April 2007 Issue
Who says you have to hit the road to get away? An increasing number of Ohioans are turning their spare rooms into themed retreats.
The folks at L.L.Bean have been missing out: Alice McKeever's retreat is the perfect spot for a photo shoot.
After all, the company's outdoor gear and apparel is always pictured in the surroundings of a sumptuous mountain lodge or cozy lakeside cabin, where work and troubles drift away like the smoke from a crackling bonfire. McKeever's getaway has that same escapist feel. From the mission-style furnishings and oversized stone fireplace, to the wood-slat ceiling and indoor cluster of miniature pine trees, McKeever's place is like a woodsy holiday from the hubbub of everyday life. Breathe deep, and you can practically smell the crisp air sweeping off the Sierras.
Now, back to reality.
There are no mountain ranges in Westerville, a suburb north of Columbus. And the sight of a bonfire here is more likely to spark a call to the fire department than an urge to roast marshmallows.
Not to mention, McKeever's retreat isn't some high-altitude haven. It's simply a sunroom.
"This is like our quiet little area of the house," she says of the space in her four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath home that she calls the "Adirondack room" - not only for the dÃ©cor that makes it feel like a rugged hideaway, but also for the leisurely mood it inspires. Whether it's McKeever spending quality time with one of her three children amid the room's warm brown and burnt-orange hues, or her business executive husband reclining with a book near an expanse of windows that looks onto a scenic lake, "it feels completely relaxed and private in here - even though all the rest of the hustle and bustle of the house is going on right outside this space," says McKeever, 41. "This is just a spot where you can walk in, put your feet up and enjoy the view."
Time was, if you wanted to soak up some serene setting, you had to take a vacation: as in, schedule time off work; arrange to take the kids out of school; find the perfect destination; save up for the trip; get a house sitter, etc. Or, for those lucky enough, it meant escaping to a second home altogether. But whether that home was a mountaintop chalet, lush log cabin or seaside cottage, you still had to find the time to temporarily abandon all responsibilities for the sake of a little rejuvenation.
Not anymore. "So many people now are having an additional room built onto their house, or are turning their existing sunrooms into a space that can serve as a vacation getaway at home," says Wayne Aspey, interior designer at Ethan Allen Home Interiors in Columbus.
While Aspey has plenty of clients who've utilized his design skills for their second homes in such popular getaway spots as Maine and South Carolina (including his own second home in Naples, Florida), Aspey has noticed more and more Ohioans looking to beautify newly constructed or previously unused spaces of their current homes with an exotic, resort-like ambiance that's both attractive to look at and reinvigorating to be around.
That's exactly what Alice McKeever sought from Aspey three years ago when her 5,000-square-foot home was under construction. Thanks to her husband who designed it, the color and style of the house's exterior made it destined to have a laid-back feel. "People have commented that it reminds them of the seaside down in Florida," McKeever says of the shingled house and its soft green tone.
The home's placement on a reservoir, surrounded by towering trees and tranquil views, initially prompted the idea of creating a screened-in porch. However, the family decided to instead make a special themed room that'd have the sole purpose of helping them unwind. Today, the space that became the "Adirondack room" showcases the impressive vista that once had it envisioned as a porch: Two of the walls are nothing but windows. But, unlike with a porch, "we're able to sit in here and enjoy the view all year long, no matter what the weather is like," says McKeever.
However, the room's defining characteristic is its ski-lodge style.
"They travel a lot, and they like to bring in different looks; they've been very good clients because of their willingness to develop a theme that helps drive the design aspect of their rooms," says Aspey, who first began working with the McKeevers more than a decade ago, and decorated their previous Westerville home as well.
"Alice didn't want the typical Florida sunroom," says the designer. So, rather than utilize whitewashed furnishings and beach-themed accessories, Aspey suggested they take an alternative, more rustic route - one that would meld perfectly with the room's two most eye-catching features: its stone fireplace with wood mantle, and a charcoal drawing of a historic inn where the family once stayed during a vacation in Yosemite National Park, drawn by the McKeevers' artist son.
Today, that drawing is accompanied by such naturalistic artwork as leaves, mounted on paper and framed - earthy accents that transport the room's occupants to a more carefree, outdoor setting. "We put in a lot of mission-inspired pieces that are very linear and simple, mixed with textures that have a very mountain, even Western feel: leather, heavy chenilles, darker colors," says Aspey. Throw in slate flooring, woven window shades made of sea grass, and an autumnal color palette, and you've got a leisure space that the family uses for everything from playing board games to conducting heart-to-heart conversations.
