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Urban Oasis

Sisters choose Olde Towne East for their ideal neighborhood

Not many people like to think about aging, but that’s exactly what was on the minds of two sisters who transformed the backyard of their home in Columbus’ tree-lined Olde Towne East neighborhood into an urban hideaway.

City sisters

With the Columbus Museum of Art, Franklin Park Conservatory, Short North and Brewery District all just minutes away, the sisters’ home is more than convenient for hosting out-of-town friends and family. The wire-cut brick and masonry duplex, built at the turn of the 20th century, is perfect, with each sister having her own residence and sharing access to their restful, outdoor family room.

“When my sister bought the house in 1979 and rented out the downstairs, she had not thought about staying long. But when I joined her about 12 years later, we both began to think about what kind of changes we wanted—not only to make the place more livable—but to allow us to age in place,” says one of the sisters.

As co-owners, the sisters were better able to make the changes that would serve them for the long-term, beginning with a major renovation that includes a 1,000-square-foot, two-story addition. By adding a modern 500-square-foot master suite to each residence, updating the wiring throughout and making modest kitchen upgrades, the home was quickly brought into the 21st century.

“What will really make the difference for us as we grow older is the elevator we installed in our new common entrance from the patio,” notes the younger sister, who, in her late 50s has already made good use of the convenience when she had knee-replacement surgery a few years ago.

Concrete jungle

Although the addition took more than a third of the backyard, the generous lot allowed ample room for the sisters to express their horticultural creativity by recruiting the help of professional landscape architect, Chris Hammer, co-owner of Foundation Landscape Services. He recalls that once the construction crew had completed their work, the women were left with an empty canvas—albeit made up of dust and
gravel—upon which to create a picture of beauty and relaxation.

“We asked Chris to design an area that would have plenty of room for entertaining, provide privacy and be in keeping with our plan to live here comfortably in our old age,” she explains. Key elements in Hammer’s design were the exclusion of both lawn and steps.

“Every surface is wheelchair friendly,” Hammer explains. “Even though neither sister is in a wheelchair or even uses a walker, they were adamant that, should that day come, they wanted to still be able to enjoy the outdoors.” From the door of the two-car garage to the new back entryway, the elevation remains nearly level, with only a slight rise that is easily maneuverable. Interest is brought into the design through the use of a variety of surfaces. Concrete pavers that mimic the red brick found throughout Olde Towne East, bring warmth and dimension. Planting beds all around the foundation of the house and the garage not only soften the area, but because some of the beds use gravel instead of mulch, an illusion of depth is achieved.

A raised vegetable garden, about 20 inches off the ground, measures 7 feet long by about 2½ feet wide, allowing for two rows of plantings that can easily be reached from a standing or sitting position.

A six-foot privacy fence that encloses the space is a backdrop for “layers” of foliage, including a floating hedge of columnar European Hornbeam. Winterberry, serviceberry, Korean lilac, hydrangea and boxwood set the stage for perennials such as hosta and variegated liriope. The whimsical, yet stately containers the sisters plant with colorful annuals. Shade is provided by graceful, small-scale trees, including Winter King Hawthorne and Cut-leaf Japanese Maple.

“We love entertaining on the patio on summer evenings and with the twinkling lights of the Columbus skyline in the background, we can easily imagine we have a little oasis in the middle of New York City,” she asserts.


Landscape design and implementation: Foundation Landscape Services,;
Elevator: AR Mellinger Company

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