Living in Harmony with Nature

GRACE LEMASTERS has been busy planting seedlings in the greenhouse all morning. Like her husband, Jim Lockey, who is still out on the couple's tree farm, you can usually find her puttering here or outside in their perennial gardens situated on 133 rolling Ohio acres.

"Our home and land is not just a place where Jim and I hang our hats, it's an entire lifestyle," says Grace, referring to their 5,000-squarefoot timber frame home located just 20 minutes from downtown Cincinnati. They may live in close proximity to a major metropolitan area, but they are light-years away from the hustle and bustle of the urban living.

Both professors in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of Cincinnati, Jim, a pulmonary and occupational physician, and Grace, an environmental epidemiologist, have luckily acquired, quite by their own design, a lifestyle that complements their ethics–one they will hopefully never have to abandon.

Their house, the culmination of thoughtful planning and a bit of luck, started in their mind's eye in 1994." I had been saving pictures of house designs for eons and knew that someday we would build a house on land that underscores how we want to live," recalls Grace

What Grace and Jim had envisioned is living in a style that is completely devoted to living in harmony with nature. "We've seen what happens when the air and water become polluted, resulting in loss of wildlife habitat. Our approach has been to try to give back to nature through planting native prairie grasses and a diversity of trees with the future goal of an oak Savannah forest surrounding our home." And, with a great deal of hard work, the two have managed to do a very respectable job, or, in Grace's words, "build a refuge for the animals to return to and one we don't want to leave."

At least that's what architect Mary Cassinelli interpreted, as she, along with Jim and Grace, became involved in planning their future home over a two-year period.

"I could see that this couple was completely unique and deliberate in the way they went about developing their home. They were extremely thorough, wanting to make sure that they were going to get exactly what they wanted. What evolved was a timber frame ranch home surrounded by forests and prairie grasses, a crystal-clear pond, wildlife habitat and, most importantly, seclusion," says Cassinelli.

The homeowners searched for four years before finding this property. "It didn't just fall into our laps," acknowledges Grace. "We looked everywhere in the tristate area, scoured the newspapers, asked everyone we knew, and even put flyers into mailboxes."

Finally, quite by accident, they saw an ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer for land bordering the Ohio River. The property, only 30 minutes from their offices on the university campus, seemed ideal. Needless to say, this gem of acreage wouldn't last long. Fully aware of this, the couple didn't dally and bought it immediately.

The idea of building a timber frame evolved slowly as the couple thoroughly researched their plans in conjunction with Cassinelli and Ohio-based Oakbridge Timber Framing. "We visited a number of timber frame companies and homes in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana and selected Oakbridge for their craftsmanship and integrity," says Jim. "They always went the extra mile for us, and we found working with these craftsmen was a joy."

"I think we gave this couple exactly what they wanted," says Johnny Miller, Oakbridge's director of sales. "What we pride ourselves on is delivering a complete timber frame package. In this case, we worked with Mary and the homeowners to provide them with a hybrid structure consisting of smooth-planed oak timbers constructed with standard mortise and tenon joinery.

According to Cassinelli, "When I sat down with Grace and Jim to locate the site for the house, we decided to situate it approximately 50 feet from the pond. Before the concrete foundation was even poured, we decided to maximize the view by providing French doors exiting from their second-story loft office whenever they wanted to step outside onto the deck for a bit of rejuvenation."

Once the property was cleared of an existing dilapidated house, Grace and Jim had their general contractor, David Clayton, put in a quarter-mile gravel drive, underground utility, and sewer lines.

Soon after the house was built, we planted nearly 4,000 trees. The Amish Oakbridge crew had asked us to replenish the wood we were using in our construction and that started us on the tree farm adventure. What we've consciously created by our plantings of red and white oak, and black cherry, along with a native prairie grass, is a place of natural restoration to sustain and support the abundant wildlife which now includes nesting wood duck and many types of songbirds. Our pristine habitat is flourishing. When Jim comes home from work, he heads out to the tree farm as quickly as possible and I'll follow or work in our gardens... it's truly a sanctuary," says Grace.

"First, we built the three-car garage and conventional guest house, where we lived in for a year as we watched the Amish Oakbridge crew and our thorough and patient general contractor, build the house," says Jim. The oak timbers were all numbered ready for framing, which only took four days. The interior finishing work would take another seven months to complete.

When the Ohio weather is benevolent, guests get an inkling of what living in the country offers. From the moment they wind their way back on the gravel road, stroll through the stone pillars, and enter the home, there's a casual, warm atmosphere. A glance upward toward the web of oak timbers overhead, or to the gracious traditional furnishings and fine antiques, leaves little doubt that the house has much to offer.

Because the couple entertains frequently and also has five grown children, they wanted a very open, flexible plan for the home. "Essentially, all the public spaces–great room, dining room, huge kitchen, greenhouse–and three bedrooms are on the main level. Everything opens up visually with a merging of the exterior environment with the interior space. This concept works well for us and is very peaceful," says Grace.

Cassinelli kept this in mind when designing the house.

"Because of their frequent entertaining, we made the kitchen a focal point in the house. There are actually two areas in the kitchen that complement each other: a Western-style bar (complete with brass foot rail) and a black granite-topped island that runs diagonally from the bar. Cherry cabinets that contrast with the oak flooring make the kitchen a very inviting place for visitors, not to mention Jim and Grace, who both enjoy cooking. The chandelier over the dining area is a tepee made with rawhide and iron which the couple found on a fly fishing trip in Wyoming–even before they started designing the house. As Jim says, "The dining area was designed around this tepee chandelier.

Next to the kitchen is a set of beveled glass and oak antique doors connecting to the greenhouse. These doors, bought before the house was even designed, were reportedly rescued from a Chicago fire and were found under a pile of doors when the couple was vacationing in Door County, Wisconsin. The glass greenhouse, with its handsomely appointed brick walls and floor fashioned with Porcelain tile from Italy that withstands temperature changes and water, serves double duty as a space for entertaining and a functioning greenhouse. "This place truly functions year round," says Grace.

Adjacent to the kitchen sits the 28-foot-high great room, highlighted by a concave-shaped Indiana stone fireplace that the couple adapted from a Frank Lloyd Wright design. Above the fireplace is a picture made of 108 hand-fired and painted tiles by Washington, D.C., artist Jamie Fine. The large brass chandelier over-looking the great room came from an old hotel in Atlanta, Georgia

Even though the house is warmed by propane heat, with bills averaging approximately $120 a month, in the fall you'll find the couple cutting and stacking firewood from at least 14 to 20 fallen trees found on their property. The fireplace also functions as a furnace as it is connected to the house's main ventilation system. "Because we consciously designed the fireplace to sit on an interior wall in the middle of the great room, there is a generous output of heat radiating from the stones. Coupled with the well-insulated windows, walls, and ceilings, these features do an admirable job of heating," says Jim

"We like to entertain and do so outside as much as possible. There are a couple of really great 'outdoor rooms' here. There is a circular Wisconsin stone-paved patio matching the outside front entrance, another picnic area set back and down in the forest, and a firepit surrounded by a large, curved stone seating area that is great for fall parties and marshmallow roasting. These three areas were designed to accommodate 50 to 100 people. It's just a great place to catch the evening sunsets or native wildlife that frequent the area," says Grace.

Developing this house hasn't been laborious for the couple—rather, it's been a joy. According to Grace and Jim, "We've put a lot of thought behind every timber."

Their patience has paid off. These two down-to-earth intellectuals welcome colleagues, friends, and family who can observe how the couple has merged their lifestyle with the environment. They won't be disappointed.

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