Home Tour: Chip Dennig's great-grandparents would be proud of this OTR house

First Dennigs lived 4 blocks away 130 years ago
Home Tour: Chip Dennig's great-grandparents would be proud of this OTR house
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-16 05:00:00-05

CINCINNATI -- Moving into their outside-old and inside-new house on Republic Street in September has rooted longtime suburbanites Chip and DeDe Dennig in a place the first Cincinnati Dennigs called home more than 130 years ago: Over-the-Rhine. 

It's doubtful, however, that their certified LEED Gold digs look anything like those in which Chip's great-grandparents, German-born tailor Bernhard Dennig and his wife, Anna, lived four blocks away at Elm and Elder streets back when Republic was Bremen Street.

The Dennigs' story is one of realization, discovery and persistence. The 36-years-married couple reared three grown children in a two-story brick house on a big, beautifully landscaped lot in Anderson Township for 22 years. They loved their neighbors, and having an elementary school behind their backyard was ideal, DeDe said.

Both worked Downtown -- he as an accountant, she as administrative coordinator for the Marvin Lewis Fund -- and the dedicated foodies loved everything about it. Their favorite restaurants were there: Boca, Sotto, Abigail Street and, before those, Local 1207. When they realized how many trips they were making back and forth between Downtown and Anderson, as well as how much they were drawn to urban living, they contemplated moving.

Chip, who is a Moeller High School and Thomas More College graduate, agreed with DeDe (Middletown High and Thomas More, where they met) that he wanted to live in a walking neighborhood. They wanted energy efficiency and minimal landscaping to groom.

 "We also wanted to redo a house," Chip said. "When we watch TV, we watch mostly those fixer-upper shows," many of which feature old city houses.

At first, however, they house-hunted in suburban-like neighborhoods such as Oakley, Hyde Park and Mount Lookout before inking a tired-looking 3CDC property just south of Liberty Street on Republic. Their discovery launched an aggressive remodel that didn't go so smoothly at first.

Demolition of what is now a 3-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot home started in December 2015. But the project proved to be a struggle and stalled out. The Dennigs decided to switch builders and called in old friend Michael Collins of Construction Process Solutions "to be the quarterback who gets the job done," DeDe said.

"We were in the weeds," Chip said. "We needed someone to help us finish up this house."

Two other key players in their project of persistence, the couple said, were New Republic Architecture principal Graham Kalbli and builder Michael Runck of AGR Construction, who came on in May 2017 and had the Dennigs in their home by October. 

The experienced team worked closely with the Dennigs on layout and materials, which feature a central staircase from the cellar party room to the vaulted and beamed fourth-floor and back deck and reclaimed architectural pieces such as a stained-glass window from Old St. George Church and thick beams from an early 1900s Downtown building.

Also on Team Dennig was designer Rena McAlister of Hyde Park Lumber whose stamp on the kitchen is modern but blends with the exposed brick, stone and salvaged wood in the house.

The Dennigs chose new Rookwood Pottery tile for their backsplash, DuraSupreme cabinets from Hyde Park Lumber, pickled hardwood floors from Floor & Decor and an iron and oak staircase by Cincinnati Stair.

Choosing local sources contributed to the home's LEED certification and tax abatement, a process that is outlined here in detail by green energy and building specialist Church Lohre.

The cellar

The Dennigs have one of the coolest -- in terms of style, not temperature -- basements ever featured in our 3 1/2-year-old Home Tour series (that's more than 175 houses!). 

"When we first looked at the building, it was scary as hell down here," said Chip, as we sat at their Amish-style dining table made of Iowa cherry at Keim Family Market in Adams County. 

"But when you looked at the stone, you could see the potential ... and these 160-year-old joists," he said, gesturing to the unusual 8-foot-high cellar ceiling.

The cellar came with a new concrete floor and several awkward posts, but its original stone foundation -- including two large arched coves that may have been used for root storage, Chip said -- required a great deal of tuck-pointing. They wrapped the posts in wood to disguise their presence.

The main part of the cellar is lighted by modern Edison bulb sconces that barely illuminate tiny treasures that DeDe tucked into the stone walls: a beatnik, a pink elephant, a wooden mouse and a ceramic unicorn. The character continues in the corner cove, where the Dennigs store their wine in an industrial wooden rack Chip constructed out of original stair stringers that had to be replaced. 

The second cellar space features a powder room, a live-edge walnut island made by Algin Furniture's Urban Timber Workshop and reproduction tractor-seat stools DeDe picked out online.

The star of the space is Chip's bar. It features two floating liquor shelves made from wood salvaged from the aforementioned Downtown building (there are more of these upstairs), a small TV, a sink, an apartment refrigerator and a beer tap that during our visit was stocked with suds from nearby Rhinegeist and West Sixth Brewing of Lexington.

We didn't ask Chip if he got LEED points for regionally sourced beer, but we did ask if they had hosted a party in their cellar yet.

Yes, DeDe said, for 22 of her co-workers, including Marvin Lewis, whose present to them was a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne that's displayed on the first shelf of their wine rack.

"It was a little cozy but fun," she said.

The master

The Dennigs' master suites takes up the entire second floor. Three large windows in the bedroom overlook Republic Street, and there is exposed metal ductwork overhead as well as an exposed-brick fireplace and chimney. A hallway leads past a wall of IKEA-doored storage space to a walk-in closet with a white barn door, a stacked washer and dryer and a bathroom with windows to the back alley.

The blueish gray-and-white colored room features a new clawfoot soaking tub the couple bought at Signature Hardware, as well as a large glassed-in shower. DeDe said she loves both but is also fond of the compact laundry set-up in the suite.

"It's a great space saver and pretty convenient to the bedroom," she said. "Though, if I still had kids, I don't know what I'd do."

Bring on spring

Many new builds and remodels in Over-the-Rhine take advantage of their flat roofs and feature spacious decks. The Dennigs are no exception, but they haven't been able to take advantage of theirs very much yet.

"We'll spend time up here when the weather gets warmer," DeDe said. Chip is looking forward to spring as well.

"I love coming up here in the evening when I can look out and see all the church steeples," he said of the west-facing deck. "When the sun goes down, the sky is all pink, and it's awesome up here."