The Historic Home of Dard Hunter

The presence of four generations of the Hunter family are felt in this 1851 Gothic Revival house, purchased by Dard Hunter Sr. in 1919. Today his grandson maintains the property—and upholds the family tradition of art and craft.

Dard Hunter III didn’t think it unusual to grow up in a historic house. Dard’s grandfather, Dard Hunter Sr., bought the house in 1919, after he retired as a graphic designer with the Roycrofters. A classic Gothic Revival house in brick, it was built in 1851 by German immigrant Oscar Janssen and his mother, Maria. Named Mountain House, it sat on a steep hillside overlooking Chillicothe. With grapevine terraces below, it was one of Ohio’s earliest wineries. Designed to resemble Maria’s favorite castle on the Rhine, the house has wine bottle-shape window surrounds, cut from sandstone quarried on the property. 

The east elevation of the house overlooks the city; originally the front entrance, the space was enclosed by Dard Sr. in 1920. Note the wine-bottle window surrounds.

John Neitzel

The Janssens lost their castle to foreclosure in 1855. For the next 35 years, the house had a variety of owners and uses—as everything from a bakery to a resort hotel, and even a school. It became a private residence once again when Emma and FM Nichols bought it, in 1892.  Emma, an avid gardener, planted female ginkgo, pecan, and magnolia trees that all are still thriving, and which enclose the house today in a leafy bower.  

As soon as Dard Hunter Sr. bought Mountain House, he set about updating the “old-fashioned” Gothic interiors, adding mouldings and trim above doors and windows in the newly fashionable Classical Revival style. (Most of it came from Decorator’s Supply in Chicago, which is still in business.) He relocated the front entrance to the south, enclosing the east entrance to make it a library. Dard Sr. traveled extensively in Europe and Asia during the 1920s and ’30s, documenting the history of papermaking. He furnished the house with curiosities and treasures from his trips: a 17th-century iron seaman’s chess, jade and crystal Buddhas, ivory tea caddies, Chinese scroll paintings.

In the library, Dard Sr. added a marble mantel found at an architectural-salvage company; the portrait is of Dard III’s great-grandfather, William Henry Hunter. Oak-paneled walls lend a warm, Arts & Crafts feeling.

John Neitzel

The Hunters were a prestigious Ohio family. Dard III’s great-grandfather, William Henry Hunter, had been a 19th-century businessman, owner of the local newspaper and staunch supporter of the arts. He was a co-founder of Lonhuda Pottery,  a short-lived but esteemed art pottery (1892–96) known for its brown underglazes and slip decoration, and an exhibitor at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893. His son Dard Hunter Sr. was a gifted artist who became an iconic figure of the American Arts & Crafts movement. A Roycroft artisan, Dard Sr. designed everything from stained-glass windows and title pages for Elbert Hubbard’s press to furniture and jewelry. The first person to produce every aspect of a book by hand, he wrote 20 books. 

The library was added, in 1920, at the site of the original front entrance. The stained-glass windows were made by both Dard Sr. and Jr., inspired by Jost Amman’s Book of Trades, published in 1568. They show the typecaster, printer, and papermaker. Wood carvings on the right were carved by William Henry Hunter in 1890.

John Neitzel

Dard Hunter Jr. carried on his father’s tradition in the decorative arts, working as a museum curator at Winterthur.  He took an early retirement to work on producing The Life Work of Dard Hunter, a process that took over 12 years of printing on the hand press. Dard III fondly recalls watching his father as he positioned the handmade paper onto the press, inked the plate, and pulled the lever to print. His father even planted special rows of crops to provide the various colored dyes for the printing paper. Young Dard was trying to be helpful, one Sunday afternoon, and harvested an entire row of spinach for dinner, not realizing it was meant for the printing press. His father took it in stride, Dard reminisces: they hopped in the car, went to the grocery store, and bought up all of the spinach.

A painted deacon’s bench, ca. 1830, acquired by Dard Jr., rests in the central hall. The breakfast room—the original kitchen—is at the rear.

John Neitzel

Dard Jr. was a talented cabinetmaker, having studied under Mr. du Pont’s cabinetmaker at Winterthur. Unable to afford period antiques, he made finely detailed pieces of his own, including a curly-maple highboy still in the master bedroom and the dropleaf center table in the parlor.

A china cabinet was added to the dining room in 1920, and the room papered in red damas

John Neitzel

Dard III grew up with an artistic eye, too, and a love of old houses, learning early the value of fine craftsmanship and always working with his hands. Years ago, he says, Old-House Journal was his hands-on bible for such projects as repairing the standing-seam roof, updating the radiators, and repointing using old mortar recipes. As a teenager, he dismantled and rebuilt the stone wall out front, to add proper drainage. Dard recently finished stripping and reglazing over 80 panes of window glass. 

Dard knew he would pursue a career that built on his family’s traditions, beyond maintaining the family home. He opened Dard Hunter Studios in 1994. The company reproduces many of the graphic designs Dard Sr. created, both at Roycroft and during his years in Vienna (1908, 1910–11).

Vintage hooked rugs warm a guest bedroom set with mahogany, American Empire beds; the shared bath is just beyond.

John Neitzel

Dard III has a 10,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in downtown Chillicothe, where he produces quarter-sawn white-oak picture frames and architectural mouldings. A storefront shop displays tiles, prints, pottery, china, and jewelry, all inspired by his grandfather’s work. 

A vintage wall-hung sink on legs is highlighted against green-tiled walls; Dard III made the medicine cabinet. A Roycroft copper bud vase holds flowers from the garden.

John Neitzel

With the passing of time, Dard says, he appreciates more and more the goals and ideals of his great-grandfather, his grand-father, and his father. All of them believed in making the world a more beautiful place with fine craftsmanship and good design.

The breakfast room has Morris & Co. ‘Chrysanthemum’ wallpaper. The Art Nouveau ‘Tree of Life’ dado is embossed Lincrusta.

John Neitzel

A young Dard Sr. made the charming pencil drawing of Mountain House in 1901—when he was courting one of the girls living there. Little did he know he would someday own the house.

John Neitzel

The typecase exhibits two pages set by Dard Jr. in 1980. It typically required one day to set an entire page, to be printed on the following day. A photograph on the wall shows Dard Sr. setting type, in the 1940s, for his final publication.

John Neitzel

A bow-front chest made by Dard Jr. is surrounded by awards and diplomas received by Dard Sr.

John Neitzel

Family china includes three pieces acquired by Dard Sr. while he was at the Wiener Werkstätte, in Vienna, in 1908.

John Neitzel

Papered in a gold-leaf tea paper by Dard Jr., the front parlor has exotic treasures collected by Dard Sr.: a Swiss music box, ivory tea caddies.

John Neitzel

Tags: OHJ Feb 2022

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