WAYNESVILLE, Ohio -- Carla Myers couldn’t have imagined that her year-long, 400-square-mile search for a non-cookie-cutter house in the country would bring her to a place she said looked like the Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie "Psycho."
But there it was: her future dream home, crumbling and partially covered with vines, all alone on a honeysuckle-smothered bluff overlooking Caesar Creek and the Little Miami River Valley in Waynesville.
“No one had been in here for two years,” said Myers, a native of Cleveland and a 30-year internal medicine physician in Dayton.
“You had to kick in the old back door to get in,” said Myers, who used to live in a 12,000 square-foot modern home in Beavercreek.
Once inside the 1830 farmhouse, with an 1855 addition that tripled its size, she saw that it showed promise. The antique paper on its plaster walls was in bad shape, and there was a lot of water damage, but its original wooden staircase was solid, and it had an appealing roof line. Also of concern was the lack of water on the property. Its old cisterns, once more than 15 feet deep, were nearly filled in with dirt due to years of neglect.
Felt a Kinship of Place
The kinship Myers felt for the old place, however, was overpowering. She paid $127,000 for the house and its 10 acres in February 2008. It just felt right, Myers said.
“There was this old walnut baby grand in the 1855 part of the house. I like to play the piano. I liked the stairway and the lines of the house. I thought this was actually pretty cool and started thinking about what we could make of this place. It’s so close to everything. It’s really lovely.
“I had engineers come out, and they said it was worth rehabbing,” Myers said.
“I had been renting for 2½ years, and I wanted to find something I could really make my own — that had character,” Myers said. Her boyfriend and now fiance, Ned Ford, approved, and Myers bought the house and the privately situated, former tobacco farmland that came with it.
Myers’ Design Collaboration
She hired Bill Hibner of Greater Dayton Construction Group to help her rebuild the old house and design and build a second addition that would once again triple its square footage and create the kind of home she could love forever.
The 18-month construction project was nearly complete in November 2009 when Myers, who has two grown children and a newborn grandchild, moved in. (Ned, a father of four daughters lived in Hyde Park, would join her in 2013).
“The day she moved in was the day before Thanksgiving, and there were 28 craftsmen around here,” Ned said.
Today, the workers are long gone, and Myers and Ford, who plan to be married next year, share a space that fulfills their every desire. The project allowed Ford, an energy expert and longtime environmental advocate for the Sierra Club, to put his expertise to work. The design afforded him sun-splashed spaces to care for his beloved orchids and tropical plants as well as lots of wall space for his collection of antique art nouveau posters and other eclectic prints and paintings.
Energy and Water Efficient
Ford’s interests also are reflected in the home’s super-insulated ceiling and walls, which in some places are eight-inches thick. The house now has energy-saving windows, a rain-collection system with two 2,500-gallon cisterns, a ¼-acre pond the couple had built and a solar-energy system with panels atop a new two-car garage that heats their water as well as their swimming pool.
The couple said they spend most of their time together in the new great room, which features a faux-stone fireplace with floating wood mantel, built-in book and display shelves, a 60-inch flat-screen TV, a large sectional sofa, several easy chairs and a glass wall with sliding doors that leads to a concrete-tile patio and an 18-by-32-foot swimming pool.
Thick carpeting covers the great room’s floor as well as the 4,300-square-foot house’s four bedrooms, which is something Myers insisted on.
“I like to walk around barefoot,” she explained.
Master Suite Sanctuary
Myers’ sanctuary is the west wing on the second floor of the new addition. Off the master bedroom is a spacious bathroom dominated by a walk-in shower with two curved glass-block walls. Off that is a hall with laundry and storage that leads to another bedroom.
Also off the bathroom is an exercise room where Myers does yoga and Pilates in front of a mirrored wall. Her treadmill faces a bay window with a view of the pool, pond and forest beyond. The room’s ceiling is equipped with stereo speakers.
Then there’s Myers’ bedroom-sized closet, which is so big it could impress Imelda Marcos, the former Philippines president famous her massive shoe collection. It is packed with Myers’ color-coordinated clothes hanging on rods and stacked in open cabinets. A small corner, maybe 10 percent of the closet, is reserved for Ford’s clothes.
