Grand Victoria

An Olde Towne East gem with a storied past is brought back to life in true Victorian splendor.

In a city known for tearing down the old and building the new, one can take comfort touring Columbus’ urban villages, taking note of the thousands of historic homes that have been restored and renovated.  German Village, Victorian Village and Olde Towne East are the historic neighborhoods that have gone through tremendous revitalization over the past 30 years—some slower than others.  The urban pioneers who led efforts in the 1970s to rebuild the urban core are responsible for how this city looks and feels today.

Olde Towne East was one of the first neighborhoods built in a very young Columbus, during the 1830s.  Situated just east of downtown, the Olde Towne East of yesteryear was home to industry barons, bankers, judges, architects and legislators who helped to shape the city’s future (our present).  As the 20th century saw the rise of the suburbs and the growth of the Capital City, Olde Towne East, like the other historic neighborhoods, saw a steady downward spiral of neglect and despair.

Enter those wonderful pioneers, who in the 1970s and 80s bought up dilapidated properties, restored them to their original grandeur and created the Victorian and German Villages we see today.  Ironically, Olde Towne East, as probably the first historic district to be established, was the last to experience revitalization.   With an active neighborhood association and affordable fixer-uppers, new residents have flocked to the near east side to restore its splendor.

One in particular sits at 810 Franklin Avenue, home of Kathi and Tommy Smith.  This fantastic Victorian is just east of Parsons Avenue, on a quiet block in the heart of Olde Towne.  If the term “Modern Victorian” were an award title, this home would indeed take first prize.  The Smiths’ restoration and interior design gives the space a true sense of what the house may have been like in the early 20th century.

Built in 1905, 810 Franklin Avenue is rich in history, forged by several owners and a brief stint as a duplex.  The owner previous to the Smiths restored the building to its original state by converting it from a duplex back to a single family home.  After purchasing the house in 1998, the Smiths began an extensive cosmetic renovation, modernizing the space, but keeping to Victorian ideals.

Having a knack (and the patience) for refinishing wood surfaces, the Smith couple dove right into their cosmetic renovation soon after moving in.  All of the original woodwork (including crown moldings, entry doors, pocket doors, mantles, baseboards- you name it,) was refinished.  Kathi Smith admits it took her almost 18 months to refinish the staircase, having at one point, “to scrape the old paint off with a dental instrument.”  The result is a gorgeous grand oak staircase, overlooked by a majestic 200-foot tall window, which almost spans the height of the house.

Other modern features were added to the home soon afterwards.  A new roof, furnace and central air conditioning system were installed, making the home more comfortable during Ohio’s crazy seasons.  The home’s two and a half bathrooms were modernized,  as was the kitchen, sporting a center island with breakfast bar and wine fridge.  Outside, new fencing and a newly landscaped garden with a goldfish pond rounded out the Smiths’ “bigger projects.”

The interior design, however, is what makes 810 Franklin a “Modern Victorian.”  When choosing a look and feel for the home, the Smiths took advantage of their love and collection of antiques.  Pieces in their collection were combined with period furniture, which all could have been found in the home 90 years ago.

With her finely tuned wood-refinishing skills, Kathi took on more restoration projects to furnish the home.  For instance, the Plantation-style buffet and dining table were purchased at a low cost and were restored to their original look.  The sideboard in the living room and all of the mantles were restored pieces as well.  Some new construction, like the spectacular mirror above the living room mantle, was used to add grand sophistication.

The Smiths’ hard work and dedication gave their “Modern Victorian” home at 810 Franklin Avenue a very welcoming and inviting ambiance.  Many Victorians throughout Columbus have been restored and modernized, but few recreate the “old-school” value these homes once had.  Certainly this old house in Olde Towne East feels as if it may still be the neighborhood of yesteryear, with lawyers and industry barons walking to catch the trolley downtown.