Columbus, Ohio USA
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'Last' Victorian Village Home Tour Shows Off Neighborhood Variety
By Karen Edwards
September 2009 Issue

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This home at 911 Neil Ave. was on the first Home tour in 1974 and will be featured again this year. Built in 1895, it includes a glass-enclosed solarium overlooking a courtyard fountain.
© Debbie Rosenfeld Fine Art Photography

This month, the Victorian Village Tour of Homes and Gardens will celebrate its 35th year. It’s also the last year for the home tour under its present name. Jeff Smith, president of the Short North Civic Association, explains. “For many years, the tour has included homes from all the neighborhoods of the Short North.” That’s why, several years ago, the tour became known as the “Victorian Village Tour of Homes and Gardens in the Short North Neighborhood.”

“Next year, we will continue the transition and drop Victorian Village from the main name of the tour,” says Smith. “The tour itself will not be changing, only the name is changing to better reflect that the tour represents homes in all the neighborhoods of the Short North.” The tour, he continues, will most likely be called The Short North Tour of Homes & Gardens.

The Victorian Village transition
There is more to the story, however. In 2008, the Victorian Village Society formed a new non-profit organization, the Short North Civic Association (SNCA), because other neighborhood organizations wanted to partner with Victorian Village for improved efficiencies, and greater influence with both city and state governments. This year, new organizations – DoGPAW, representing the interest of Short North dog owners and the Circles Association, a civic organization representing residents in the area bounded by Fifth, King, Neil Avenue and Perry Street – joined the fold. It made no sense, at this point, to continue the name Victorian Village Society, so the new SNCA will discontinue the name and use the more representative Short North Civic Association name.

“The Short North Arts district has done an excellent job of promoting the Short North name, and people outside the neighborhood recognize this area as such,” says Smith in a recent news release. “While Victorian Village as an historic district won’t be changing its name, the Society Board believes there is more opportunity for our organization to have a positive impact on the area if we look beyond our borders.”

You’ll soon begin to see the expanded civic organization in a clearer light as the neighborhood gateway signage project gets underway. New signs will mark the entry points for Victorian Village, Italian Village, Harrison West and The Circles – with “Short North” as the main name and the district’s identifying name beneath.

The signs may not be ready in time for this year’s Home and Garden tour, which will take place September 20, but you will find the 10 homes on this year’s tour scattered throughout the area. “There are two in Italian Village, two in Harrison West, and six in Victorian Village,” says tour publicity chair Pat Lewis.

Lewis recommends some homes for the tour, she says. “I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 35 years,” she says, “and when I see a home owner doing something interesting to their home, I’ll stop and talk with them.” Invariably, she’ll be given a tour by the proud homeowner, and the conversation may then turn to the house as a potential candidate for the Home and Garden tour. “Other homes on the tour come in through referrals made by other people, and we have some self-referrals as well,” she says.
The tour committee strives to have homes that are all different from each other – and from previous tour homes.

“We realized some time ago that not everyone wants to see big old Victorian homes,” says Lewis which is why the tour began to expand into other neighborhoods a number of years ago.

The 2009 Tour
This year’s tour will include an eclectic collection of homes, including the follwing:

• Three apartments in the Westminster-Thurber community. “The apartments will be open for view, and the rooftop will be open as well,” says Lewis. The rooftop features a pool and what Lewis describes as the “best view in Columbus.”
• A home that has been painted using only the palette approved by the National Historic Trust. “Anyone who is interested in using those colors should stop by to see what they look like in a real home,” says Lewis.
• A home restoration by a couple who bought a vacant home, once lived in my vagrants, and did the restoration work themselves.
• A high-tech home in Italian Village. “It’s a new build,” says Lewis. “The owner controls everything in the home from his iPhone.”

As far as gardens are concerned, Lewis says there will be courtyards and landscaped yards, including a tour home on Oregon that features 50 different varieties of coneflowers. “Amazing,” says Lewis. “I just thought there was one variety.” The coneflowers were planted to honor one of the residents 50th birthday.

One of the most interesting tour homes, however, is a house on Neil Avenue, owned by Michael Keleher and Van Lemmon. The pair lived in the high-rise Miranova condominiums downtown until the pair decided to adopt their now three-year-old son and decided a neighborhood feel might be a better fit.

What makes this tour home interesting – in this 35th anniversary year – is that it was one of the homes included on the first Victorian Village Tour of Homes and Gardens.

