Written by Amelia Jefers
Photography by Rob Manko
Driving north out of Columbus, it does not take long before the sky gets a little bigger, wide swaths of pavement are traded for smaller, country lanes, and tall buildings of steel and concrete fade away in favor of stone and wood construction. In the late 1970s, it was the desire to deeply connect with one another and their young children that led a Columbus surgeon and his wife down these country roads to purchase a rustic farmhouse on 100 acres located about an hour and a half northeast of downtown Columbus. An escape from their hurried lifestyle, the tranquility provided by the country setting became a regular part of their lives. “Te farm made it possible for us to get away for weekends and temporarily simplify; it was such a contrast to our daily routine,” says the wife. The family enjoyed the refreshment of time spent in solitude, and multiple hiking and riding trails provided ample entertainment for both children and parents.
Growing children and a growing appreciation for the mental restoration provided by time away prompted the purchase of additional land adjacent to the original property. A log cabin was built on top of the highest hill with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. On a rare May, weekend spent away from the farm, only four years after the family had moved in, the cabin was struck by lightning and the house was consumed in what they were later told was an unsurvivable free. Devastated, they abandoned the property for a year but soon began longing for a comfortable escape from ever-increasing demands on family and personal time. The diligent pursuit of the perfect site for a new country home resulted in a location just a few hundred yards from the original. Another cabin was constructed, adorned with multiple lightning rods, and soon the farm was buzzing again with friends and family, trail rides, and regular polo matches on the picturesque field that had been leveled for that purpose.
After retirement, there was no other place for the couple to go than the farm that held so many happy memories for them. The planning began in earnest in 1993 with highly regarded architect George Acock. Contemplating the landscape and wonderful respite the property had provided for 20 years, Acock sought to deliver the home of their dreams: “They really wanted a shingled cottage similar to what you find in New England. They had spent some time there, and this was a style they appreciated.” Within a year, the second cabin was razed to make room for a shingle-style home on that still-perfect site.
Noted designer Dennis McAvena joined the project to produce an interior that would further establish the home as a comfortable, luxurious country estate. On one of his many trips to Great Britain, McAvena serendipitously stumbled upon a cache of antique light fixtures from an old hotel in London that made their way into the plan. After each trip, McAvena and the couple would carefully review photographs of his finds - from furniture to accessories, to determine which pieces should jump the pond. “The doctor had grand ideas, and we would do the dirty work,” chuckles McAvena of his collaboration with the wife, whom he met while they were both attending a design class at Columbus College of Art and Design in the early eighties.
One of the most stunning features of the home is the 18th-century oak paneling in the two-story living room. Sourced in Great Britain, the paneling had been salvaged from a large home in Surrey. Soon after its purchase, an Englishman arrived on the job site to measure in what the wife recalls was, “a rather of-hand way. He measured quickly and said ‘Goodbye. I will see you in six months.’ I had great misgivings at this point.” However, he arrived six months later with two assistants and a shipping container, and they set to work. There was a concern for the long-term health of the paneling due to the differences in climate between its past and future homes, so a series of lattices were installed which allow the paneling to foil on the walls. This allows for movement and avoids the risk of damage. The remaining sections of the paneling and window frames from the same home in Surrey were used for bookcases, crown molding, and wainscoting in the gallery above the living room. The gallery, which houses a trophy case, portraits of the couple’s children, and cushioned window seats favored by the avid readers in the family, is framed by beautiful ironwork from master blacksmith Mark Bokenkamp. Bokenkamp crafted all of the ironwork inside and outside, including locks on the doors and decorative gates at both stairways to keep grandchildren safe. “We have had many occasions to be thankful for those beautiful gates,” says the wife.
Master stone carver Dale Johnson created all of the exterior stonework as well as the stunning fireplace in the living room. In the process of making the new look old, Johnson took a cue from a 17th-century French marble worker’s text and buried the finished piece in peat moss and manure for the winter. The spring thaw and a thorough power washing showed that the unconventional technique had worked perfectly - providing a centuries-old patina in the span of a few months, “the result is the best faux aging of limestone I’ve ever seen” says Johnson, whose sculptures of a few of the couple’s grandchildren dot the landscape around the house.
All these years later, the farm continues to provide beloved respite for the couple’s three children and their families. Two additional homes (including the original farmhouse) on the property of 400 acres provide plenty of sleeping space for eight grandchildren and their parents. Weekends throughout the year are spent hiking, riding, sledding, and reflecting. When the families are together on summer Sundays, they hike to an outdoor chapel in the woods for a time of communal reflection and worship. The group then returns to the main house for the wife’s famous blueberry pancakes served on the large screened porch and an afternoon of swimming. A pool was added in 2001, and the original building on the property, a log cabin dating to 1840, was restored and repurposed as a pool house.
The horse program, as the husband calls it, has long been an important part of the farm. His preferred way of connecting with the land around him and engaging in self-reflection, he continues to ride nearly every day. Part John Wayne, part Winston Churchill, the aesthetic of his tack room is rugged and refined, with decades of memorabilia covering the walls. Grateful letters from former patients mix with photographs from his high school and college football-playing days and speak to a life fully lived, much of it on this farm. Reflecting on his long connection to treasured clients and a successful project, McAvena comments, “They always wanted the house to look undecorated, though it is professionally done through and through. It is definitely one of a kind.” sl
This story ran in the July / Aug 2014 edition of Sophisticated Living Columbus. This country retreat has since changed hands and will soon become a luxury retreat rental. For more information, visit redbrushfarm.com.