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in the beginning, part 3


our first 'fixer upper' house, a 1950 Abrom Dombar design in Paddock Hills. Photo circa 1989 a very young Susan & Arlen hanging with Abe Dombar in our house. photo circa 1988

Part 2  left off with the mention of a fateful moving sale.  But let me back up a bit and give a little more context.  

I was born in 1962, which, in my opinion was the pinnacle year of good design (just watch The Jetsons or the Dick VanDyke Show and tell me I am wrong).  It was a time when kitsch was waning and fashion had caught up with architecture.  Jackie Kennedy was a worldwide fashion icon and Lilly Pulitzer was entertaining barefoot in new silhouettes of citrus inspired mod prints.  This past year, Target launched their ‘good design’ line called Project 62, named after that fateful year when they were founded and design was at its peak.  

Good design must be in my DNA.  I have vivid early architecture memories of houses I was in - one with a spiral staircase, one with a sunken living room, and perhaps the most striking, of vacationing in an A-Frame with exposed beamed ceilings in northern Michigan.  All of these memories were from before the age of 5.  When I was 6, my parents built their dream home in “phase 1” of a large subdivision in Sylvania, Ohio.  My childhood from then on was spent playing in giant piles of sand when the foundations were dug for neighboring homes, and my favorite thing - walking through the new houses at the end of the day after the construction crews left, and trying to imagine what the layout was going to be with only the framing in place.  I learned architecture from the inside out.  

My mom filled our house with contemporary design circa 1968.  Shag, avocado & harvest gold were new words in the vocabulary.  My mom was also an early ‘picker.’  We would go to estate sales and she would find furniture pieces or paintings that she would remodel to fit the aesthetic and color scheme of our new house.  Through it all, and even though most of my friends’ houses were more traditionally styled with early American furniture and the requisite ‘French Provincial’ bedroom sets, I held on to the contemporary style I was raised on.  By the time I was finding furnishings for my first college apartment (see in the beginning, part 2), many contemporary loving people were discarding their midcentury furnishings (cheap!) and transitioning to the ‘new’ Eurostyle look of the 80’s.  

So when Arlen and I got married and were looking for our first house,  I naturally wanted one of the ’50’s Modern’ houses that I had always loved.  My first job out of college was decorating an expansive Carl Strauss MCM house in Amberley Village.  I knew the cool houses existed in the higher price range, but was there anything out there that we could afford?  There had to be some here, right?!   Just try telling a Realtor in 1986 that you were looking for 50’s Modern house.  They had absolutely NO idea what we were talking about.  There was no internet.  There were no search engines.  You had to look through pages of printed MLS books to see one grainy b& w photo.  And these houses were at the time 20 - 35 years old and had very much fallen out of favor, so agents tried to conceal the fact that they were modern (aka ‘dated’).   With no other choice we took to driving around on the weekends looking for houses and familiarizing ourselves with neighborhoods when we happened upon a moving sale in Paddock Hills.  One step through the front door and that was it.  Life changed forever!! 

While it looked modern from the front, we were absolutely gobsmacked when we walked inside!  Sunken living room, central fireplace, wall of windows to the woods.  It was perfection (Marry Hennigan, I'm talking about your house :)!  The owner told me is was a ‘Ben Dombar.’  Who the heck was Ben Dombar and how do we get one?!   We were crushed that the house was already sold, but there were others....  We put the little central neighborhood of Paddock Hills on our weekly driving list.  There were a handful of these amazing modest sized modern homes in a neighborhood that we were pretty sure we could afford.  About a month later, while driving through the neighborhood again we spied a for sale sign at the end of a cul de sac.  

So much for playing it cool!  As soon as we walked in the front door I ran down the hall squealing.  Right then and there, we became MCM homeowners and never looked back (ok, well there was a loan and things, and Arlen’s dad had to co-sign for us because interest rates were in the teens then, but that’s a story for another day- suffice it to say that we got the house!).   

