Home Tour: A 'nautical nest' on the riverside

Posted at 11:18 AM, Sep 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-11 11:18:51-04

MELBOURNE, Ky. -- Despite the advice of naysayers, Greg Claypole – with a lot of help from his friends – turned what he described as a “chicken coop” into the aptly named “Nautical Nest” getaway house on the bank of the Ohio River. 

Key to keeping the project within the Claypoles’ financial limitations was his commitment to saving what he could of the crumbling brick house, using free or low-cost materials and calling in favors from skilled friends he has helped during his years as a painting contractor. 

Whimsy and recyclables

The key to making the “Nautical Nest” a highly functional and fun place to relax was precise planning and construction, and an infusion of unexpected humor and ingenuity. 

Visitors to the Claypoles’ secluded 2-acre spread in Melbourne get a taste of fun upon turning into the driveway. There to greet them is an old phone booth complete with a life-size cutout of Superman and a small blue and white ski boat sporting a mannequin at the wheel and wooden skis poking up behind him.

Beyond the whimsical greeters is a boat garage with storage space and a half-bathroom and the 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom house. Nine 10-foot-high, 16-inch diameter cement columns support the 1½-story house and its 18-foot by 18-foot rear deck. They create a carport below the house. 

It all looks new and sturdy, a far cry from what the Claypoles’ started with in 2010.

“It was falling apart and in rough shape on the ground,” Greg said. “Everyone said to tear it down and start over.” 

The previous owner, Bill Ellison, likely lost momentum building the house after the flood of 1997, Greg said. An Anderson Township firefighter, Ellison fell through the floor of a burning Miami Township house and died in 2001.

“I wanted to follow Billy’s dream and my own vision,” said, Greg, who has felt connected to the Ohio River since he was a boy. 

“I first got my love of the river when my dad took me and my brother, Rick, fishing down at the mouth of the Licking (River),” he said. 

Several friends that looked at the house advised him to tear it down, but Greg thought that if he could build a steel frame high off the ground he could lift the house onto it with a crane and save a lot of construction and time. 

It took from spring to fall to accomplish, but Greg, co-builder Dave Russo and a crew of friends got the job done. 

Claypole said the house needed further protection from the river, which had overtaken the old floodwall that first year. 

Better protection arrived when a friend discovered an unwanted, free supply of cement slabs weighing close to 3,000 pounds each. About 280 slabs – four feet long, three feet high and 2 feet thick – were trucked eight at a time to a grassy area between the house and the river. A floodwall went up in summer 2011.

The house was built to withstand a 100-year flood. The Ohio River, Greg said, would have to swell by 73 feet to reach it. 

New kitchen, bath and upstairs

Stairs made of the same slabs are centered in the wall and flanked by two cement lions reminiscent of Mick and Mack on the steps of McMicken Hall at the University of Cincinnati.Greg saw the lions in a yard while riding his motorcycle on Ky. 8. He stopped and spoke with the their owner. 

“Dad’s favorite song was ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ so I had to have them,” Greg said. The owner, he said, was happy to part with them at no cost. 

The Claypole family’s construction plan was to use what was left of Ellison’s house for a bedroom and large living room and then add a kitchen, full bathroom and upstairs bedroom off the west end. A tight, spiral staircase went in at the back corner of the living room and led to a bedroom that features two floating beds tied to the wall with nautical rope.

The old house’s windows, brick and oak joists were recycled, Greg said.

The downstairs features oak flooring, rough-hewn and stained cedar wall paneling and a stone fireplace designed and built by Greg that fronts a brown leather sectional couch and a custom-made hardwood console table with bar stools. 

“My whole vision was to make it look like a cabin inside,” Greg said. “The only drywall is in the girls’ room upstairs because they wanted to paint it.” 

The nautical theme has developed over the years as the Claypoles collected pieces such as Cincinnati riverboat photographs, a wooden ship’s wheel, lifebuoys, a chrome riverboat horn and spotlight, an anchor, old skis and more from their treasure hunting trips to flea markets such as the Burlington Antique Show. 

Two large prints in the couple’s bedroom feature mid-century images of a wind-blown couple boating on the Ohio and on a motorcycle in the mountains. Other images pay homage to the town of Melbourne. 

The all-new kitchen in “Nautical Nest” features hickory cabinets to the ceiling, speckled green granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and a 19th century style tin-square ceiling.

Decks and a view

Between the kitchen and the living room is a door that leads to a 324-square foot, covered deck made of pressure-treated pine laid at a 45-degree angle to the house.

It has a bead board ceiling, white metal pipe railing and a six-seat table that’s held in place by a boat anchor dangling below it. Beneath the kitchen window is a newly painted vintage church pew, and to its right are a gas grill and steps leading down to the driveway. 

There is a smaller deck off the Claypoles’ bedroom, which features the same cedar siding as in the living room and a bead board ceiling to match the main deck. 

No matter what the season or weather, the Claypoles’ “Nautical Nest” provides their perfect getaway and they, their children and grandchildren use it a couple of times a week on average. 

Louise, who is a retired schoolteacher, said she likes to eat and hang out on the deck. “But underneath is nice, too, because we have a couple of chairs and a swing there.” 

Greg raved about the view from the living room to the river.

“When sitting on the any of the couches, you don’t see any grass -- only river. This gives the illusion that you are literally on the water,” he said. 

Barges floating by

And when clouds block the moon at night, the barges seem to float by in the air, Greg said. 

The whole experience of bringing “Nautical Nest” together and then getting away to it has been all about friends and family, said Greg. He and Louise said they will pass it on to their kids when the time is right.

“We’ve been very blessed, and I’m thankful for all my friends who made our dream come true,” Greg said. 

“At night when we’re in bed we hear those barges rumble, and the rain on the metal roof… It’s just heaven,” Greg said. For past home tours, visit here.