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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.