CINCINNATI -- Debbie Fox knew she was taking a risk altering her ranch home by knocking out several interior walls and converting one of three bedrooms into a master suite bathroom and walk-in closet.
The semi-retired graphic and interior designer and mixed-media artist understood that when the time came to sell her 1955 Mount Lookout home, only having two bedrooms would eliminate a lot of potential buyers.
But it’s what she wanted: an open floor plan, a comfortable place to sleep and a bigger space in which to bathe and dress.
“I found the house in 2008 and my real estate agent said, ‘You could do a lot with this,’ and I agreed. So we went to town, gutted it to the studs, and I moved in three months later,” Fox said.
The new layout and décor are all hers.
“I literally took a gridded piece of graph paper and did the floor plan,” she said, working with a little help from with Mount Lookout architect Mary Cassinelli to determine which structural changes could be made to unite the kitchen, formal dining and living rooms and almost double the size of the master suite.
Fox eliminated a hallway off the foyer that led to the now-gone third bedroom as well as walls that compartmentalized the kitchen from the entertaining area.
“Who uses a living room? Nobody,” Fox said. "And, really, a formal dining room? Anymore, you don’t want to feel cordoned off.”
Fox wanted an open space for entertaining and a brand new kitchen with more cabinets and countertops as well as stainless steel appliances she could use while interacting with guests gathered in an open space.
The old kitchen was a total tear-down. It basically was a box with linoleum flooring, Formica countertops and its original, turquoise blue metal cabinets and appliances. Fox found a buyer for them on Craigslist.
She closed in a kitchen window to make room for sleek, modern cabinetry and added glass French doors along the same back wall to connect the newly open space to the long, narrow back patio and garden.
But the biggest change was taking two walls, one being load bearing that required her to install a hidden support beam above the ceiling.
Now, she said, “I look out from the kitchen and just see one area.”
Her new floor plan is so open that guests can stand in the far corner of the dining area, look across the living room and foyer, through a short hallway, guest bathroom and an open bedroom door all the way to the opposite corner of her 1,784-square-foot home.
There’s less privacy, she admitted, but with two bedrooms on the first floor and a half-bathroom in the finished basement family room, it’s a great space for a young couple or empty-nesters who occasionally host overnight guests.
The basement, which Fox said had asbestos flooring and a knotty-pine closet under the stairwell, received a total makeover. It’s now fully carpeted, with wet bar and four stools, a pool table, large flat-screen TV and a vintage video game called To the Maxx. The room is well-lit by a large glass-block window that faces south. There’s also a gas fireplace with dark gray surround and ceramic tile accent pieces.
Once the structure of the brick house’s interior was completed, Fox went to work furnishing it. The task was hardly a chore for Fox, who resurrected her passion for making house dioramas as a girl into her second career as an interior designer.
Some of the special touches the Cincinnati native and University of Cincinnati graduate made in the house were inspired by the many Homearamas she has attended over the years. Those touches include:
- A corrugated, brushed aluminum half-wall with an off-center, wood-burning fireplace in the living room.
- Custom stairwell railing crafted by the same metal worker who did the fireplace surround, Burt Aarsen of 1st in Design.
- L-shaped, quartz-topped peninsula with a brushed stainless steel “river sink.”
- A glass, subway tile backsplash behind the stove and sink that extends all the way to the dining area.
- Kitchen flooring of custom-made 2-by-2-foot tiles by Walker Zanger.
- Flip-up, smoked glass cabinet for glassware.
- Large food pantry in the hallway between the foyer and second kitchen opening.
- Mid-century sideboard that Fox painted white.
- Glass-enclosed shower stall and extra-deep, modern bathtub in the master bathroom.
- Three rainbow, glass pendant lights in the master bath by Bruck Lighting.
Clean lines and bright colors dominate the hard and soft décor choices made by Fox. She used light golden wall paint in the dining, living and sleeping spaces, offsetting it with bright yellow, orange, pink, chartreuse and metallic surfaces.
“Color makes me happy,” she said. “I’m not afraid of color.”
But when it came to the master bathroom, she switched the theme up with earth tones and sea mist green.
Artwork throughout the house is bold and modern, but interestingly, none of was done by Fox the artist.
“I can honestly say I like what I have better than what I have done,” Fox said.
She said nothing is permanent more than change in terms of her décor choices.
“I’ve toned the colors down a little and neutralized the furnishings and accent art,” said Fox.
She recently swapped out a bold red sectional couch in the living room with a cushy dark gray couch, but said she thinks she wants to replace it with a white one she saw inside the interior entrance of Restoration Hardware at Kenwood Towne Center.
In the meantime, Fox has her eye on another house on her private, no-outlet street a hop, skip and a jump from Mount Lookout Square. She said she is thinking about selling and moving when that house comes onto the market.
Her house is listed on several real estate websites, but she said, “I’m not really trying to sell it. I’m just taking names.”
If she stays, Fox said she’d like to expand her two-car garage and possibly add a bedroom. The interior decorator side of her, however, is satisfied with her current digs.
“What keeps me in the house is that I keep moving things around,” she said.