INDIAN HILL, Ohio -- Just about any writer would envision a book after touring the Indian Hill chateau of Stan Chesley and Susan Dlott. Several of its first-floor spaces -- the kitchen, the hearth room/solarium, the master-bedroom suite -- merit their own chapters.
A book would make quite a keepsake for retired trial lawyer Chesley and U.S. District Court Judge Dlott to take away when they sell their 21,000-square-foot mansion on Camargo Road -- the asking price is $7.999 million -- and move into a smaller ranch-style house.
Given the format of our WCPO.com Home Tour series, however, we can’t provide a book. But we can offer the following CliffsNotes-ish version instead.
Chesley and Dlott's home was not built for them, although they are the only ones who have lived in it. Former Cincinnati bank executive Allen Davis, contractor Gary Hall and architect Brad Roush designed and built the house over a four-year period beginning in 2000. They culled Europe and the United States for the best materials -- old and new -- and hired skilled craftsmen to strive for perfection in creating Old World details at every turn. The project cost $12 million, according to listing real estate agent Julie Back of Sibcy Cline.
What Davis, Hall and Roush achieved is stunning and just what Chesley and Dlott were looking for in 2006 when they decided to move out of what had been his home in Amberley Village, Back said.
"It's a very livable house, not overly pretentious," she said. "The flow is correct, the living spaces work. It's a great house for entertaining, and the grounds are gorgeous. It's also meticulously maintained and located in the premier part of the village."
Dlott said the first time she laid eyes on the place she loved that it was so remarkable and move-in ready. It had more than enough space to handle visits by their family, which includes six of his grandchildren, and the political fundraising and YMCA events they host. For Dlott, the deciding factors to lay down $8 million for the house were its interior architecture and finishes.
"The woodwork in this house ... every single ceiling is different, every single floor is different. Who builds walls of plaster like this anymore?" Dlott said before leading us on a one-hour tour of the five-bedroom, four-full bathroom and four-powder room house.
The details Dlott fell for are decidedly French: faux-painted, neutral-colored walls, window frames and trim; whitewashed and carved, vertegris-colored wood cabinets; built-in cupboards; hand-scraped, solid wood doors with Old World hardware; exposed antique wood beams; vaulted and coffered ceilings; massive iron chandeliers and dramatic wall sconces; hardwood and patterned limestone floors, etc. Those materials and surfaces carry outdoors, as well, to the whitewashed brick exterior and eight-dormer roof made of antique slate salvaged from two churches in New York.
Modern conveniences such as computerized heating, cooling and audio controls on the wall in most main rooms, a house-wide loudspeaker system, an exercise room, a 1,000-bottle temperature-controlled wine cellar and an eight-seat TV room spread even more icing on the cake. The theater, which features a kitchenette and popcorn maker and is elevated with two sets of steps guarded by a curved, spindled rail, isn't used much anymore, Dlott said. But Chesley's grandchildren held many a sleepover in front of the 6-by-4-foot screen back in the day.
"A lot of the kids, they'd sleep down here," Dlott said. "That 's why we have so many pillows and blankets out."
The couple loved the house from the beginning and saw only a few ways to improve their five-acre property, which backs up to a 300-acre greenbelt. They added a swimming pool, pool house and hot tub, linked two four-car garages with an entertainment room and converted what was planned to be a billiards room into a music room. When done, Chesley and Dlott had spent an additional $3 million, Back said.
And, of course, they decorated.
Dlott, much of whose collection of artwork features images of her beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, hired Kim Frank of House of France in Oakley to blend their own furniture and decorative items with new pieces needed to fill in the many blanks. Frank selected French-style furniture mostly from sources in High Point, N.C., as well as large, made-to order Savonnerie area rugs from New York. The couple and Frank also visited a warehouse in Texas, where they picked out 80 Oriental rugs for the house.
The finished house and the $7.999 million price tag, Back said, would "blow away" people on the East and West coasts.
Dlott, who has hosted many famous Americans over the years, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, recalled a remark made by Ron Lauder, who is a New York businessman, diplomat and the son of cosmetics mogul Estee Lauder, when he visited their house: "Ron told me, 'I can't believe I'm in Cincinnati, Ohio. My place on Park Avenue isn't this nice.'"