Take The Tour
Myers and Ford’s farmhouse, abandoned and dilapidated on the day Myers first saw it on an online posting a friend shared with her, is unrecognizable today. The old front door, once encircled by red, white and blue sidelights and transom, features clear glass. Gone is the rotted and unsalvageable Victorian gingerbread on the front of the house.
Myers and her builder moved the main entrance to where the 1855 kitchen used to be and replaced it with a wide foyer that features a rounded wood door, a large, custom-made stained glass window featuring a grapevine motif a la Tiffany and an antique console table passed down through several generations of Ford’s family.
Turn left from the foyer and you enter the new part of the house onto a scraped hardwood landing that’s between the kitchen and sunken great room. New stairs that feature custom-made, mixed metal railings branch off to the right of the landing.
A second opening, whose old-style arch contrasts with the modern staircase, leads back into the 1855 part of the house, past a new half-bathroom and to the old front door.
The spacious kitchen, separated from an eating area that faces the back yard, is of a dramatic design that features stainless steel appliances, matte black cabinets from Howard’s Kitchen Studio and heavily veined Bahia Blue granite countertops chosen by Myers.
“I love design,” she said. “If I weren’t a physician, I’d be a designer, but probably not a good one.”
Mudroom and Orchids
Beyond the kitchen is a large mudroom with a sink and green laminate countertops. It features a walk-in pantry, storage cabinets, a washer and dryer and a full bathroom, strategically placed just inside the back door that leads out to pond and pool. Myers and Ford use the shower to bathe their two dogs, Tillie the boxer and Maddie the Schnoodle (schnauzer/standard poodle mix).
The highlight of the mudroom, however, is a 7-by-8-foot, south-facing window with three glass shelves packed with Ford’s potted pets, of which about 30 are healthy orchids. Amazingly, the delicate flowers thrive through the cold season.
“It’s the rainwater and also the sunlight,” Ford said of his gardening success. “We’ve just got great sunlight.”
Returning to the foyer, visitors turn right into what most people would use as the dining room. Myers, however, uses the 1855 space for her baby grand piano and to display their collection of art glass and pottery.
Added off the south side of the dining room is a sunroom where Ford grows more tropical plants and has a small work desk.
“This room has a little bit of an overheating problem, but it’s really beautiful,” Ford said. “These plants I move outside in the summer.”
Room For Art Collections
Beyond the dining room is an 1830 parlor room that serves as Carla’s office and library. Once covered with acoustic tile, the ceiling and its crown moldings had to be redone completely, but one south-facing and three east-facing windows were restorable.
Packed with books and art, the parlor is off the original house’s entry hall, a place Myers and Ford have turned into what looks like an art gallery. Painting after painting, print after print cover almost all of the walls as visitors climb the stairs to a landing where the house’s two stairwells come together. It branches left to the east wing’s three bedrooms and right to the master suite. Like the 1830 stairwell, the halls are packed with paintings and prints collected by Ford and Myers.
“It’s really a hodgepodge,” Ford said of their artwork. “We collect what we like.”
What Ford said he really likes most about the house is the view from the great room. It’s where he sits and watches for wild visitors to their property, and it reminds him of being a boy living east of Cleveland.
“I grew up in the weirdest house in the world. The back wall of the house was three sheets of glass that looked out to an old-growth forest in Hunting Valley,” Ford said.
Like that home, the Waynesville house’s great room windows are great for wildlife watching, he said.
Myers agreed that the great room is her favorite. She loves the cushy couch, the fireplace and the view.
“I like to keep it open,” she said. And even though their television is large, it’s not the focal point of the great room.
“I didn’t need a theater room. I just like to keep it comfy,” Myers said.
Ford said he and Myers don’t know who settled their land in 1830, but they do know it was on a stagecoach line that ran between the Ohio River and Springfield.
Easterners traveled a path along a route that became old U.S. 40 (roughly Interstate 70 today). Ford said some settlers would turn south at Springfield and travel by coach on what was called the Accommodation Line. It stretched through old-growth forests all the way to the Ohio River where people could board boats and ride the river all the way to New Orleans.
A well and a shanty-like kitchen with an old fireplace that were on the property when Myers bought it indicate the house likely took in guests and was an important stop on the Accommodation Line.
The couple’s property, Ford said, was a tobacco farm until about 1965 and was then owned by a family for about 30 years.