"Anytime me and my 10-year-old daughter want to go somewhere and chat, if there's something serious that she wants to talk about, this is where we come to do it," says McKeever. "The room is so peaceful; it's kind of a perfect place to have that one-on-one time."
But whether homeowners plan to use their vacation space to lounge in solitude or kick back with a loved one, Aspey says the important thing is to choose a theme in which they feel most at ease. Entering the room should truly seem like an exodus from everyday life.
"I have a client with a sunroom who decided she wanted to give it a coastal theme, then changed her mind and wanted it to have more of a lakeside feel, then finally she said, â€˜You know, I think I want more of a Parisian flea market look,'" the designer says with a laugh. He notes that the woman fell in love with an exotic arrangement of accessories that included elegant tapestry pillows and a pair of delicate buffet lamps adorned with pink crystal. "It's very eclectic, but it makes her feel comfortable. It blends well with her approach to life."
For Aspey, whether he's being hired for a more traditional interior design job or to fashion someone's idea of an indoor oasis, the creative process always starts the same way.
"I approach my clients sort of like Sherlock Holmes," he says, adding that while many first-time clients are sure of what they don't want, finding out exactly what they are looking for can take some work. "No one has ever come in and said, â€˜I want austere, uncomfortable and ugly'; they all want their rooms to be relaxing, comfortable and attractive. But oftentimes, they have no real concrete idea of what they want it to look like.
"I might have them go through the Ethan Allen catalog," he adds, "and select three room settings that they absolutely love, and three that they absolutely hate. That's a good way for me to see the type of styles they're attracted to. Is it something with a lot of complexity and contrast? What sort of structure do I see in the rooms? What about the proportions: light and airy and delicate, or bold and solid and strong?"
To design a space that's meant to serve as an at-home escape, that process includes building the room around a theme. In that instance, the most important question is also the most obvious one: "Where is your favorite vacation spot?" asks Aspey. "Or, where would you love to go visit?"
The themes are as diverse as Aspey's clients - from general requests to incorporate nature into the space, to seasoned travelers seeking a room with Asian-inspired edge, complete with bamboo flooring, tropical accents and woven pieces.
But one of the most popular looks is one that the designer refers to as "beach cottage." "It's a very light and airy approach - a little sloppy, even," says Aspey. He points out a few signature characteristics of that vacation space's style:
- Distressed pieces. "Furnishings that look like they're antiques, have been handed down for generations, or that you found at the perfect flea market," Aspey says.
- Beadboard on the walls (also known as wainscoting).
- A lot of baskets.
- Use of slipcovers. "A slipcover is an inexpensive way of making just about anything look new," says Randy Luken of Luken Interiors in Dayton.
- Glass-and-wood combinations that have a little bit of a rustic style, rather than a loft or sleek, contemporary look.
- Softer colors that are sea oriented. "There's sort of a range of palettes," says Aspey, "but a lot of people like the whites, blues, greens and yellows, with just a touch of raspberry."
- Tile-topped tables.
- "Chunky" lamps. "Big, fat lamps that are made of woven materials or sea grass or twine," Aspey says. "There are some beautiful ones made of terra cotta with a white wash. You want them to be a little oversized and easy to be around - sort of relaxed rustic. No porcelains."
The beach-cottage style is so beloved, it even has its own spin-offs.
"I have some clients who do a lot of sailing, so they prefer more of a coastal look, which is a little more sophisticated," says Aspey. He explains that with such a style, slate and white furnishings are de rigueur, and "everlasting greenery" (artificial plants) are a logical accent. "It's a natural buffer between the cold, hard surfaces of floors and wood pieces, and the outside. "It helps soften it a bit."
Or, "you could also do sort of a yacht club look - a coastal rendition of the English manor house," he says. "You'll have artwork of more high-end sea vessels (no dinghies), maybe elegant pictures of seashells. No lanterns or life-preserver accents; that's a little more playful."
It's no wonder the sea themes have become so popular. How many Ohioans have fond childhood memories of their parents packing up the car and ferrying the family to some beachside abode over summer break, whiling away hours in the sand until the sun dipped into the shore? How many more wish they still had the time to take such excursions as adults?
The trend of designing relaxing vacation spaces proves that such a thought doesn't have to be an impossible dream. It's just a matter of changing your perspective.