Home Tour: If you don't like the decor in this historic Ludlow home, try another room

'You can walk 100 years from room to room'
Home Tour: If you don't like the decor in this historic Ludlow home, try another room
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 05:00:32-05

LUDLOW, Ky. -- Historic Ludlow homeowners Patrick Snadon and Gene Paytes have different interior design tastes. Snadon is a mid-19th century guy. Paytes' style is mid-20th century all the way.

Faced with decorating two equally sized parlors that are separated by glass-paned pocket doors, they didn't flip a coin to determine who got designing rights: They each took a room. And they keep the doors open to emphasize a time-traveling effect Snadon has grown to love. The contrast, he said, takes what could have been a museum-like atmosphere and "breaks that spirit" in a positive way.

"Now you can walk 100 years from room to room," he said.

The American Federal-style home the couple of 10 years owns was built on a bluff with an Ohio River view of Price Hill in Cincinnati by early Northern Kentucky land baron and state legislator Thomas Carneal. It was named Elmwood Hall for the stately trees that once surrounded it.

Now shut in by newer, mostly Victorian-era homes, it is known as "the old candy factory" among those locals who recall when it was the Mrs. Thomas Candy Co. from the 1920s to the 1970s.

An original candy factory sign hangs in Elmwood Hall's kitchen, and two of its rooms are named for candies once made there: The Bonbon Room (bedroom chamber) and The Caramel Room (east parlor).

Many vestiges of Elmwood Hall's past, however, are long gone. What is now the back of the house once featured a grand entrance that had a river view and was designed to impress visitors who traveled there by boat long before there were roads. All that remains of the double front door is a broad bank of windows and fan transom. Missing off the front (previously the back) of the house is a gallery and L-shaped wing that housed the kitchen.

Kitchen for collection

That's not to say that Elmwood Hall, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, is not still impressive. Visitors enter through a door off the east side's porch where Mrs. Thomas used to leave bits of candy out for neighborhood children to eat, Snadon said. The porch's twin on the west side is now enclosed and serves as Paytes' sub-tropical plant conservatory.

The first room visitors see is the kitchen, which the couple admits is nowhere near being modern. For one thing, there is no dishwasher. Snadon and Paytes said they aren't accomplished cooks and don't mind washing by hand, though they have taken some ribbing for it.

"One of my friends told me that if you don't have three appliances, it's not a kitchen," said Snadon, who is an active preservationist and 24-year professor of interior design and architecture in the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

The kitchen has 14-foot-high ceilings like the rest of the house. Its decor reflects Paytes' childhood, growing up and going to school in rural Loveland. His collection of mid-20th century carnival-prize chalk animal figures is displayed throughout the kitchen and includes a large pig atop the refrigerator that looks a lot like Miss Piggy of "The Muppet Show" fame. Others, Snadon observed, seem Disney-like and might have inspired some of the famous cartoonist's movie characters.

Dining room splendor

The grandeur of the old house begins in the next room. Now the dining room, it was the Carneals' entrance hall, with architecture Snadon said is in the neoclassical style of Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), who designed the United States Capitol. Square in shape with Tuscan columns in each corner, the heavily molded, rosy pink, circular-disc ceiling is adorned with cast-plaster shells that no doubt are a reference to the nearby river.

A door on the west side of the dining room leads to a chamber room the same size as the kitchen that is Snadon's library, while two openings to the south take visitors into the parlors. Both feature matching fireplaces with mantels reflective of what Snadon said was the "slightly crude," Kentucky neoclassical architecture of which Carneal was capable.

Snadon decorated the east-side parlor with historical prints of classic buildings, scenes and maps as well as antique furniture, some of which was made in Southwest Ohio. Of particular interest, he said, is a butler's desk with its original maker's label and the signature of its owner, Jonathan Bailey, and the date of August 1818.

"It's almost unheard of to know the name of the maker and the client from 1818," Snadon said.

Another local artifact in Snadon's parlor is a tall mirror. He said he was told by its seller that the mirror had hung in the Burnet House (1850-1926), which once was Cincinnati's premier hotel and events center.

A short hall off the east parlor leads to the couple's master bedroom. Visitors who stop before entering the room and look up will see something unexpected. A glass panel in the ceiling shows what's left of Elmwood Hall's original corkscrew staircase that once led to a second floor -- now the attic -- and then to a balustraded roof deck that Snadon restored.

Mid-century contrast

Back in the west parlor, Paytes, who is a semi-retired hair stylist and former antiques dealer, decorated mostly with flea market finds. The parlor is filled with low-profile 1950s and 1960s furnishings with brightly colored pillows and dangling light fixtures.

"We got all this Atomic Age 'Jetsons'-looking furniture for very, very cheap," Snadon said. They bought one pair of chairs from a source in Falmouth for $14 and paid $40 for the room's long sofa. Paytes' parlor's 12-by-15-foot cream-colored area rug, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright protege John deKoven Hill and features a turquoise Celtic knot border, came out of the 1959 Ralph and Patricia Corbett House the architect built for them in Hyde Park. A friend bought it at an online auction for $40 but found it to be too large for her space, so she sold it to Snadon and Paytes for the same price.