Take the tour
The three-level house is designed for single-floor living. Most first-floor rooms are located off a central hallway with an attached garage and second-floor apartment at one end and the master-suite at the other. In between, wide openings, some with quoined brick trim, connect the living spaces: living room, music room, kitchen, study, dining room, hearth room/solarium, recreation room, etc. Each end features a laundry room, and there are two strategically placed powder rooms for guests.
The couple did change the intended use of several rooms. They turned what was to be a billiards room into a music room. They moved a masculine light fixture that would have hung above the pool table into a wood-paneled study and made it Chesley's office, and brought in a friend's Steinway piano that needed a temporary home.
"For a long while," Dlott said, "it was the only piece of furniture in the room."
They also closed in a line of three cabinets where there were to be TV sets so "the men could watch three games at a time," she said.
The room every guest of Chesley and Dlott will see is the 30-by-26-foot kitchen located to the left and two steps up from the 500-square-foot entry hall. Leading to the kitchen is a food-preparation room, which features a porthole window, two deep pantry closets, ample counter space, a sink and an intricately carved wood arch that matches and connects to cabinets in the kitchen.
In the center of the limestone-tiled kitchen sits a two-level, granite- and patterned-tile island with a round sink, pop-up television and bar seating for three. A six-burner Thermador range is tucked into an alcove opposite the food-prep room under a custom-carved exhaust hood, and whitewashed cabinets with a farmhouse sink run underneath three large windows that face the front of the property.
Woodwork details dominate the kitchen. A carved cabinet stained to resemble verdigris-colored copper floats in one corner and a five-sided pedestal supports the island's wood-topped bar. Dark wood doors camouflage an extra-wide refrigerator-freezer, and antique wood beams surround a 20-light iron chandelier. A three-foot-thick, brick-line archway leads out of the kitchen into the breakfast room.
The hearth room/solarium
The house's numerous chandeliers are impressive, but Dlott's favorite is the massive iron leaf-motif and wood chandelier that hangs from the hearth room's vaulted and beamed ceiling. The room features a stone fireplace surround and is wide open to a solarium off the back of the house that's framed in faux-painted, cream-colored mahogany. Combined, the rooms have accommodated a sit-down dinner for 60, Dlott said.
The five-sided solarium provides a view of the greenbelt and swimming pool but no neighboring houses. It best shows off why the property's location is one of the finest in Indian Hill, Realtor Back said. Since some of its windows open, it brings the outdoors in more than the average solarium.
The master-bedroom suite
This end of the house, which is as large as many modest homes in Cincinnati, is where Dlott says she spends a great deal of her time. It is made up of four spaces: bedroom, sitting room, bathroom and closet/dressing room.
Dlott said it was France who suggested Chesley and Dlott place their canopy bed not against the wall facing a window and the swimming pool, but more in the middle of the room, where it separates the adjacent sitting room and faces the fireplace.
"We use it all the time," Dlott said of the fireplace, which is one of six in the house. "We like to turn the fire on at night."
The adjacent sitting room lights up with sunshine day-round and is a favorite place for Dlott to do her needlework. Through a door in the room is a bathroom, which she said is perfect for two people like them who are not used to sharing. Chesley and Dlott have their own vanities and sinks at opposite sides of the spacious room, as well as their own toilets. A soaking tub occupies an alcove with windows facing the greenbelt, and the tiled shower with bench now features the steam system that Chesley had to have.
The couple's closet/dressing room merits a "to die for" tag. Two large built-in storage units face each other in the middle of the room, which, except where there are windows, is lined with storage cabinets, including one bank for Chesley's sweater collection that features glass doors. Around the back is a space just for Dlott: a makeup station equipped with natural light from a north-facing window and vanity top mirror lights.
Making life even more comfortable for the couple is a private staircase in the suit that leads to their lower-level exercise room and a bonus room, where they hang their more formal clothes and shelve their shoes.
Their next move
Dlott said the couple wants to move to a ranch house that’s not too far from Downtown, where they maintain offices. That could mean they move back to Amberley Village, where architecturally attractive ranch homes are aplenty.
Wherever they land, Dlott said, they’ll have to part with many of their possessions and are considering hiring online auctioneers Everything But the House.