CINCINNATI -- Kristen Walters knows exactly how long it took her and her husband Ben to restore their Samuel Hannaford house in Walnut Hills.
“Six years, seven months and 11 days,” she said. “I remember at one of our parties, someone asking me, ‘Would you do it again?’ And I looked over at Ben and he said. ‘Yeah.’”
Although there were moments during their 2008-14 restoration adventure that Kristen might have felt like quitting, Ben never did, she said.
Kristen said she marveled at the 15 months their finish carpenters worked on the $127,500 house’s decrepit and often missing woodwork, but said “the real story is that Ben never gave up on the process.”
And that process certainly was daunting. Families lived in the house for its first 73 years until 1968 when the 1895 house designed by famed Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford (1835-1911) was converted to a nursing home.
An addition in the Park Avenue front and along the south side of the house hid its beauty, and the interior of the home had been altered greatly to accommodate its new use.
The nursing home closed in 2005, something the Walterses were keenly aware of because they had just moved into a stately place two houses up the block. Ben’s interest in the historic estate house – perhaps not anticipating that demolition of the nursing home addition would fill about 50 Dumpsters – was steadfast.
Fortunately for Ben and Kristen, who married in 1999 and have four children, the old house was structurally solid and beautifully laid out.
“They don’t build homes like this anymore, and it felt to us that more and more Hannaford properties were being lost,” Ben said. “The idea of uncovering and preserving this old beauty was appealing.”
The young couple had some previous remodeling experience but admitted to being “ill-equipped.” It would take a huge cast to play this one out.
More than 40 companies had roles in the restoration. Electricians had to rewire the entire house, and plumbers tackled a total redo job. Local companies contributing to the renovation included Wooden Nickel, an Over-the-Rhine antiques shop that specializes in architectural salvage, and Holtman Design, the Delhi Township woodworking company that dedicated five craftsmen to the finish carpentry. Friends and family members such as Ben’s father, Jim, and uncle, Mark Zumwalt, who reproduced about 50 spindles for the staircase, shared their time and skills at every turn.
The list of project contributors who worked inside and outside the three-story, 10-bedroom, four-bathroom house is so long that Ben needed five single-spaced typed pages to document their accomplishments – in summary form, not detail.
“One of the biggest challenges was restoring it with historic authenticity without having super-deep pockets,” Ben said. “We used a lot of period materials, so that made it slower than a new project.”
Finding a replacement double door for the front entry, for example, that had the correct width, height, arches and glass design, took 2.5 years. Ben said fellow Walnut Hills resident and Wooden Nickel co-owner Mike Williams came through with just the right one.
The couple’s desire to comply with the U.S. Green Building Councils guidelines for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification collided with history in many cases. Finding low-flow faucets for antique sinks was a huge challenge, Ben said. So was creating a four-part heating and cooling system that hooked into a new geothermal energy system’s eight 300-foot wells in the side yard.
The house’s windows were pretty much shot, said Ben, owner of ServiceMaster Clean in Cincinnati and pastor at Cincinnati Church of the Brethren in Walnut Hills. He had all 100 windows restored and replaced with triple-paned windows made by Marvin Windows and Doors.
Now that all but the landscaping required to achieve LEED certification is 10 months behind them, Kristen, a psychologist with Cincinnati Public Schools, loves what a comfortable family house they created.
“I even love cleaning it,” she said.
Tour the first floor
“As big at it is, 8,000 square feet, we utilize the entire house, especially the first level,” said Ben. “And it’s just got a real flow. You know how most old houses are kind of choppy. This one has a good feel.”
Because of Ben’s pride in the first floor and the improbability of describing every unique feature of the house without writing a short book, we chose to focus on the downstairs.
Until they add steps leading up to the house-wide front porch (they succumbed to the nursing home addition), the family won’t be using the front door much. So Ben and Kristen park their cars in the semicircular drive off the Windsor Street side of the house and enter from there.
Up a few steps and across the same spindle-railed porch that wraps around the front of the house, the side door opens to a spacious entry hall. Eleven feet high and floored with original oak parquet squares, it branches off to the kitchen and arched front door and openings to the dining and living rooms and the library.
