WYOMING, Ohio -- Bill and Marion Cooley's home looks almost nothing like the prefabricated Pease house they built in 1959. The forward-thinking Marion and two talented Cincinnati architects -- Frank Lloyd Wright-trained Ben Dombar and present-day modernist Rod Sidley -- made sure of that.
The Cooleys met in a St. Louis high school and were college sweethearts in Missouri before marrying and moving to Cincinnati in 1954 to accommodate Bill's career aspirations at Procter & Gamble. After several years of apartment living, chemist and math whiz Bill and his Miami University art instructor wife decided it was time to build a home for their young family, which grew to include four children.
Pease, a local construction company that took advantage of the post-World War II housing boom by offering family-friendly floor plans, drew the Cooleys' attention. They settled on Pease's contemporary, L-shaped, 1,800-square-foot Longwood model and became the first to break ground in their subdivision north of Compton Road in Wyoming.
"We chose Pease because they were adaptable, affordable and cooperative in making changes," Marion said.
She had sketched house plans for years but had never acted upon them. Being the architectural buff and creative catalyst in their family, she took her ideas to Dombar and worked on modifying the living space to better fit their lifestyle.
"She suggested things, and I said 'Anything you say,' " Bill said with a wink. "I do make suggestions. I'm what you call a minor consultant for working on the house."
Building covenants in Wyoming restricted what Marion and Dombar could do, but their changes affected the location of the kitchen and living, dining and family rooms.
Several more modest remodels later, enter Rod Sidley in 1999. The Wyoming-based architect, whose hobbies include nature photography and woodworking, became partners with the Cooleys in a major remodel.
"After Bill retired, we had access to some IRAs and made the most of it," Marion recalled. They had Sidley over and established a bond that grew to include builder Dennis Ryan.
"We sat out back and said, 'We're going to have fun,' and for 14 months, we did," Marion said.
Sidley radically changed the first floor of the bi-level home, taking it way beyond the type of indoor-outdoor quality of the original Pease home.
The project revolved around the need for a music room where self-taught keyboardist and Presbyterian Church of Wyoming organist Bill could play, the Cooleys said. Before the remodel process began, Marian had drawn plans for an alcove to house Bill's digital organ, a 1989 Rodgers Trillium model. That design became paramount to Sidley's projects.
The music room
Visitors are greeted at the front door of the Cooley home by an addressed light fixture that Marion designed. A small entry hall branches left to the living room, which features a Marion-designed, triangular stone fireplace in the center-of-the-house corner and large Marvin windows facing the street.
To the right, in what used to be a covenant-protected garage, is the formal dining room and a 7-foot-deep bump-out sitting room that Sidley designed.
Between the four front rooms is a barrier space with an open transom to an informal dining space and kitchen behind it. It's not until you enter this center of the house that the star of the 1999-2000 remodel comes into view. The Cooleys call it the "back" or "big" room, but when pressed they accept "music" room as a more descriptive name.
Ten large, symmetrically placed window panes that peak at the 14-foot-high vaulted ceiling create a piano niche and open the house to a lush landscape that slopes up a hill and seemingly disappears into the 1/2-acre lot. The vault on the opposite side of the room provides the perfect place for Bill to entertain friends on his Rodgers organ.
The acoustics in the music room -- the floor of which is covered in light brown, Durango travertine tile that flows into the kitchen and beyond -- were positively tested by Sidley, and the sounds Bill creates soar from above the organ through a pentagonal grill made of wood louvers instead of the traditional cloth.
Two antiphonal wall speakers near the window bank help make the digital organ sound as much like a pipe organ as possible.
Furniture is pushed to the edges of the large room to allow for seating when Bill puts on a show for family or friends.
Sidley moved the kitchen to the back-center of the house and designed an adjacent dining area with matching materials to create a second spacious and open spot for guests to gather.
Sliding French doors in the dining zone open to a large patio that features pavers and a slightly raised grilling deck.
"It's neat," Marion said of the wide access to the outdoors. "When you open those doors up, it just flows."
Back inside, the room features built-in maple cabinetry by Mark Mahan of Mark I Custom Cabinetry in Loveland. It conceals an oven made in Germany by Gaggenau and a miniature refrigerator. Open shelves for glasses and dishes supplement storage space in the kitchen.
The same materials and brands appear in the open kitchen, whose highlights include a combination stovetop, grill and deep fryer; a pot filler; a 10-foot-wide picture window over the sink,m and a 42-inch-high centered island.
- A garage once dominated the front of the house, but had been moved. Sidley dressed it up with the bump-out room, gables and the stone chimney Marion had always wanted but the original builders refused to install.
- Unique to the dining room are hanging window panels custom-made of dichroic glass whose thin-film optics change colors in different light conditions. They were inspired by a smaller glass piece the Cooleys bought in a Washington, D.C., gift shop that hangs in the full bathroom off the kitchen.
- There are no chandeliers in the living space, just pot lights.
- The detached, two-car garage the Cooleys built after the city's restrictive covenants expired features rich redwood door panels. It is at the end of a long tar-and-chip driveway that runs past the bedroom wing side of the house.