“When it was first on the tour, it was owned by different owners,” says Lewis. When the pair decided to retire out of state, Keleher, who had always admired the home, went to talk to the owners.

“The house never went on the market,” says Lemmon. “We bought it directly from them.”

Since then, Keleher and Lemmon have made extensive remodeling changes to the house.

“We worked on it for a year ourselves,” says Lemmon, “but it never looked right.” So designer Chris King of Manifesto, Inc. was brought in to finish the job.

1000 Neil Ave., a neo-Italianate featuring newly renovated condominiums and a rooftop garden.
Debbie Rosenfeld Fine Art Photography

When Keleher and Lemmon moved into the house, the previous owner had left behind a neutral palette of dark beige and tans that looked a bit drab to the new owners. “The previous owners had a collection of clocks, and the colors worked well for them.” Although the new owners wanted a similar neutral palette that could transition from room to room, they wanted the colors lighter and fresher – more creams and ivories. “We added color with some golds, reds and sage green,” says Lemmon.

That’s not all they did, however. On the home’s second floor, in a guest bedroom, a closet was removed, allowing direct entry into an adjoining bath from the bedroom. “It made it like a master suite,” says Lemmon – although the bathroom is one that’s shared with the couple’s son. On the home’s third floor, however, a true master suite was created. “We had originally planned to make it a media room,” says Lemmon, but the pair decided to turn the large space into private space – although not without some difficulty. An angled ceiling, for example, made it difficult to fit a vanity and mirror into the room, but King arrived at a creative solution, says Lemmon. He separated the two and put them in the room back to back. Another creative solution from King – he paneled the ceiling so an obtrusive (and what Lemmon calls an “ugly”) attic door now practically disappears into the ceiling.

Also on the second floor, you’ll find a small office, the guest room, the bath, a media room painted in slate gray, and their son’s room. Here, you’ll find the room painted as though the sun was setting for the night – a compromise between one partner who wanted clouds in the room and the other who wanted stars. “At one end of the room, there are stars and dark blue colors. Then the other side is brighter with clouds that look like the sun is setting behind them,” says Lemmon.

Back on the main floor, you’ll find a sizeable entry, a double parlor, a dining room and a kitchen that has been completely renovated. An existing greenhouse in back near the kitchen was removed, and the kitchen itself was reduced from two different levels to just one. A bathroom in the corner of the kitchen was also moved to a more convenient location off the dining room. In place of the greenhouse, the pair added a year-round solarium. “We had planned to add a screened-in porch,” says Lemmon, but the solarium made more sense since, in Columbus, porches are more three-season features than is a glass-enclosed solarium. “We love it,” says Lemmon. “We’re glad we made the change.”

Finally, the home’s basement was turned into a playroom for their son, complete with a faux-finish rock wall.

The house has just a touch of Victorian style, but the antiques you’ll find here are primarily Asian.

Out back, there is a boxwood hedge, cut into a spiral pattern, a huge Victorian urn and about 500 begonia plants, planted both in the yard and the urn.

Lemmon says the previous owner has not yet been able to make a trip back to see the changes, but they’re open to view to anyone who buys a Home & Garden tour ticket.

“They’re $15 if you buy them ahead,” says Lewis, “and $20 on the day of the sale.”

Tickets can be purchased at Spinelli’s Deli, 767 Neil Avenue and also online through the Victorian Village Society Web site.

If you want to extend your fun, and contribute to the Society, opt for the $100 per person ticket available from The ticket entitles you to a smaller preview tour on Saturday from 4 until 7 p.m. After the home tour is finished, ticket holders will gather for a reception in one of the area’s beautiful homes, mingling over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres until 8 p.m. Then they will finish the evening off with dinner in a private residence.

If you opt for the Sunday tour, you should know that tour buses will travel the route to each of the 10 homes, and the transportation is included in the price of the tour.

Whether it’s the tour’s first or 35th – whether it’s the Victorian Village or Short North tour – doesn’t really matter, for it seems there is just something intrinsically human about home tours. Blame it on our insatiable curiosity to know how others organize and decorate their surroundings to live their lives.

But it’s more than that, of course. A home is more than a story caught up in the “now” of daily existence – it’s a glimpse into our souls, a distillation of who we really are. And there is just something infinitely human and satisfying about that.

Preview Dinner: ($100) Saturday, Sept. 19
Tour: ($15-$20) Sunday, Sept. 20
Tickets available at Spinelli’s Deli

© 2009 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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