“Ted and I stay upstairs a lot,” Frances Strickland said. “The downstairs is more of a public area. That's where the tours come through. The house just has a nice feel to it.”
The 25-room, 16,700 square-foot mansion in the suburb of Bexley sits on a 3-acre plot of land in a residential neighborhood.
The mansion is so close to nearby houses that a neighbor once called the police to complain about the noise from an outdoor party the Stricklands were having.
Volunteers with Friends of the Governor's Mansion and Heritage Garden have helped decorate the house to the couple's liking.
“I try to stay out of the way,” Frances Strickland said. “I'll have an idea of what I want, and I let them carry it out.”
About 10,000 people visit the governor's mansion each year.
“I was concerned about how people would feel when they came to visit,” she said. “I wanted it to be a fun place to visit.”
One of the first things visitors see when entering the circa 1925 mansion is the dark wood walls and various pieces of artwork in the rooms.
Turning right into a living area, one finds a piano and Frances Strickland's guitar.
That leads into a cozy study room.
“This is where Ted likes to come down and work sometimes,” Frances Strickland said.
The study features a large globe former governor George Voinovich's wife bought for $650. That was quite a bargain because the globe reportedly later was appraised at $15,000.
The study is adjacent to the garden room, which Frances Strickland said is one of her favorite rooms in the stately house.
The Stricklands say they use inmates from the Pickaway County Correctional Institute to prepare their meals in addition to tending the garden.
Because the state only allocates $400,000 per year to the mansion, frugality is crucial.
And of the $400,000, most of it goes for security.
Among the security measures, an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper guards the house 24 hours a day.
“Since there is not a lot of money for the house, the governor has always relied on donations and the private sector to furnish the mansion,” Frances Strickland said.
She said the White House is somewhat of an inspiration for decorating the governor's mansion. The mansion also must adequately reflect Ohio's history, she said.
A walkway in front of the house contains stones and other objects from each of Ohio's 88 counties.
Close to the walkway is a huge rock estimated to be 1 billion years old. A glacial surge pushed the rock southward from Canada.
Behind the house sits the Ohio Heritage Garden, which includes plants from all over the state. While the first lady said she wanted the mansion to be fun for visitors, she also wants it to be educational. That is one of the main purposes of the garden.
Visitors can view plants and vegetation that are common in Ohio, along with enjoying the beautiful scenery.
The garden features a large, open green lawn in its center, surrounded by plants, sand dunes, trees and flowers.
“It's fun to see people get a kick out of the garden,” Frances Strickland said.
Even though she has only lived in the mansion since January, the first lady apparently is well-versed on the garden and the history of the mansion.
Part of her education comes from the curator and volunteer tour guides on the mansion's staff.
Also, she said former first lady Hope Taft has educated her on the garden.
JEFF BARRON can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.