relatively untouched is the 195-square-foot formal dining room, which has doors that lead to the patio, kitchen and family room and an arched pass-through that’s above the kitchen sink on the other side.
For continuity’s sake, Brofft chose to paint the dining room walls the same Oriental Silk Yellow he used in the kitchen, family room and solarium.
On the other side of the house is a third bedroom suite and the showcase living room. Brofft added two skylights, took out an old Mission fireplace and repainted its shadow on the wall to match the rest of the room. He put in a modern fireplace and surround and laid the travertine tile hearth himself.
Despite the changes, the room retains its vintage appeal with its dark brown beams, vaulted ceiling, curved window at the vault’s peak, 1930 chandelier and matching wall sconces and that striking mezzanine balcony.
An oak stairwell leads to the balcony, and at its end is another arched door that opens to the old attic – now the house’s fourth bedroom. This space was completely redone at the advice of his contractor, Brofft said.
The house-wide room features a new skylight over the bed, three pocket shelving in the walls and two closets with louvred wooden doors.
The drama, however, occurs in the bathroom, a mustard and black themed space that Brofft said he fears might be a little outdated. Still, he said he’s proud of the tiling he did.
He shopped around for inexpensive materials and ended up paying just 99 cents per square foot for the bathroom tile at Mees Distributors in Northside and an outlet in Dayton.
Brofft artistically fashioned a raised, five-sided platform around an oversize tub and brightened the room with another skylight. He tucked a vaulted, walk-in shower at the end of the bathroom in a dormer that faces Mitchell Avenue.
Brofft’s work on the Avon Hills house has taken so long he swapped out most of the windows twice. He had to hire out much of it, but got to express himself by designing the remodel and learned from the whole experience.
“I learned how to tile,” Brofft exclaimed. “Not everything is square, but oh well. The house is solid.”
This is part of the series, called Home Tour, where WCPO contributor Brent Coleman opens the front door to historic, unique, luxurious or just darned interesting homes in the Tri-State. Join him on the tour every Friday.