A House, Saved
CityBeat, May 2006
Chris Cain and Linda Goldenhar were comfortable in their Northside home when Cain discovered a bungalow for sale in Clifton. An architect with a degree in historic preservation and an employee with the Cincinnati City Planning Department’s Historic Conservation Office for nearly 17 years, he knew that by buying the bungalow he could improve it.

“I didn’t know we were thinking about moving,” says  a laughing Goldenhar, assistant dean at UC's College of Medicine.

In the end, however, she supported the move. Even though they didn’t need the house, Goldenhar says she knew that Cain felt the house needed them.

So on Sept. 10, 2001, the husband-and-wife pair left their well-preserved home in Northside and moved into what they call “a little fireplug of the house” on Wood Avenue. Although Goldenhar says she found it difficult to leave Northside, she liked the bungalow.

“It had nice energy,” she says. “It was comfortable, small and doable.”

Mindful of the home’s underlying architectural structure, Cain and Goldenhar rehabbed their new old house and turned it into a highly personal home. An appreciation of Arts & Crafts style is evident. Inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement—a reaction to the Industrial Revolution’s mass-produced products and a call for the return of the craftsman—Arts & Crafts style-furniture features well-proportioned, simple lines, rich finishes and little ornamentation.

(The house is one of 10 available for visits during the 2006 Clifton House Tour May 14. See "Home Tours" sidebar for details.)

In addition to Arts & Crafts influences, Cain and Goldenhar’s personal influences are everywhere, from the walls they built and the roof they shingled. The rooms are filled with furniture Cain handcrafted, and Goldenhar designed the curtains and the master-suite-comforter.
'Plan, plan, plan'
Cain says he’s fairly certain the bungalow, built in 1923, was a ready-to-assemble kit house, which was popular in the early 20th century. Each piece of wood in the house is labeled and marked with a number: 394.

Cain has good reason to believe that Charles “Chas” Jacobs, a local foreman and the home’s first owner, built the house. The labeling system used doesn’t match that of the popular Sears and Roebuck kit houses, and so Cain says the kit probably came from a local lumberyard, most likely the one where Jacobs worked.

Soon after they moved in, the couple determined the 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom home needed a second floor. That's when the preservation, not to be mistaken with restoration, began.

In June 2002, Goldenhar, Cain, Cain’s brother Vic (a contractor from Oregon) and several friends cut a hole in the roof, built a platform and added an 800-square-foot second floor. The project, which also included tearing down some first-floor walls to redo the kitchen and the original master bedroom, took 18 months.

The couple sealed off their living space to two first-floor rooms and the basement. A friend who was redoing his kitchen gave Goldenhar and Cain his old kitchen cabinets. With them, the couple built a temporary kitchen in their basement, complete with an oven and refrigerator. Vic lived in a makeshift basement bedroom for three weeks.
“It was very stressful,” Goldenhar says, adding that she and her husband work well together and rarely experience tension. They advise fellow rehabbers to “plan, plan, plan; take your time and be flexible.”

While their to-do list at times seems never ending, Goldenhar and Cain say the major rehab work is complete. The front room features original hardwood floors and an impressive rough-stone fireplace. In addition to an Arts & Crafts-style coffee table, Cain designed and built an Arts & Crafts rocking chair while taking a three month furniture-making course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine in 1998.

Once just a wall, the back of the room now features a staircase that leads to the second floor. Goldenhar says she loves to run her hand on top of the massive stairwell post, complete with Purple Heart inlay, that Cain designed and built.

While the dining room simply got a new paint job, Cain completely redesigned and rebuilt the home’s kitchen. He turned the original breakfast nook, which featured built-in benches, into a spacious pantry, maintaining the space’s arched ceiling.

He designed and built all the cabinetry in his offsite woodworking shop located in Camp Washington. He obtained the quartersawn white oak from a friend who had a tree torn down on his property in Madeira. (Quartersawn wood, popular in Arts & Crafts furniture, is first made by cutting a log into quarters. To create individual boards, parallel cuts are made in each quarter, perpendicular to the tree’s growth rings.)

