Downsizing is not the first word that is called to mind when one steps inside a totally reimagined home in Covington’s Licking Riverside Historic District. The Italianate treasure, originally dubbed the “Skiff House” when it was built in 1850, oozes glamour from every room. Twelve-foot ceilings set a dramatic stage throughout most of the first floor, and even taller, 14-foot ceilings grace the second floor. Between the main house and a newly constructed carriage house, there are four bedrooms, two studies, four full baths and plenty of indoor and outdoor entertaining space.
But few of those details came in to play when Mark and Pattie Byron decided to downsize a bit earlier than expected.
“It was the view,” Pattie says. “Mark and I were driving around on a Sunday and saw the for sale sign. We weren’t planning on moving right away, but we knew another house on this street might not come available for another 30 years.”
The “street” was Riverside Drive, a coveted location in Covington, which boasts sweeping views of the river and the Cincinnati skyline.
Having raised seven children between them, the couple was ready to move from their large suburban home in Liberty Township to a slightly smaller home closer to downtown. They fell in love with the Covington neighborhood that is lush and green yet steps away from the city. The walkability factor played a huge role in their decision making as well.
Leap of faith
Until recently, the structure was sub- divided as a four-family rental and was owned by architect John Becker and his family. When the decision was made to restore the home to a single-family residence, Becker called upon the talents of James and Rob Kennedy at Legacy Custom Builders. The plan was to preserve as much of the character of the home as possible, while adding 21st century conveniences.
“We’ve been adding on to and remodeling older homes for 20 years,” James says. “This without a doubt was the biggest complete start-to -finish job we’ve done. It was a complete gut—taking it from what it was to what it is. It was logistically crazy.”
Kennedy goes on to explain that all the non-loadbearing walls which divided the four separate apartments—with four separate kitchens were removed. Several structural issues, including crumbling stone walls, were addressed as well. During the process, some gems were discovered.
“Every time you opened up a wall it was something new,” James says. “Sometimes that meant going back and starting from scratch with the framing…taking a little detour.”
One example is the 10-foot-tall pocket doors that stand between the great room and parlor. While opening up a solid wall that separated the two rooms, the Legacy team discovered massive pine doors hidden within the wall. There was even a water mark on the doors about 30 inches off the floor, from the Ohio River flood of 1937. The doors were completely restored and painted to match the refreshed interior woodwork.
Once the old walls were removed and new walls were placed per Becker’s vision, the architect and remodelers decided it was time to put the home on the market. “We thought this property deserved to have someone who would be living here make the finish decisions,” James says.
So, when the Byrons first toured the home, it was mid-demolition. “They were starting to put up walls, but there were no floors,” Pattie says. “Legacy was already on board as the contractor. That was great luck. I can’t say enough about them. Their craftsmanship is what made this house.”
The architect and remodeler got lucky as well. Pattie, who is an artist specializing in metal sculpture, has a keen eye for interior design and was well-equipped to take hold of the design reins.
“Once they realized that I was going to take this project and run with it—and that this was going to be fun—they let me do my thing,” Pattie says. “We really played off each other well.”
Pattie’s touch is seen in the striking lighting fixtures found throughout the home. While each fixture is distinctly different, the artist points out that they “speak” with each other. For example, starburst lights inside the island pendants give a nod to the starburst design of the light over the dining table. Other fixtures complement each other via color and material. But each one sets the stage beautifully for the room it is in. “I wanted the lighting to be fantastic so that it drew your eyes up,” she says. “I wanted to honor the history of the house while adding a modern touch.”
Several brick walls, fireplaces and ceiling beams were uncovered during the demolition as well. While there was some consideration for covering them up to give the place a more modern aesthetic, but Pattie pushed to keep them exposed, wanting the “bones” of the home to talk.
“I love that we have the best of both worlds,” she says. “We have all this historic character with a new roof, heating, air conditioning, windows, plumbing and electricity. It’s like living in a new house.”
Food for the soul
One of Mark’s favorite places to hang out is the kitchen. He doesn’t particularly like to cook, but he loves that this is the space where everyone gathers. The island was designed to accommodate a crowd. “This house is very social,” he says.
And yes, both Mark and Pattie admit that they love to entertain. “We have big parties,” Pattie says. “We are known for them.”
But when it’s just the two of them, the couple can be found relaxing with their two Shiloh Shepherds in their private courtyard that is located between the main house and the carriage house. The only sizeable television in the residence is in the lower level of the carriage house. Mark often hangs out here with his dogs, occasionally traipsing across the courtyard in through the French doors off the kitchen for a snack.
When it comes to picking her favorite room, Pattie says, “I can’t answer that. I bounce around all of the time. It depends on my mood and the weather.” But she admits that the parlor “is delicious when it’s raining and the doors are closed. It’s incredibly cozy.”
Not much furniture made it from the Byrons’ suburban home to this new enclave. Pattie has carefully chosen each new item with a purpose in mind. “Every piece is arranged to access conversation or the view,” she says.
The view is equally important on the second floor where the couple’s master suite and studies are located. A sumptuous master bedroom leads to a dazzling master bath with those 14-foot ceilings. An eye-catching chandelier and a soaking tub angled in the corner provide for a perfect glimpse of the spire of the Church of the Immaculata in Mt. Adams, which is a strong focal point after dusk.
“At night this place is just off the hook,” Pattie says.
After all, it really is all about the view. Each window facing north frames a prized slice of the Cincinnati skyline, whether it be the Reds’ stadium or the Great American Tower. Barges and pleasure boats pass by at regular intervals and couples, and families stroll along the street or in the park next door. The Byrons say there can be as many as five wedding parties a day gathering for photographs along the river in front of their home.
To allow the couple to enjoy the activity going on out their front door, the Byrons enlisted the help of Lichtenberg Landscaping, the firm responsible for creating the inner courtyard. Lichtenberg leveled the sloped front yard and built a paver walkway and patio to allow for riverside seating. The hardscape and plant materials were designed to draw visitors to the main front door, rather than the secondary door on the parlor side of the home. The home’s one small patch of grass is found here, and the owners cut it with a weedwacker. Family friend and gardener Rebecca Sheets helps with maintenance and adds splashes of seasonal color.
Work was completed and the couple moved into their new home in October of 2020. While cooler months and Covid restrictions kept them inside for a few months, once late spring arrived the couple took to the streets. Mark walks across the suspension bridge to Reds’ games and Pattie, an avid runner, has a favorite route that crosses one bridge into Cincinnati and another back through Newport. Both of them look forward to evening strolls to local restaurants and walking the cobblestone streets learning more about the history and flavor of this neighborhood they now call home.
Architect John Becker, Becker Architecture; Builder Legacy Custom Builders; Landscape designer Lichtenberg Landscaping; Kitchen design and cabinetry Auer Kitchens; Appliances in main house Keidel Supply; Appliances in carriage house Custom Distributors, Inc.; Bath vanities Restoration Hardware; Parlor chairs Bova; Parlor rug The Rug Gallery; Gardener Rebecca Sheets; Window treatments Shades of Distinction; Windows and doors Pella Windows & Doors; Fireplace restoration Bromwell’s; Ironwork Stewart Iron Works