The house came with the original blueprints, referencing the original owners (Dr. and Mrs. Nathan Abrams) and the architect (Abrom Dombar).  I looked Mrs. Abrams up in the white pages and she told me the story of designing and building her dream house with Frank Lloyd Wright protege ‘Abe’ Dombar.  Then I called Mr. Dombar and he seemed so grateful that someone - 35 years later - had discovered one of his designs and loved it.  He filled me in on more details about our house and his amazing career and education with Mr. Wright.   

Fast forward to 2003.  I had amassed a pretty good knowledge of brothers Ben and Abe Dombar’s homes.  And those much more high profile homes of Carl Strauss and Ray Roush.  Aside from our friends Amy and James Keller, we really didn’t know anyone else who loved and ‘got’ modern architecture.  But the movement had started, and we knew that there were Realtors in Florida and California specializing in Midcentury Modern architecture.  Why not do it in Cincinnati?  The 20th Century Cincinnati show was transitioning from a mixture of Deco to more MCM.  The homes were 40 - 50 years old at that point, and many were changing hands for the first time.  The time was right to get my real estate license and give the homes a voice and create a platform for people who loved them to find them.  I was sure there had to be more people out there besides us who were crazy about this architecture.  Right?! The thought of homes going to people who did not appreciate them and understand them was just too much to bear.  The houses needed a voice, and it was me.  

So cincinnatimodern.com was born.  At the time, I thought it would be a good part time gig.  I had no idea that Arlen would end up getting his real estate license, too and it would turn into our life’s work.  And I certainly had no idea that we would find and form such a dynamic community of other people passionate about this architecture.  When I see listings now from other agents touting ‘midcentury modern,’ I chuckle.  They don’t always get it right.  But they know that it’s something that people want.  We knew it all along.  


hanging with Abe in our house on a Paddock Hills house tour in 1988.

vintage 1950 photo of our first house, courtesy of architect Abrom Dombar the living room of our home circa 1988. notice the vintage sectional mentioned in the previous post! vintage photo of the same living room from a 1950 Cincinnati Post photo shoot. cincinnati post article about our first house, circa 1950our paddock hills bedroom in 1988vintage photo of the same room. photo cincinnati post, 1950. abe dombar's children april and david in front of 'our' house, circa 1950. our dining room, circa 1988. we still use this same light fixture, table and chairs today! vintage 1950 photo looking toward the dining room. notice the eames chairs and screen! see also:

in the beginning, part 1

in the beginning, part 2


saving the vintage sectional

our newly reupholstered sectional has been a part of our family for 32 years!

As you have probably surmised from my blog posts, we have been collecting midcentury modern furnishings for a very long time - since before some of you were born, and before the term midcentury modern was coined 33 years ago.  Our first house, built in 1950 and purchased by us in 1986, was only 36 years old when we bought it.  That’s like buying a house today built in 1982!  So now that I have freaked you all out with this “back to the future” concept, it also reminds me that every 20 - 30 years or so, you have to re-paint and re-do things you have already done.  Midcentury style is not a fad, it’s here to stay, time marches on, and collectible pieces (houses included) need care and maintenance, because they are definitely not getting any younger!  


yep, this original fabric felt as bad as it looked!

One of our first purchases after buying our Abrom Dombar house in 1986 was a midcentury sectional sofa.  My mom and I found it at a rummage sale at Rockdale Temple in Amberley and we paid $40 for it.  It was in great condition, really nice quality, and covered in the most hideous royal blue fabric.  Kind of like a rough faux suede with embroidery.  Like you could file your nails on this rough fabric.  But my mom convinced me that it could be reupholstered, and we lived with it peacefully recovered in a neutral black and white cotton tweed for 32 years in 3 houses, with a cumulative total of 3 kids and 10 cats.  

the great Dumbo party, circa 1993 at our 2nd midcentury home - one of many memories on our family couch.

