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  The Sells Mansion  
Columbus, Ohio
I was riding on a plane to Columbus for the JLC show last year, working away on my laptop, oblivious to the fellow sitting beside me who was reading every word I wrote over my shoulder. When he asked if I was a carpenter, I may have exhaled audibly. I was sure that next he'd be telling me about his most recent remodel, the molding he installed in his dining room, the screen door he hung on the back porch. I couldn't have been further off the mark. He wanted to tell me about his friend in Columbus and the home he bought and restored. Now that I found interesting. In fact, my companion on the plane was so taken by my interest that he asked for my cell phone number and told me he'd call his friend and arrange a tour of the house while I was in town. The day before the show I was working on the convention hall floor when my cell phone rang and the owner of the home invited me over for a tour. He asked when I could come. Of course, I said "Right now!" I grabbed Jed Dixon and off we ran. Something told me that this was going to be one of those serendipitous moments, when you just happen upon a gem. Here's what we found.
The home is named after the original owner, Peter Sells. Peter Sells, along with his three brothers, owned the Sells Borthers Circus, one of the largest and most successful shows in the country. Reflecting their affluence and their place in Columbus society, Peter built this Richardson Romanesque mansion in 1895, a popular style during the gilded age.On the exterior, the house abounds with Gothic ornamentation, from broad 4-centered arches, to pointed 2-centered arches, from buttressed brickwork on the corners, to a fanciful chimney.
Notice how the brickwork corbels out in pointed breaks around the chimney? Below you'll see the same detail inside the home on the newel posts.
If you think about it, you'll realize how easy it would be to replicate this molding detail. That white shape on top is a lamp shade. I cut it off in the frame of the photograph because it's not the original shade and looks terrilbe. The newel post, like many in Victorian homes, also supported a built-in lamp.The current owners, David and Erica Brownstein, have been restoring the house since they purchsed it in 1997. The Brownstein's deserve our thanks for doing such a good and thoughtful job. Ironically, the last day of the Columbus JLC Live show, Jed met two of the carpenters who worked on the restoration--fortunate souls, to have worked on such a gem.
The main stair was probably the most
intriguing work in the home. The rail
was hand carved, and the balusters
were, too--they were not turned.
Each of the balusters was carved in a plain but stately design, with a slender square-sided taper.
The balusters return to square at the base, and are locked in by fillets. The restoration carpenters replaced several missing balusters. Finding the replacements wasn't easy.
Jed got stuck at the stair, calling me over several times to shoot pictures he wanted, especially this one of the raidius skirt board, and the drops following each spandrel. In the background, notice how the backband captures the entire door casing, and the Federal-style applique on the freize.
The spandrels were also designed in a simple yet rich way, and easy to replicate. The single wide cove is reminiscent of the rococo C-scrolls found on most Georgian and many Federal stairs. The nosing on each step returns far enough to provide a perfect point of termination for the spandrel..
The steps climbed to a wide mid-landing, allowing plenty of room to walk the turn before taking the next rise.
While Jed was studying the stair, I found this window detail, a perfect example of classical convention, as Brent Hull has pointed out to me (look for an upcoming article by Brent on Classical Conventions in Window and Door trim).
In this detail, the cove molding on top of the apron is installed plumb with the outside of the casing, not the apron itself. The fact that the stool is chamfered, and not bullnosed, makes this detail a bit easier to achieve and accept for contemporary carpenters who prefer to align all miters. (For more on this subject, see Stool & Apron, and also see Stool & Apron Miters.)
Jed was still finding more stairs, like this newel post at the rear of the home. We included his hand in this shot so he'd have a good refernce of scale. It's a lot easier to replicate a detail from a photograph if you have something in the photograph by which you can accurately judge the size.
I was still distracted by the trim details. The exaggerated plinth blocks at the bottom of the casing intrigued me and had me wondering--was that a hint of the Arts & Crafts movement?
But it was the baseboard that provided me with the best clue. This home, built in late 19th century, shows many signs of the Arts & Crafts style, just then becoming popular throughbout the country. The pitched baseboard detail (the base is slanted at about a 5° angle) reflects how the Gothic influence in a Victorian Romanesque home made it's way into the bungalows of the Craftsman style. The moment I saw the baseboard, I knew I wouldn't forget it (see the 2005 JLC Craftsman-Style Mantelpiece).
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