A Middlebass Masterpiece

Found objects turn an Ohio summer home into a work of art.

There’s a fortuitous moment when treasure seekers lock eyes with something incredible they didn’t know they needed that can only be described as serendipitous. And, judging by the eclectic mix of art and architectural elements in his timber-frame home on Ohio’s Middle Bass Island, Dominic Scibilia has had many of those times. Every element in his home is accompanied by an elaborate narrative that reveals the story of the life he shares with Linda Post, his companion of 30 years.

Standing in their bedroom, he points to a three-panel, stained-glass window. “It was the first thing I bought when I moved out my parents’ house,” says Scibilia, a professor of illustration at the Cleveland Institute of Art who began his career at American Greetings. “I didn’t get a table or sofa. I got stained-glass windows. Nothing in my life has been practical.”

Ever since he was a kid, the self-described “dumpster diver” would find and repurpose unusual objects, whether they were of value or not — whatever caught his eye. 

“I buy things that are aesthetically pleasing to me. Perhaps it can be attributed to being an artist,” he says. “I find beauty in everything.”

Over the years, home remodeling became another extension of his artistic talent — or “an obsession,” as he calls it. In the 1970s, he bought and restored an old sea captain’s home in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. His next venture was a retired trolley substation, which housed his studio on the ground floor and sleeping quarters on the mezzanine level. After his father died in 1981, Scibilia started looking at places on Put-in-Bay, where he had spent time in his youth.

“I got very nostalgic,” he says. “I fell in love with the island all over again, and I thought it would be nice to have a place. I just couldn’t afford Put-in-Bay and, of course, I wanted something unusual, like an old Victorian, but they were hard to find.”

He found what he was looking for in a historic waterfront property on Middle Bass Island. “There was a lot to do,” he says. “The plumbing was on the outside of the house.”

Fast-forwarding 20 years to 2002, he and Post were itching for a new summer getaway. Scibilia started researching how to do timber-frame construction and considered taking classes from Riverbend Timber Framing in Blissfield, Mich.

Instead, the couple bid on one of the company’s new model homes on display at the home and garden show in Cleveland — and won it. “This probably wouldn’t have been a house I would have built, but we liked it,” says Scibilia, who originally intended to build a one-story home in a U shape around a courtyard. In contrast, the home they purchased had a second-story loft overlooking a large living area with high, vaulted ceilings.

River Bend came to Middle Bass Island to construct the home’s shell, but Scibilia wanted to do the rest of the work. For the first time, he had the chance to start with a clean palette.

“I treat a home like a piece of sculpture that I can keep molding until it gets to where I want it,” he says. “It’s an aesthetic release.”

 Relics from Cleveland’s past — acquired over the years from wrecking companies, antique stores and friends — found their way into the new house. Dark wood paneling from an old mansion covers the staircase. Decorative copper grilles from the Buckley Building became a room divider and a large light fixture from the Old Arcade hangs from the ceiling. 

The blend of old and new continues outside on the patio, where Scibilia constructed a pizza oven that incorporates stonework from the Cleveland church, St. Joseph, where his parents were married. When it was destroyed by fire, he went to the site and rummaged through the rubble. Later, he bought some of the larger pieces that were being discarded.

“That church was a big thing in our family,” he says. “My parents wanted a big Italian family, but they couldn’t have kids. My mother would give offerings to the Madonna of the Poor and do all sorts of things to humble herself. Then she had me.”

The rest, as they say, is history. And for Scibilia and Post, incorporating elements with sentimental value into their living space pays respect to it.

 “Everything here has meaning,” says Post. “We have a sense of pride and feel connected to our roots.”  

The Artist and his Moose
The giant moose head hanging from the second-floor balcony is the punch line of a running joke between Dom Scibilia and his good friend, fellow Cleveland artist Chuck Wimmer. 

One of the first jobs they had together was for a restaurant that paid them in food and drink instead of cash. One night after getting “paid,” the pair drove through the streets of Cleveland collecting things they found along the way. “I may have hopped a fence, shimmied up a tree and ‘liberated’ a set of antlers,” he laughs. 

Over the years, Wimmer would occasionally surprise his friend with antlers. He upped the ante one Christmas, 30 years ago, when he rolled up in a truck with the moose head in the back with a bow on it. “There was nothing funnier,” says Scibilia. “I can’t believe he bought that.”