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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

In Other Words: May You Never Run Out of Bricks

Griff and his father,Tom Jones. 
By Chuck Keller

I was out for a walk one day when I saw a couple of guys mixing mortar and setting stones in a wall along a brick driveway. They have been working on this stone wall in sections over the last few years. So I complimented them on it. And then the story revealed itself. And it’s quite a story. It’s how a house became a home and the bond between father and son.

Turns out that everything surrounding the house - the wall, the brick driveway, the garage, the patio, and another brick wall, the garage, and even the spindles on the front railing are all the reclaimed and recycled effort of Griff Jones and his father, Tom Jones, who happens to be closing in on eighty years old but you would never know it to see him work. Together they have scavenged materials from the Jones’ hometown in Arcanum, Ohio as well as local sources. The cumulative effect is beautiful. It all looks like it has always been there even though it’s all pretty recent.

The drive looking from North Fort Thomas Avenue. 
But this is much more than about bricks and stone. It’s about building relationships that will endure and will transcend generations. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first, a little background. Griff Jones and his wife Karen bought their house on North Fort Thomas Avenue about 20 years ago and have been lovingly restoring an already enchanting home. They had three children here. Griff is originally from Arcanum, Ohio and recalls a a small town of “800 people, two stop lights, 60 people in my graduating class.” That was that small town appeal that brought them to Fort Thomas. He comes from a family of hands-on people like plumbers, tool and die makers, people who could make things.

The stones from the Baptist Church found a new home. 

Griff’s father had recently retired and he and his son toured the Fort Thomas house. He told Griff to buy it. So he did. Griff says, “I think he was looking for a hobby and this was it. He comes down a lot. He’ll drive a hundred miles sometimes just to spend the day. “

Griff gave me the tour of what I thought was the project - a wall and driveway. But I was so wrong. It was so much more.
Slabs of Quarried sidewalk stone.

The rock wall that now runs along the sidewalk came from a stone wall next to the First Baptist Church in Fort Thomas. Griff’s neighbor was a deacon there. The church was tearing down a house on the property and there was a retaining wall. Some people came and got stuff from the house. “But they were going to bury the stone wall. So I said I’d take it.” So the stone from the church became the wall along the walk. “The caps are old sidewalks from Arcanum, Ohio where I grew up.  They were quarried, I believe, in Indiana. They are big sheets of 4’ x 6’ stone.” He saws them down to fit for wall caps and then chips the edges to give it that old time look. It all has weathered nicely and has taken on a great patina.

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But before he could build the new “old” driveway, he had to build a new garage. Of course, Jones included reclaimed materials in that. The three front windows were a trash day pick and the top window came from a neighbor’s yard sale. The side door and other windows were also reclaimed from a house that burned. The single pane wavy glass makes it look like it has been there a long time.

Reclaimed windows below and yard sale window above. 

The original driveway was excavated and prepared for the next phase. The edge of the driveway is old cobblestone from the streets of Cincinnati. Griff and his father have collected over 7,000 bricks Griff’s father has brought down from Arcanum over the past 15 years. “We had to clean a lot of them.” The driveway is mostly bricks from his hometown. Griff scavenged old granite window sills from razed homes in Newport. They all found a place in the driveway and walkway.

The bricks are laid in blocks of patterns. “We had to run a pattern because we didn’t have enough of one kind of brick,” a practical and artistic solution to a problem. Bricks from different towns and different manufacturers have different colors and sizes and Griff pieced together accordingly.  But the color variation and pattern makes it look like it has been there forever. And it’s pleasing to look at.

Look closely to read the manufacturer imprints.

There’s a square in front of the garage that highlights the various brick manufacturers. Many of the bricks have the names of the manufacturer stamped on the brick. When arranged they created not only a pleasant view but a look back in time.  Griff says that, “My dad comes up with all of these ideas. He is the real mastermind. I’m just the worker. He’s really smart on this stuff.” Griff brags on his father a lot and his admiration is apparent.

Fancy designed imprints on bricks from an alley. 
But just when I thought I had seen it all we turned the corner to the rear of the house. And there is a fabulous brick patio surrounded by a low wall. The walkway is paved with an intricate stamped brick that Jones says came from the alleys of his hometown. He says, “When they were tearing them up my dad was there grabbing as many as he could.” Even the wrought iron was salvaged. He and his sons hand sanded them before painting. The space feels like something out of historic Williamsburg, Virginia. They have created a comfortable and inviting space.

The first brick project. 

There are stacks of bricks in the backyard ready for the next project. Jones plans to use them to build a smaller patio and an outdoor brick fireplace. It will complement the wall he built to mask the concrete foundation of the garage.

The wall to hide the concrete foundation. 

It’s also an opportunity for Griff Jones to work with his father and his children. Everything Griff and his father have built is a beautiful and enduring tribute to a family bond. Griff talks about his father with pride and degree of awe about how he inspired and guided these projects. But in the course of building and laying bricks and designing they cemented their relationship and have now included a third generation into it. "I learned I like spending time with my dad, you know. The past twenty years I got a lot closer to my dad. I've been able to keep that relationship with him. I want to pass that to my kids."

And that is how a house becomes a home. I hope they never run out of bricks.

Griff Jones stands amid his creations.

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