The warmth of the Mediterranean is revealed in the renovations of this charming Ritter Park home.
by Marla Brannan
It seems the current retro trend in many aspects of popular culture, like music and fashion looking back to the 1980s and cars to the 1950s, is reaching its long arm into the area of design – with a twist of course. Many homeowners, especially of a younger generation, are renovating properties with one eye on history and the other on the future, making for wonderful, modern homes that are true to the feel of the original structure. Such is certainly the case with Drs. Helene and Stephanie Jacobs-Skolik’s house at 1300 12th Street which overlooks Ritter Park.
According to the original blueprint hanging in the house’s vestibule, the structure was built in 1917 for Lester A. Pollock by Verus T. Ritter, a Philadelphia architect responsible for many of that city’s buildings as well as Huntington’s own City Hall. At the time of its construction the house resembled a quaint cottage with a definite Mediterranean flavor. By the time the Jacobs-Skoliks bought it in October 2001, it had undergone numerous renovations resulting in a structure similar to other Colonial homes along the park. But, as Helene points out, “A neo-Colonial feel had been imposed on the house when the bones and structure were actually more Spanish-Mediterranean.”
Thus the renovation began – and the challenge to keep the Mediterranean ambience while opening the house up inside and creating good flow from room to room. Helene and Stephanie also wanted a “homey” place, modern and comfortable for them and their two boys, Lake and Cooper, but able to accommodate sit-down parties of 30 or 40 guests.
Several major structural renovations ensued. The house’s original front entry was on the side near the driveway; with the Colonial renovation, however, this side door had become exposed to the elements and the front door appeared to be centered on a columned porch facing the street.
Helene’s design called for a porch that featured an arcade of arches and granite balustrades, which wrap around the front and side of the house. This change provides shelter to the original front entry and adds more privacy from the street and Ritter Park.
Once inside the vestibule the changes continue. Helene felt the entry needed to be opened up because the size was “underwhelming” for such a large home. With the help of Vic Greco of Shamu, Machowski and Greco, an architectural firm in Wheeling, and Thom Bradley of Bradley Construction in Huntington, walls between the vestibule and living room, and the living room and formal dining room were knocked out and replaced with columns and arches. These changes created a natural flow from the now spacious vestibule, living and dining rooms to the kitchen.
In keeping with the Mediterranean concept of indoor-outdoor living, Helene selected a lush moss green and pale blue for many of the interior walls. This idea is intensified by doors leading to the patio and a view from the front door all the way to a fountain outside the dining room windows. The living room is home to a 1940s Whitney (Chicago) baby grand piano, played by Arturo Sandeval when he was recently in town, a British high-backed chair from the early 1800s, an 1880 Hepplewhite armoire, and numerous pieces from Helene’s collection of West Virginia and Ohio Valley glass – a hobby she picked up long before she lived in the state.
Since Helene and Stephanie entertain as many as four times a week and now have a lovely space for parties and dinners both large and small – not to mention two growing boys – the kitchen is an important component in their renovated home. The process in this room began with what Helene describes as a complete gutting of the old kitchen – walls separating the brunch area and kitchen were knocked down to create a walk-through; a mid-room spiral staircase leading to the basement was removed; and the old outdoor root cellar stairs were transformed into comfortable interior stairs to the basement.
Then she started rebuilding from the ground up beginning with Brazilian Cherry floors, adding gorgeous and plentiful cupboards, sparkling black granite counters, two custom made copper sinks and copper tile in a dazzling harlequin pattern in the backsplash areas. Other walls were finished with rough plaster tinted a deep titian – the oranges and reds make the room as inviting as the smell of fresh bread. Helene loves the finished project. “Though the kitchen is large, you never have to move more than a step or two to do anything. The whole room is about function, convenience and details,” she explains.
The enlargement of the master suite was the next major renovation Helene and Stephanie undertook. Formerly the room sat over the living and dining rooms. Currently the master bedroom/bathroom suite encompasses the entire second story front of the house. With the front porch columns removed and the porch ceiling lowered, the sleeping area could now expand to include the space on top of the porch. The room currently features a sitting area facing the park and a new full-sized fireplace and breakfast prep niche. The master suite also includes a lovely outdoor balcony, a dressing room that doubles as a library/study, hardwood floors meticulously stenciled with various stains by Helene and Stephanie, and built-in bedside bookcases.
The adjacent bathroom is also proportionately larger and is now home to a multi-head shower, soaking tub overlooking the park, two travertine sinks and a heated tile floor for those cold winter mornings.
Three years after undertaking this massive project, renovations are still ongoing. The basement, rumored to be a bomb shelter with its three feet thick concrete walls, now houses a bright playroom. The boys’ bathroom was recently renovated in an Amazon-theme featuring a suspended cage of colorful folk art parrots and underlit glass vessel sinks. Coordinating nautical themes were incorporated in their bedrooms. A brick fireplace was built in the Wood Room – a large family room with red accents that doubles as a home office. The renovations by the previous home owners created an enormous three car garage thats magnitude was reflected in the affectionate moniker, “The Garage Mahal.” The space now includes a full service laundry area, a gardening/potting area and Au Pair apartment. Tres bien! Raw space above the garage that was used by the previous owners as a bathing/grooming area for their show dogs was transformed into a guest apartment with a catering kitchen.
Other projects of note include converting space above the family room into a delightful combination storage room/playroom, a new second floor laundry room and a lovely garden. As Helene points out, “Our ‘To Do’ list was as long as the path that surrounds Ritter Park. And we’re still not finished.”
Even so, this stunning Ritter Park home has been modernized brilliantly. Its roots are showing again and the Jacobs-Skoliks and guests can enjoy the captivating warmth of the Mediterranean, right here in the heart of Huntington.
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