CINCINNATI -- Modestly-sized from the front, but open and large inside, the 1855 Langdon House on Eastern Avenue in Columbia Tusculum offered the perfect palette for an artistic person willing to be its new owner in 2006.
Enter Ran Mullins, a graduate of Walnut Hills High School and the Art Academy of Cincinnati, an entrepreneur, a small business owner and a painter of abstract art who happened to be in search of a cool place to live.
“I like big old, rambling homes, the creaky floors, the plaster, that kind of thing. I knew I didn’t want to live in the suburbs,” said Mullins, who had been in a Downtown loft for seven years prior to buying the Langdon House 10 years ago. “I definitely wanted an airy place, higher ceilings.”
He first saw the Langdon House — a dramatically designed, Gothic Revival home that became Cincinnati’s first private residence listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 — at a dinner party hosted by the previous owners, John H. and Annasue Wilson. While searching for a house with his former wife, Suzanne Beane, he drove past the Langdon House again and noticed a “for sale” sign in the window. It had been there for 18 months, he said.
Mullins showed the house to Beane, and “she loved it.” Four months later, they closed the deal in June 2006. Now divorced, Mullins has the four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 3,460-square-foot house on the market. His asking price is $458,000.
When he bought it, the house was in pretty good shape, Mullins said, although its kitchen and bathrooms needed to be upgraded. The house’s major problem was its unsound structure. Mullins called in an engineer to inspect it. His evaluation: “Literally, this house would collapse if it weren’t sitting on the furnace,” Mullins said. It took eight I-beams and new steel cross beams to lift the house 3 inches and solidify the structure.
“That brought out cracks in almost all the walls,” said Mullins, who hired plasterers and went about choosing a color palate for the interior walls.
His wasn’t your typical palate. The artist in the marketing specialist came out in a big way. He chose to use 19 colors throughout the house, but only a few on the outside: a light brown for the batten siding and three contrasting organic colors for the trim.
Complete Kitchen Remodel
The most complicated remodeling Mullins did was in the 16-by-13-foot kitchen at the back of the house. He expanded it a few feet by knocking down an interior stairwell and adding a window at the far end. He built an archway above the new space, matching it with the arch over the main kitchen entry that he had widened. In between, Mullins installed four roughly cut wood beams and nine can lights in a new beadboard ceiling.
His friend, Mike Hartmann, built an 8-by-4-foot island for the room that matches a bright red 1920s cabinet rescued from Beane’s old basement that they moved into the kitchen. The island is topped with oak butcher block and has a small, hand-hammered copper sink. He left the brick chimney exposed and covered its exhaust hole.
The color palette in the room, which has large, west-facing windows, is a blend of dark mustard, rust, creamy yellow, pine needle green and Colonial blue. Mullins equipped the kitchen with all the modern essentials, including stainless steel appliances, a wine cooler and a farmhouse sink.
His sentimental decorative pieces include two hand-painted signs that once advertised Wilmar Antiques at 3318 Erie Ave. in Hyde Park. Mullins, who is an avid collector of antique and vintage items, was good friends with the men who owned the defunct shop: Maurice Oshry and Will Bawde.
“I like things with a history. You’ll see how eclectic it gets," he said before leading a tour of the rest of the house.
The Langdon House, which is named after the family that lived in it for 91 years starting in 1865, sits above and far back from Eastern Avenue a couple of blocks east of Delta Avenue. Framed in wood, the house’s symmetrical design features a large centered gable, 8-foot-tall windows and a triple-arched porch draped in two-tone trim with a wood floor and exposed-joist ceiling painted in a rich rust color.
Guests first enter a hall that’s 6 feet wide and 30 feet long. To the left are openings to a study and a wide staircase with a massive double door. To the right are two openings to a 25-by-15-foot living room.
Study this room closely and you’ll see original features that make the house feel a lot grander than expected. For one, the ceilings are 11½ feet high, and the molded baseboards are easily a foot high. The artfully framed sash windows, which start at the floor, are 8 feet tall. Like windows typical of old homes in the South, they slide up so people can walk out to the front or back porch or let in cooling breezes coming off the Ohio River a few blocks away.
Adding and Updating Bathrooms
Straight back at the end of the entry hall, which Mullins modified slightly so that it circles the interior stairwell, is a mudroom, with a door to the back porch, and a large bathroom with a shower. The hall also connects to the kitchen, and then narrows around the corner, passes the dining room and flows into the study back at the front of the house.
The two bathrooms in the Langdon House required extensive remodeling. But Mullins’ most challenging plumbing/design project was adding a third full-bathroom off the 19-by-15-foot master bedroom — a vaulted cove set into the 15-foot-high gable whose two gothic-arch windows face south onto Eastern Avenue.
There was no master bathroom when Mullins bought the Langdon House, but there were two slanted-ceiling rooms on either side of the master bedroom that provided opportunity. The west-side space included plumbing that likely was installed in the 1940s when the house was divided into apartments, he said.
Again, Mullins went to work on a blank palette, creating a spacious double-vanity bathroom that features extensive cabinetry, a glass shower, a toilet room with a window, beadboard on the slanted wall and knotty wood planks on the ceiling.
There is a second full bathroom with laundry hookups and three other bedrooms on the second floor, whose hall structure mirrors that of the first floor. Mullins uses one room for his office, one for his art studio and the other for guests.
Langdon House History
The house was built on what is now a half-acre plot purchased by Dr. Wesley Elstun for $8,000 in 1855, according to the Langdon House Facebook page. Elstun sold it to Dr. Henry Langdon in 1865 upon his return from the Civil War, during which he served as a surgeon, according to the website Digging Cincinnati History. Langdon married Emeline Corbly of Mount Washington and they had five children, all but one of whom died of diphtheria.
Emeline died two weeks after giving birth to twins in 1874. One twin was among three Elstun children to pass that year. The other twin, William, became a doctor and lived to be 80. Henry remarried in 1875 but died after suffering a brain hemorrhage the following year.
The house stayed in the family, mostly as a rental property, until 1956 and then had two owners before the Miami Purchase Association (renamed the Cincinnati Preservation Association in 1992) bought it in 1966. The association disassembled a doctor’s office building that stood in the front yard but preserved the house, including its stone foundation and paved brick basement. The office is now part of Sharon Woods Village.