although it still looked ok from this angle, this couch had seen better days - and a lot of good times! but our sweet kitty Miller really did a number on it from this angle! From afar, it miraculously still looked fine in our lightly used living room.  But if you looked closely, the couch had seen better days.  Our dearly departed spirited kitty, Ryan, had chewed the corners and somehow my mom was able to weave them back together.  And then our sweet but sneaky kitty, Miller, decided the side would make a great scratching post.  By the time we saw what he was doing, it was too late.  It was shredded.  Now that we are empty nesters and are spending more time in our living room listening to our new (to us) vintage console stereo, we realized it was time to recover our beloved sectional again

the winning fabric choice! knoll 'diva' in color 'coal'

Finding fabric was not easy.  There are no longer local sources selling bolts of upholstery fabric like there were 30+ years ago.  Our only option was to look online and order swatches.  So swatches we ordered!   As much as I wanted to find a bargain from modern-fabrics.com,  we ended up choosing a brown/grey tweed from knoll.com (thanks to our designer friend, Jim Kelly, for helping us source the fabric!).  

miller, the now declawed 'trouble maker,' resting peacefully on the newly reupholstered couch.

When Stanley the upholstery guy returned the freshly reupholstered sofa to us, he said there were markings on the inside that it was manufactured in 1963.  It’s now covered in vintage inspired fabric from 2018.  Should be good enough to get us through until 2050 or so……..and our next adventures in life!  


the couch is a great place to sit and listen to our 'new to us' magnavox console stereo



in the beginning, part 2

Our daughter, Tenley, recently sent a link to this video (above) with the note: “did you know this?”  Yeah, we knew that.  We bought The Book in 1985 and it kind of set the course of our life.  But let me back up a bit……

Our adventures in beautifying the fraternity house (see in the beginning, part 1) energized us to try other projects.  In 1982 while a student at UC, I rented a studio apartment in a cool 1966 MCM building in University Hts.  The "Mary Richards" in me was so excited!  And like Mary's apartment, putting a bed in the one room space just didn’t seem right.  It needed a platform, I decided, that could double as a bed and a seating area.   It was the 80’s after all.  But how were two broke college students with NO construction experience going to make that happen?  My memory is kind of fuzzy on the how and why, but we ended up at an industrial building in Norwood - the old US Shoe warehouse - that was being emptied because US Shoe had just built a new state of the art facility right off of I-71 N of Ridge (Now 5/3).  We bought a GIANT old wood bookcase, and hauled it back to the apartment in Arlen’s 1974 Dodge station wagon, did some tinkering to make it fit, covered it in a carpet remnant - and voila!!

the platform (bed/couch) made from an old bookcase in my first apartment. the wall hanging over the bed was part of a slatted wall display at US Shoe.

one room living in my first apartment! ALL of the furnishings were purchased used for a total of about $200

we still have these well designed and handy folding chairs. yes, i painted them green!

me in my very first kitchen. still had the original copper fridge from 1966. no comments on the feathered hair....

In 2010 that same building was for sale and we walked through it.  The carpet platform/bookcase was still there in Apartment 4!  I guess we had skills after all! 

Our next move took us to OTR (see back to the future….) where we lived when we got engaged and married in 1985.  Our weekends for the next year were spent driving around town, looking for what we called at the time “50’s Modern Houses” because, well, I was obsessed with the style and there were no other words for them.  Our wedding registry was at Jasobson’s in Toledo (will forever miss this wonderful store) and when an over abundance of bread and butter plates necessitated an exchange,  this book in the Jacobson’s book department jumped out at me……..it was as if the angels were singing.  That’s it!  My style finally had a name!!

 our well used and loved 1st edition 1985 copy of The Book. very strange to think that this book itself is now a collector's item! 

cara greenberg herself even signed The Book for us while here for the 20th Century Cincinnati Show & Sale in 2001

The Book became our bible, our shopping list.  While driving around looking for the cool houses and neighborhoods, we went to estate and moving sales looking for the ‘dated’ midcentury modern pieces that no one wanted.  We knew the “pedigreed” pieces from The Book.  There was very little competition at at the time and we amassed a pretty good collection for very little money.  Which is a good thing, because that is all that we had.  3 George Nelson Coconut chairs for $25?  Sure!  A Nelson ball clock for $1?  We’ll take it!  

