CINCINNATI -- January 20 is "Miracle Day" in the household of Sean and Robyn Tierney. Ten years ago today, then 31-year-old Elder High School volleyball coach and church history teacher Sean Tierney awoke in the Cleveland Clinic with a new heart beating in his chest.
Today marks a milestone for Sean, his wife, Robyn, and their three grade-school children. They will celebrate it as a family, thankful for the life they share in the warm and friendly confines of their 100-year-old brick farmhouse on Pedretti Avenue in West Price Hill.
Sean was two years into a recovery that was greatly supported by his school and his native West Side Panther Nation when he and Robyn purchased what they call the Murphy House, for past owners. Standing strong at 2½ stories, the 2,696-square-foot, five-bedroom, 2½-bathroom house caught their eye a while after they barely missed out on buying another house a short walk away on Carnation Avenue.
"One Sunday, we came and went through it room-to-room and ... and, oh my gosh," said Sean, who has coached four state championship volleyball teams at Elder. When the couple got to the top floor, they were smitten, but the asking price was out of their range. A Realtor friend encouraged the Tierneys to put in an offer anyway. After some negotiating, they bought it from Bill Kammerer and moved in just after Thanksgiving 2009.
The house was almost move-in ready due to the years of upgrading by Kammerer, which included new drywall throughout, modernization of the bathrooms and finishing of the once-closed-off attic. And it came with a large, fenced-in backyard that was like an “extra room” that was perfect for a large deck and swing set
Most of the house's 10 rooms required new paint, which gave Robyn a chance to personalize the place. Only the kitchen required substantial remodeling. At $159,000, the purchase price stretched the two school teachers' means, but Robyn's thrifty mix of furniture from their previous home on West Eighth Street, family heirlooms and pictures, repurposed vintage treasures and decor from affordable local stores helped them make filling the big old house feasible.
Prototypical West Siders
Sean grew up not far from the Pedretti house in West Price Hill, attended St. William School, Elder High School and Xavier University, where he studied theology and education. His West Side and Irish roots run deep: His father, Patrick Tierney, is past chairman of the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, and Sean and his siblings took Irish dancing lessons as children. His love for the Emerald Isle shows in how "The Top," as they call the third floor living/party space, is decorated with Guinness stout posters, mirrors and glassware.
Robyn recalls climbing the stairs to the third-floor room and saying, "As if the rest of the house wasn't cool, we were like, what?" She said to Sean: "'Look at this! You can put your Guinness stuff up here.' So that's what ended up happening."
When they settled on a purchase price, the Tierneys thought back to how they first marveled at the Kammerers' upgrades and agreed that "the guy deserves every penny he was asking for," Robyn said.
Robyn grew up not far away in Green Township, attended St. Antoninus, Seton High School and the College of Mount St. Joseph, from which she received an education degree. She is a first-grade teacher at St. Ignatius Loyola School. She met Sean while assisting with a retreat program at Elder, and the couple married in 2005, a short two years before his heart failed mysteriously.
Robyn's love for teaching is reflected in the half-dozen chalkboards posted in the dining room and kitchen. Even the refrigerator door has a chalkboard coating.
Visitors often come to the back door of the house, inside of which is a substantial powder room, a large family room with wall-to-wall carpeting, sectional-couch seating for up to 10 kids and a large-screen TV. The mudroom-like back hall leads to the main hall and features a piece of furniture that is dear to both Sean and Robyn's hearts: a storage bench custom-made to Sean's specifications.
They had it loaded in a pickup truck on delivery day when Sean diverted their route to Mount Echo park, asked Robyn to join him on the bench and proceeded to propose that they marry. And ... she said yes.
Opposite the family room is a short, low-ceiling hall with a door to the basement and an opening to the kitchen, which had been updated by Kammerer but didn't have the farmhouse feel Robyn said she desired. It needed a little rustication, if you will, to reflect its 1916 inauguration.
Sean and a friend crafted a medium-gray cement countertop and had new flooring installed. The couple chose hand-scraped and distressed bamboo boards that were on sale at Lumber Liquidators. They installed a white subway tile back splash and added an Ikea island with seating for two and a second side table. Robyn contrasted the room's white cabinets, appliances and window frames with a light blue wall paint she thought best matched the kitchen's age.
"My vision was for it to be farmhouse-ish -- simple and timeless," said Robyn, who often gleans ideas from programs on HGTV. The barnwood-like floor planks, the chalkboards and the few, small vintage-like decorations she chose helped her to achieve her goal.
"We haven't spent a whole lot of money on decorating, because I get this thrill from reusing things that are really pretty," Robyn said. Sean, she said, "is very handy and has done a lot of little things around the house that I'd seen and really wanted to do."
Her theme of mixing new with re-purposed items pops up in the room shared by the couple's daughters, who are ages 5 and 6 (their son is 10). The girls' half-green, half-white room with brightly colored polka dots and name signage features a unique desk and crafts table fashioned from an old crib. Robyn removed its gate and found super-low seats the girls can push up to it.
Also re-purposed is a unique bunk bed Sean got from his aunt. He modified it for his son, who has the option of sleeping high or low or sharing it with a friend on sleepover nights.
The Tierneys loved and kept a number of the house's old features that some owners might not have preserved. They love the original radiant heat, for example, and they used window units in their bedrooms to get through summers without central air conditioning.
Sean said the humidity can be irritating on some days, but "we are very blessed. Whoever built (the house) planted a lot of trees on the property that keep it cool."
They also maintain the original features of the eight-foot-wide front entry hall and adjacent living room. Swirling, leaded-glass windows surround the broad oak front door and top the living room windows, including a shallow three-paned bay. The house's one remaining fireplace in the living room -- remnants of a second can be found in the couple's master bedroom closet -- is as it was when new, although it no longer works.
Also original to the front rooms in the house are two rounded pillars with Corinthian capitals, wide pocked door and oak parquet floors, each square of which has five narrow planks that are secured with four nails.
New to the living room are brown leather chairs from Macy's, matching tables from World Market and an altar-like bar stocked with Sean's favorite brands of Irish whisky that he pours for the 40-50 friends and family members they have over on St. Patrick's day. For that occasion, he moves the bar to make room for a live band, usually a two-man "modern Irish" group.
A lot of entertaining happens on the third floor, where once-hidden stairs branch off a valued office on the second floor. "The Top" has more sectional seating, a large television, a wet bar and pub-like seating for six. Although the room has slanted walls due to the pitch of the roof above it, the ceiling is high enough that only people over 6 feet tall have to be aware of the room's two spinning ceiling fans.