We focused our tour on the library, a masterpiece of old barn wood flooring and new millwork that includes crown molding, a large shelving unit with a classic pediment and paneled wainscoting throughout that was replicated from the one surviving piece found under one of the room’s five large sash windows. Ben said that panel was one of many century-old clues used to guide the restoration of original patterns in the house.
The library’s mantelpiece came from Wooden Nickel, and its surround and hearth were designed by Ben and salvaged tile master Jeff Niemes of Walnut Hills. Ben had his carpentry team mill fluted columns above the mantelpiece and a pediment for the top that matches the one over the bookshelves. Kristen chose to paint the woodwork with Martha Stewart’s Morning Dove green. A light taupe paint by Stewart called Oatlands covers the walls, and a soft white paint coats the window and door trim.
The greens in the room are picked up by the fireplace and hearth tile.
“We built that mantel from nothing. We just started with a gaping hole in the wall,” Ben said. “We’d take salvaged tile and make patterns, mix them all up, and try again.”
The dining room is no slouch, either. Chris Holtman’s carpenters recreated its paneling, again taking a tip from the one wall left with the original pattern. They also fashioned a dramatic coffered ceiling. Two original stained glass windows in a south-facing bay were restored by the late David Danehour, and glass artisan Gillian Thompson replicated a third that looks as old as the originals.
The Walterses cleverly pulled together three first-floor rooms – living, dining and kitchen – by salvaging and installing in each large cabinets they bought at auction when Hughes High School was remodeled. They are oak and feature large glass doors and tons of storage.
The couple’s favorite rooms
A favorite spot in the house for Kristen is a third-floor servants’ bedroom she and her daughter, Emma, use to create a line of dolls they sell at events such as the annual Hyde Park Art Show. The sewing studio opens to a guest bed in the three-story round turret and features angles, curves, arches and peaks at every turn.
Ben said he loves the kitchen the best. It features the largest of the school cabinets, new chrome pendant lighting, high-end stainless steel appliances and a 6-foot by 12-foot Carrera marble island that is in some ways the focal point of family life in the house.
“It’s the biggest island we could make that we could haul in here,” Ben said.
Salvaged architectural pieces can be found in almost every room of the house. A storage room off the hallway to the kitchen has a wall of old school lockers where everyone, even the family dogs, has their own place to stash their stuff. Appropriately, the Walterses call it the Locker Room.
The unsightly nursing addition demolition produced a number of great finds.
“We salvaged a ton of stuff – sinks and toilets – and we’d grab just about anything that could be used,” Ben said.
Only one old chandelier was left in the house when the couple bought it in 2008, and they chose to mix vintage and new lighting once all the new wiring had been installed.
And if something like a bathroom floor made of marble wasn’t salvageable, Ben and Kristen redid it completely with a blend of new tile and an old Tennessee pink marble sinks or a period porcelain pedestal one that evokes the house’s history.
Kristen, no longer a doubting Thomas, loves her pedestal sink and other salvages.
“I love those old school cabinets,” she said. “I thought they’d be great, but it’s all better. It’s an honor to live in this house – every day.”
Hannaford house history
Samuel Hannaford designed and built the Romanesque Revival home for Joseph H. Rhodes, the 65-year-old superintendent of Adams Express Co. and former president of the Cincinnati and Eastern Railway. Rhodes and his wife, Mary, had two married daughters who lived in Massachusetts, according to a 1917 obituary about Rhodes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
A bank director and charter member of the Queen City Club and Lafayette Lodge, Rhodes was “said to be the oldest Mason in Cincinnati,” the paper wrote.
Rhodes sold the Hannaford house to photographer-publisher Andries Nielen after living in it for only five years. The house stayed in the Nielen family for 68 years. Among its occupants was Victoria Cox, who pointed out many details about the house that helped Ben and Kristen Walters restore it to its original state where possible.
The couple also used historical photographs of the house provided by Nielen family members and invited them to tour the house when it was completed. Unfortunately, Ben said, the elderly Cox died the first night the family slept in the house and never saw how well everything turned out.