CINCINNATI -- Sean Mullaney and Dianna Schweitzer are stepping down from their "pulpit." No, they are not ministers, but for 13 years they've presided over Halloween and New Year's Eve gatherings from an elevated, railed-in room in the middle of their Clifton home that made them feel like pastors of the party.
That pulpit-like space, whose alternative name, Mullaney said, is the "proclamation station," is one of several features of the couple's 4,500-square-foot Tudor Revival they hope its next owner will love as they have.
As they tour the 2½-story home that's listed on the market for $749,000, Mullaney and Schweitzer point out several selling points: the 20-foot-high vaulted ceiling in the master bathroom; an open porch off the master bedroom where Schweitzer used to sleep under the stars with their daughter; the compact, walk-through powder room they added so guests wouldn't have to go upstairs to use the bathroom; the terraced backyard with a zip line that abuts the first city bird preserve in the nation; and the European-style windows that swing out over planter boxes.
"Just looking out all the windows you see beauty," Schweitzer said. "The house is really warm ... the color ... the light. This is a beautiful place, but it's just too much for us to manage, I think."
The couple has moved into a smaller, mid-century house a few doors down that contrasts starkly with their Tudor, but it, too, backs up to the bird preserve, and it keeps them in the tightly knit neighborhood in which they are deeply invested.
Mullaney and Schweitzer, both of whom are Queen City natives and University of Cincinnati graduates, said their old home hasn't always been a Tudor. It started in 1905 as a 1½-story, cabin-like bungalow built for UC associate professor of biology and bird lover H.M. Benedict and his wife, Florence.
The house's shape and style changed drastically 15 years later, when its second owners doubled its height and added 16 feet across the back for the living room and an office. Above a new two-car garage, the owners built a big bay window with shoe-bin bench that follows its contour. Using brick and stucco, they wrapped the bungalow in a new facade and converted the house's architecture to Tudor Revival.
The Benedict House received its second major makeover after Mullaney, who co-founded the toy invention company Bang Zoom! and has renovated a dozen homes in the area, and Schweitzer, who is a French and English as a Second Language teacher in Cincinnati Public Schools, bought it in 2003.
First, Mullaney addressed many structural and mechanical issues, and then he set out to customize the house for his family of four. Their renovations included removing a built-in oak cabinet in the dining room and two swinging doors between it and the 13-foot by 15-foot kitchen. By closing in the kitchen, Mullaney increased its counter space by 50 percent.
A total remodel of the kitchen included installation of new oak floors, a south-side window over a porcelain farmhouse sink, new KraftMaid cabinets with two roll-top "appliance garages," granite countertops, a butcher block-top island and stainless-steel appliances, such as their six-burner stove top with a faucet for filling pots.
The swinging doors, which feature a row of small, leaded-glass windows near the top, found homes elsewhere in the house. The old cabinet's leaded-glass doors now enclose a storage cabinet Mullaney built in office space that's between the kitchen and a door to the back deck, which he also redid. He also converted a closet there into a step-down half-bathroom whose second door opens to the living room.
Another major project was remodeling the master bathroom. Mullaney blew out the ceiling to peak at 20 feet, stealing a little space from a furnace/storage room on the third floor. He added a skylight, matching stone-tiled shower and wainscoting and a bright white, claw-foot bathtub with chrome fixtures. Knobs just inside the bathroom door control the room's in-wall stereo speakers.
"This bathroom cost more than my first home, way more than my first home, but it's awesome," Mullaney said.
He also renovated the sleeping deck on the east side of the house, which is beyond French doors in their master bedroom. He removed parapet walls to open the deck to the backyard and coated its floor with a waterproof rubber membrane, making it a cozy space for Schweitzer and her daughter to have sleep-outs.
Two other bedrooms on the east side share a full Jack and Jill bathroom. The front room has fold-out windows with working transoms and two east-facing windows that feature diamond-patterned leaded glass.
On the west side of the second floor is a fourth bedroom and a 10-foot by 16-foot laundry room with the largest set of in-wall speakers the couple added to the house. Mullaney said this "monster room" could be a big selling feature.
Surprises await on the third floor: a central gaming and TV-watching room set into the peak of the roof line; a bright orange family room with remodeled full bathroom and kitchenette; and a cream-colored bedroom with windows overlooking the street on the south side of the house.
Mullaney said one of his favorite places in the house is the slanted-ceiling family room, which he made sunnier by adding a large arched window that faces south. "The light that comes in there is just beautiful," said Mullaney, who used the space for yoga sessions. "It was a cool place to be, and nobody could find you up there."
You have to go back down to the second floor to find one of Schweitzer's favorite places. She said the fold-out windows in what was her teenage daughter's room remind her of being in Switzerland. "Sometimes I felt like I should yodel or something."
She might not have had that feeling presiding over parties from the pulpit, but that space is a favorite of both Schweitzer and Mullaney. Standing there, five steps and three feet above the 16-foot by 25-foot living room, they look out to the trees in the bird preserve through a wall of three glass doors topped with transoms so high they have to be opened with a vintage crook like ones commonly found in old school buildings.
That view reminds Schweitzer of earlier days, when their children played in the woods with their imaginary fairies and the times she found peace sitting on a small bridge that spans a dry run at the far north end of the backyard.
Looking out into the trees sparks a different memory for Mullaney, who found many hidden treasures in his many hours of exploring the 115-year-old bird preserve. The 1½-acre space was wild when Benedict suggested to Mary Emery -- the wealthy philanthropist who founded Mariemont -- that she buy it, fence out cats and little boys and allow him to turn it into a bird preserve for teaching purposes.
Emery paid $500,000 for the land, according to the 1909 edition of Cincinnati Industrial Magazine, and Benedict went about bringing various bird species into the woods. Mullaney said Benedict wanted them to have special dwellings, so he contracted with Cincinnati's Wheatley Pottery to manufacture birdhouses specially for the preserve.
Mullaney has found and saved about 20 pieces of those dark green antique birdhouses, which came in two sizes, he said -- Benedict No. 1 and Benedict No. 2. Wheatley advertisements in 1915 issues of The Garden Magazine and Country Life in America Magazine show the smaller house could be purchased for $2.
Schweitzer and Mullaney, who have been married for 23 years and are living in their fifth house together, said they will miss the old Tudor, its wood-burning fireplace in the living room and 18-foot by 25-foot Ping Pong room in the basement. But their new house has an equally beautiful view of the bird preserve where Mullaney will continue to seek an intact birdhouse.
Whoever buys the Benedict House actually will get two houses -- the second being a scale model of the front of the house Mullaney built and filled with miniature furniture eight years ago. And they get the rights to proclaim from the pulpit.