Although the style has a definite Arts & Crafts feel, the kitchen is truly modern, exemplified by the cabinetry’s hardware, stainless steel appliances and quartz countertops. Cain incorporated a slate backsplash into the design and, instead of tile, opted for a recycled wine cork floor from Portugal. A lowered countertop hides behind the kitchen’s back countertop, perfect for hiding the phone, phonebooks and other office supplies.

While the second first-floor bedroom no longer exists since the rehab, the first-floor master bedroom now is used as a more casual sitting room. The couple sleeps upstairs in the impressive second-floor master suite. Cain designed and built much of the furniture in this room, including the bed frame, end table and a jewelry box.

While some of his work sports hand-cut dovetails, he prefers mortise-and-tenon joinery. Popular in Arts & Crafts furniture, this type of joinery involves a recess cut into one board accepting a projection cut at the end of another board.

Many of the home’s curtains, as well as the comforter in the master suite, feature a similar design of either ginkgo leaves or stylized roses. Goldenhar created the designs and had a local embroidery shop apply them to plain curtains she purchased from Target. A friend incorporated her ginkgo leaf design into a comforter she made for the couple.

When designing the second floor, everything was considered and planned, including the view from the bed. Sitting in bed, Goldenhar and Cain have a clear shot of the backyard; the master suite’s set of French doors lead to a hallway, which leads to another set of French doors that open up to a second bedroom.

Across from the second bedroom’s French doors are glass doors that open up to a second-floor deck. The view of Rawson Woods from the deck (which can be seen from the master-suite bed), is impressive, thanks to a sloping backyard. Goldenhar designed the second-floor-deck’s railing, which a friend built.

Sandwiched between the two bedrooms is a modern-style bathroom featuring Mexican limestone tile, a skylight and cabinets that Cain designed and built. The couple did the tile work themselves over a four-day weekend.
Cain built the couple’s spacious deck using a hardwood called ipe, which Cain says is very rot-resistant but extremely heavy. He used biscuit joinery so no hardware shows. The deck, which can be accessed from the kitchen’s back door, leads to a stone garden and dry riverbed, which Goldenhar says is still a work in progress.

'When love and skill work together'
“We’re more into creation than maintenance,” Goldenhar says.

Because of the backyard’s severe slope, retaining walls were necessary. Stones and rocks are key to the backyard’s landscape.

Goldenhar grew up collecting Petoskey stones found on the shore of Lake Michigan. Since then, she’s constantly pocketing stones found on walks and when traveling. She does it so often that Cain often gives her a quota before a trip, similar to the quotas her dad used to give her while taking walks together.

“It’s a sickness,” Cain says, laughing.

While the larger stones in the couple’s backyard were “borrowed” from construction sites, Goldenhar says many came from a trip the couple took to Maine. Her smaller stones can be found in bowls and containers throughout the house. When a concrete slab was poured for a driveway, Goldenhar carefully embedded some favorite stones into the wet cement.

In addition to stones, the home is decorated with Goldenhar’s photography. Vibrant pictures of tree trunks, flowers, insects and scenes from various trips around the world help the old walls further reflect the couple’s personalities.

But perhaps the most striking wall art is an old quilt hanging in the front sitting room. Goldenhar’s great-grandmother made the fan-design quilt in the early 1900s using silk ties sold in the general store where she worked.

Although Goldenhar and Cain say it was difficult to leave Northside, a neighborhood they both loved, they’ve quickly become fond of Clifton. On warm days, Goldenhar can walk or bike to work at UC. They’re also within walking distance of the neighborhood’s business district.

Cain quit his job as an urban conservator several years ago to start his own furniture-making business. Since then he has gone back to his architectural roots and is now designing and renovating kitchens. He’s quick to note that he’s not a true restorationist, but rather a preservationist—he simply wants to ensure the work he does is beautiful and tastefully done.

While much of the bungalow mimics its early 20th-century origins, Cain and Goldenhar’s personalities are evident in every room, on every wall and with every pull of every one of Cain’s handcrafted drawers.  
Many believe the Arts and Crafts movement was inspired in part by John Ruskin’s writings. The social critic, author, poet and artist once wrote, “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”

Walking around Cain and Goldenhar’s home, one can see that Ruskin’s words are indeed true. Cain did more than save this 1923 bungalow—they turned it into their own masterpiece.

—Story by Kara Gebhart Uhl
—Photo by Matt Borgerding