"We were so lucky," Paytes said. "It really lights up the room."

Five starburst clocks over the mantel were the first decorations to go up in the parlor. Then came three picture boxes on the opposite wall that hold mid-century tchotchkes. Paytes' favorite story associated with putting the room together is how he acquired an aqua-shaded lamp that sits on a side table next to the sofa.

"A good friend of mine had the shade, but he wouldn't sell it," Paytes recalled. "I was prepared to give him a couple of hundred dollars for it. I didn't tell him what I'd pay. He told me 'You can't have everything.' But a year later, he sold it to me for $10. He's such a good friend."

Dividing Paytes' parlor from his conservatory are two unusual "jib" windows. Their solid bottom panels swing away from the parlor and the lowest of two sash windows can be raised to create a walk-through barely high enough for the 6-foot 6-inch Snadon to navigate without ducking.

Paytes' conservatory (it was empty when we photographed in the fall) is in what used to be the west-wing porch, many of the columns of which are stored in the basement. His 30-plant design is symmetrical and features numerous species, such as fan palm, wandering Jew, elephant ear, bird of paradise and dracaena, which is Paytes' favorite because "it's so showy but lets the light through."

The Egyptian Room

Beyond the parlor in the southwest corner of Elwood Hall is the warmest room in the house. Because of that, Snadon said, the chamber likely served as the family or sitting room in the days when only fireplaces heated the house. Oddly, the story of the room reveals a tenuous connection between French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Patrick Snadon and Gene Paytes.

Paytes said, "I've always been fascinated with Egypt," so he combined that passion with a little inspiration from the house's history to create the Egyptian Room. The history connection is the second owner of Elmwood Hall, William Bullock, a naturalist and collector of exotic things from around the world who founded a novelty museum in Piccadilly, London, called Egyptian Hall.

Bullock, Snadon said, reportedly financed the purchase of Elmwood Hall with money he collected by showing Napoleon's military carriage captured at the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon had made Egyptian antiquities popular by displaying them in his homes.

The room is filled with "museum quality" reproductions of Egyptian relics, such as a life-size sarcophagus that fills the central space traditionally occupied by a table. The room's art includes a framed, mixed-media image of Queen Nefertiti that Paytes crafted from paper products, including cigarette pack foil and toilet paper.

Although the yard goes dormant in the winter, it flourishes with life the rest of the year when Paytes moves his potted plants outdoors. He displays many of them below the dining room window where the steps used to lead into the house. But in winter, the yard's focal points become an east-side pond with a handful of frog spouts and numerous modern sculptures made mostly by friends.

The hall's future

"You are its servant and it is your master," Snadon said of the old house. But because they have done all the work themselves, they're confident the place is in solid shape indoors and out. Work had been slowed at times by Snadon's expense of buying up six adjacent properties.

He did it, he said, because he thought "it would be great to restore a little more space around this house so it would have a little more breathing room. That would send it into a more secure future."

What will happen to Elmwood Hall beyond its current owners is unclear, but Snadon said he and Paytes intend "to send it on in better shape than when I found it." The house requires continual examination, repair and painting, and, Paytes said, "Like a battleship, when you get it done, it's time to start back at it."

Snadon said he puts Elmwood Hall in a similar league with the Taft Museum, which once was home to venerable Cincinnati families such as the Baums, Longworths, Sintons and Tafts. He said Elmwood Hall would make a great public space, "but Ludlow is not quite there yet."

Whatever becomes of Carneal's creation, reminders of Elmwood Hall's heritage likely will continue to pop up forever.

"Little elm saplings come up on their own all over the property," Snadon said. "Unfortunately, they're not in the right places."

Elmwood history

Covington pioneer, land speculator and "gentleman amateur architect" Thomas Carneal (1796-1860) designed his neoclassical villa on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River directly across from what later became known as Price's Hill. The house was considered to be one of the finest in the West when it was completed in 1820. It was part of a 1,000-acre estate covered with walnut, maple and elm trees.

(What is known as the Carneal House in Covington was never Carneal's home. Rather, it is believed but not documented that he designed it for fellow land developer Aaron Gano.)

Carneal -- who married the sister of Cincinnati millionaire winemaker Nicholas Longworth and actually died in Longworth's house (now the Taft Museum of Art) -- sold his estate to Englishman William Bullock in 1827. Bullock planned to build an elaborate, Utopian-like community called Hygeia ("health" in Greek) on the land but could not raise the needed finances. He sold the estate to Israel Ludlow, son of the like-named founder and initial surveyor of Cincinnati

The town of Ludlow grew up around Elmwood Hall, eventually obscuring its sight line to the river. The villa served as a duplex for years before Thomas Candy Co. bought it in 1920 and used it as its factory for about 50 years, after which it was used as artists' studios.