But one particular moving sale in 1986 stands out because it is the one that changed everything…… 

stay tuned for part 3 of in the beginning!  



new year - new listings?

Look at all of these gorgeous homes that the cincinnatimodern team sold last year.  And this is just a small sample of our listings that sold in record time in 2017.  Think you can navigate this market on your own or with an agent who doesn’t understand what you are looking for?  Think again!  You need an agent who knows modern AND most importantly can help you (as a buyer or seller) WIN in a multiple offer situation.  

We are still experiencing unprecedented LOW inventory in the greater Cincinnati market, and 2018 looks like more of the same.  What does this mean to a buyer?  There is competition for every listing!  If you are looking for something, chances are there are at least 10 other buyers looking for the same thing.  We can help you place your best possible offer so you enter into a negotiation with no regrets.  

And as a seller?  You have to poise your listing to get maximum exposure to all interested qualified buyers.  We have proven strategies to make this happen.  No other agents do multiple offer like we do!  Don’t leave $$ on the table.  We understand the nuances of valuing unique properties like no one else.   

We are not usually ones to toot our own horn, but these are our striking stats from 2017.  Many thanks to our cincinnatimodern clients who helped make this record setting year possible: 

  •  we sold $13 million in 2017
  •  we handled 46 transaction sides
  •  100% of our listings sold within the initial listing period
  •  our sold listings averaged 101.10% of asking price
  •  67% of our listings sold at or above asking price
  •  our buyer sales averaged 97% of asking price
  • Susan and Arlen qualified for 3rd Level CABR (Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors) Circle of Excellence for the 3rd year in a row, a sales level distinction only achieved by the top tier of our industry.  

Why do we tell you this?  These are facts:

  • Zillow (and other online sites) are NOT in real time and often contain inaccurate status information.  To be a competitor in this competitive market, you have to have agent representation - only agents are privy to accurate information.  
  • A competitive offer in a multiple offer situation is not always the highest offer.  A pre approval from a good local lender also plays a part.  Let us help you find the best financing for your needs to not only save you time and $$, but to make your offer stronger. 
  • FSBO sellers often leave $$ on the table, even after commissions are factored in.  
  • In this upward paced market, appraisals are NOT a given.  Don’t let your deal fall apart over a bad appraisal.  We have a grasp of the modern market that even appraisers do not have.  We are skilled at making sure our clients benefit from accurate appraisals. 
  • We know everything possible that can come up on an inspection of a midcentury home and can help you successfully negotiate and navigate these murky waters. 

Take a couple of minutes to call/text/email us now and let us know what you are looking for or if you plan on selling this year.  It’s never too early to plan for success in 2018.  

Susan Rissover 513-886-7841  susan@cincinnatimodern.com 

Arlen Rissover 513-886-7840  arlen@cincinnatimodern.com

David Smith 513-403-2832  david@cincinnatimodern.com



cincinnatimodern's favorite things - part VII

what happens when the millennial children decorate the gingerbread cookies......

Just in time for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday.....you get the drill. Here is our 7th annual installment of gift suggestions for the moddies in your life.  

Happy Holidays to all from the cincinnatimodern team! 

fiona playing cards 

🎼 I......want a hippopotamous for Christmas......  Support the Cincinnati Zoo and our local cutie pie with this great stocking stuffer or hostess gift.  They are supposed to be available at Kroger stores, and you can order direct from U.S Playing Card, Co., too (a locally based 130 year old company!). 


land of nod palm springs playhouse

Everyone loves to play in a fort.  This is one you won’t mind looking at, either.  Way classier than blankets over a table.  They are never too young to enjoy good design.  

charley harper tree skirt 

This Land of Nod exclusive with our hometown hero Charley Harper’s design (with a bonus nod to Cincinnati Nature Center) is a must for Harper lovers.  Watch for percent off and free shipping sales. And while you are at it, check out the other Land of Nod Harper items.  Their quality is fantastic!  

click here for all land of nod harper items


dyson animal cord free vacuum

Industrial design at its finest, this cordless vacuum is a game changer!  Amazing power and utility, and easy on the eyes hanging on the charging station.  It’s in Target’s Black Friday sale at a great price.   


