Private Residence


This renovation project focused on the joining of two adjacent cottages in the historic German Village neighborhood of Columbus. Combining two 19th century cottages into one 21st century home posed a number of challenges and opportunities. One opportunity was to be able to take nearly 3/4 of the first floor of one of the cottages and devote it to the kitchen. This abundant space allowed for a cooking area, a long island and an adjacent beverage area. However, the big surprise is the wall of cabinetry that house both a built-in refridgerator and freezer. Nested between the appliances and equally well disguised is the pantry door--behind which is a sizeable kitchenette. This space is a great staging area for caterers or home thrown gatherings. Providing ample space to hide countertop appliances, yet keeping them within reach and convenient to use, as well as serve the traditional functions of a party.

The combination of existing windows and doors, and an added window on the west side of the house create a framework for low scale and rhythmic built-in that adds additional space for seating as well as display of artwork and food-inspired writings. The designers utilized the piece for added color and materiality.

The wide plank floors and custom cabinetry--though stained two different shades--are milled from the same stock of West Virginia walnut, maintaining a unique warmth throughout the home. This rich palette of color and light reflects the homeowner's personality and lifestyle, making this home truly a unique experience.

Awards and Publications •Selected as a German Village Show House 2010

•Published in the Columbus Dispatch, "Two Cottages Make a Home"

Two Cottages Make a Home Author: Jim Weiker

Eleanor Alvarez found a novel way to add space to a cramped German Village cottage: Combine it with the house next door.

When her youngest child started college a few years ago, Alvarez decided to move into the city from her home near Hoover Reservoir, which included "2 acres, a riding mower, a farmer next door and two Labradors."

She wasn't, however, ready to give up all the space, especially because she planned to share her new urban home with a daughter who was attending graduate school.

"I looked at a couple new condos Downtown, but I knew I wanted a neighborhood and a yard, so I really quickly zeroed in on German Village," she said. "It worked out well for me and my older daughter. She wanted to be closer to school, and I wanted to be in a neighborhood."

Alvarez found her solution on Beck Street, where an estate was selling three houses: two small cottages side by side and a duplex in the rear. All were rentals in need of some work.

The deal: Buy all of them or none of them.

Alvarez, working with architect John Behal, had a vision: Combine the two cottages into one home.

In the two musty 120-year-old cottages, Alvarez saw a light, modern residence.

"I grew up in Maryland and come from a classic Georgian background, with all the formal heavy furniture," she said. "I wanted a change."

The fruits of Alvarez's inspiration -- a 4,000-square-foot contemporary home that belies the modest exterior -- can be seen in next Sunday's German Village Haus und Garten Tour.

Two cottages built at the end of the 19th century provided the raw material for Alvarez's vision. They were almost carbon copies -- single-gabled homes, one about 900 square feet and the other 1,500 square feet with a half second floor -- that sat 2 feet apart.

Like many German Village cottages, they were dark.

"It was just really depressing," said Alvarez, the 57-year-old founder and CEO of LeaderStat, which provides management and consulting services for long-term-care facilities.

"We were dealing with two junky old cottages and a rental in back," said Steve Heinlen, a partner in Heinlen-Follmer, which renovated the home. "It was as bad as you could imagine."

But Heinlen and Behal also saw what Alvarez saw.

"It was a big project to take on," Behal said, "but from the very first walk-through, we could see the potential."

Combining German Village homes, many of which are small by today's standards, isn't unprecedented. A handful of the neighborhood's larger residences, including the home of former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka, are the product of linking two homes.

But such combos remain rare, in part because of concerns that they will damage the architectural integrity of the district.

As it turned out, combining the two cottages wasn't the biggest concern of the German Village Commission, which reviews building plans for the neighborhood.

The big issue was Alvarez's plans to add a two-car garage and second-floor master suite to the back.

After extracting a few compromises, the commission signed off on the project, allowing construction to begin in January 2009.

The two cottages were gutted to the brick; nothing was left intact. For two years, Alvarez lived in half of the duplex behind the project while workers slogged away on her vision.

"I was living with a Porta-John in one yard and a Dumpster in the other," she said. "I thought, 'What am I doing?' "

Before work could begin, Alvarez and Behal had to settle on key decisions, starting with how to link the two homes.

On the outside, Behal recessed the connection between the homes so that, at a glance from the street, the homes resemble separate cottages.

But on the inside, the homes are joined with two large arched passageways, allowing the home to function as a single space despite an 8-inch elevation difference between the cottages.

One former cottage now serves as the living room and office. The ceiling has been removed and skylights have been added, creating an airy space that's unusually bright by German Village standards. Extra room was created by eliminating stairs into the basement and tunneling into the basement from the other cottage.

The main floor of the other former cottage includes the dining room and expansive kitchen. The cottage's cozy second floor houses two guest bedrooms and bathrooms.

With the help of the Chicago decorating firm Gary Lee Partners and the Gahanna firm Contemporary 1880, Alvarez added a bevy of unusual touches to the interior, starting from the ground up with black walnut from Maryland for her floors and kitchen cabinets.

Other touches include three door-sized cabinet fronts hiding a freezer, refrigerator and butler's pantry. A custom wall of three cabinets and two benches provides seating along the kitchen's exterior wall.

The home's bright interior is continued with a sunroom connecting the old structures to the addition. Two sunroom walls are sheathed in glass; the heated floors are covered in a limestone called Belgian bluestone.

A wall-mounted fireplace resembling a television warms the master suite while the actual TV rises out of a dresser when desired.

A "morning kitchen" provides a sink, fridge and coffee maker off the master suite, while the spalike master bath offers a marble-covered retreat.

Alvarez moved from her duplex into her new home a little more than a year ago and quickly settled into German Village life.

"I'm out walking my dogs a lot. I see people I know, and we'll have impromptu get-togethers," she said. "I know absolutely everyone around me."

Alvarez calls her home a "work in progress," but it's hard to know what remains to be done.

When asked what she spent on the renovation, she declined.

"I refuse to tell you," she joked, "because it's appalling."