shag tiki coasters

We have really stepped up our Tiki game over the past year, and artist Josh Agle  (aka Shag) seems to embody the tiki spirt in much of his artwork.  This set of 4 coasters would be right at home in any MCM pad or tiki bar.   


orla kiely items from amara


Like the prints of Marimekko and Lilly Pulitzer, Orla Kiely prints evoke an attitude of fun and whimsy while maintaining a bold, modern design aesthetic.  London based Kiely’s household products are available for amazingly fast delivery to the states from U.K. online retailer Amara.  Seriously, everytime we have ordered, our items arrive within a few days. Quality is very good.  Use this link for a first time shopper’s discount.  


lilly pulitzer mens’ ties


lilly pulitzer harp cashmere wrap

The 60’s inspired prints and designs, originally conceived to conceal juices stains on designer Lilly Pulitzer clothes as she sold oranges and juice from her husband’s groves, have transcended time and place and speak to a sunny state of mind, no matter where you are.  And with long, gray Cincinnati winters, who couldn’t use a little color in their lives?  Back by popular demand is a line of men’s ties.  And the Harp Wrap is a great gift for any woman on your gift list because a) everyone LOVES cashmere b) gold goes with everything and c) one size fits all!! 


fishs eddy harper items

These adorable glasses and many other items with beloved Charley Harper designs are the product of  a collaboration between designer Todd Oldham and “crafty dish retailer,” Fishs Eddy.  Items can be ordered directly from them, or purchased locally at several Fabulous Frames and Art locations.


square stud earrings

Canadian jewelry designer Hilary Druxman always has a great selection of affordable modern jewelry available.  These earrings may be simple, but they are definitely not boring. 


jewelry redesign from paolo | a modern jeweler

Even the person who has everything will appreciate what local jewelry designer Paolo has to offer.  Not only do they have a great selection of original designs, but they specialize in redesigning your existing jewelry and family heirlooms into truly unique and custom pieces.  This is NOT your typical mall jewelry store with mass produced pieces.  And guess what?  It does not cost any more to shop local and work with actual artisans who give you a truly custom experience. 


brendon farrell 6-fin hook rack

This functional walnut piece doubles as a gorgeous wall sculpture.  


playable art ball


Our friend Jenny at Newfields (formerly Indianapolis Museum of Art) always finds the best gizmos for her shop.  Love that this is for ages 3 - 99.  Who needs a fidget spinner when you could have this inviting playable sculpture sitting around?  Great way to teach the kids about Roy G. Biv.   


casabella guac-lock


If you are obsessed with making the perfect guacamole like we are, then you know how poorly it keeps.  We are super excited to have found the guac-lock, guaranteed to keep guacamole fresh! It's available locally at Container Store in Kenwood.  And it gets huge bonus points for being the perfect shade of green!  


jenco brothers cincinnati mix popcorn 


Not sure they really call it that, but 2/3 Grippos Barbecue Popcorn + 1/3 carmel corn = a truly addictive mix.  Jenco is located on McMillan St. in University Hts, and at a pop up shop in Findlay Market.  Thank us later!  


That's it for this year!  check out our previous lists from 201120122013 ,2014, 2015, and 2016 for many more modern classics!

And don't forget to shop local:

  •  City Flea Holiday Market  - Saturday, December 16 from 5:00 – 10:00 at Washington Park
  • MiCA 12/v – corner of 12th and Vine in OTR 
  • Leftcoast Modern – 1202-1204 Main Street in OTR
  • Mainly Art – 3711 Madison Road, Oakley
  • Modern Art Jewelry – 8316 Plainfield Road, Deer Park
  • Fabulous Frames and Art – the definitive source for all things Charley and Edie Harper.  Several locations around town including Montgomery, Kenwood and Downtown.  And don't miss the annual Harper Art Show - Saturday, December 2 11-5 at the Montgomery Gallery.
  • Cincinnati Zoo - memberships and gift items that support conservation and our local treasure