CINCINNATI -- Westwood couple Ken Lay and Mary Bryan are 100 percent Arts and Crafts people. Their carefully curated collection of handmade decor from the early 20th century includes furniture, pottery, paintings, prints, posters, copper ware, tooled leather, linens, lamps, sconces and chandeliers, all of which were made in America.
How they ended up buying a 1,700-square-foot, 3-bedroom, 1½-bathroom Colonial-style home was a matter of location, location, location.
That's a motto espoused by property buyers and sellers and one Bryan practices in her work as a Cincinnati real estate agent.
Lay and Bryan, who have been married for 12 years, owned a "storybook" Tudor revival in Westwood from 2002 to 2014. In many ways, it was the perfect place for their museum-like decorating style. But it was in a tightly packed neighborhood, and these two nature lovers wanted to live close to a wooded place where they could walk their dog, Buddy.
"The (Colonial) house was for sale for awhile," said Lay, who is a graphic designer and professional art pottery restorer. "Mary had tried to sell it, and we recognized that it was a great buy. We'd walk the dog down the cul-de-sac and see it. It was interesting enough not to be ugly. I wanted another Tudor or a bungalow, but Mary told me, 'You can change anything but the location.'"
They purchased the 1936-built Colonial in 2014 and are two bathrooms away from completing a remodel that gave the plain-looking place the style and grace worthy of their collections. It also put them close to woods, where they can walk.
"You can be in the city and have everything we grew up with," said Bryan, who is from east-central Ohio, while her husband is from central Kentucky. "I grew up in the woods. Ken grew up in the woods. We're people who love nature, but we can't not live in the city. The city is awesome."
Another key to creating peace in the couple's lives is their love for Arts and Crafts, and although the Colonial period is a century or more off that mark, they've meshed the two seamlessly.
Both are avid antiques shoppers, both online and at outdoor shows, such as the ones held at fairgrounds in Burlington and Lawrenceburg from spring to fall. Their most extensive collection is art pottery by makers such as Fulper of Flemington, New Jersey; Selden Bybee of Lexington, Kentucky; North State of Sanford, North Carolina; Rookwood of Cincinnati; and Peters and Reed and Roseville of Central Ohio. Bryan also has put together an extensive array of Fiesta dinnerware from Newell, West Virginia.
Lay started collecting in 1993. His obsession began, he said, with "this little, broken Rookwood vase I bought. It led to Arts and Crafts collecting because I needed a China cabinet to put them in."
Hundreds of buys and sells later, the couple has just enough old stuff to fill the little Colonial without making it feel cluttered.
Arranging their furniture and art was a lot easier than completing the exterior work that brought their "builder quality" home's curb appeal up to their standards.
"I love my Colonial house and didn't want it to be a fake Arts and Crafts house," Bryan said. "We kept the Colonial aspects: the fireplace, the mantel and the brass egg door knobs. All our attention was put toward making more grace, because it was an awkward house when we bought it."
Part of that awkwardness came from the small windows in the front. Lay and Bryan thought that lengthening the first-floor windows by a foot would solve that problem. Adobe Photoshop helped Lay see what the house would look like with deeper windows, a new front door and pediment and a new coat of paint.
He said he drew inspiration from Independence Hall in Philadelphia for the window style, and they chose Sherwin Williams' Churchill Hotel Olive paint for the brick, Behr's Cinnamon Stick for a new door, and a white, Colonial-style pediment made by Fypon.
Renewal by Andersen coordinated with a mason and carpenters to install the new windows and fashioned their interior wood trim. Lay hung the door, pediment and working black shutters that Bryan said she insisted on having.
"It's an authenticity thing," she said. "It goes with the Arts and Crafts vibe. I think you have to have an authentic environment where authentic things look nice in it even if they're not from the same era."
Moving indoors, the couple painted swaths of 11 colors on a wall, surrounding them with their Arts and Crafts furniture and art before settling on a scheme that included light green walls and white trim for the living room. They refinished the ash floors in the living and dining rooms and oak floors in the three upstairs bedrooms.
The kitchen makeover came last and was finished in January. The first steps were to establish a color palette and overall design that would stand the test of trends to come while providing display space for some of their pottery.
In the end, it was a 4-inch-high, 50-year-old molasses vase produced by C.C. Cole Pottery of North Carolina they had purchased for $5 that inspired the color scheme for their all-new kitchen: Sherwin Williams' Fernland (grayish green) for the walls; ivory for the cabinets and Mustang (grayish brown) for the quartz countertops, both from Seibel's of Cheviot; and Everglades for the floor tile from Mees Distributors of Northside.
Salvagers Building Value of Northside demolished the kitchen last fall, and Seibel's took care of the kitchen's new plumbing, wiring and cabinet and countertop installation. Assembling and staining a movable island and installing the subway tile back splash and floor tile were Lay's DIY projects. He also hung the room's main light source, a highly reflective, 1930s drop pendant by Holophane that they paid $50 for on speculation.
"We've never bought anything before starting a renovation that worked, but that actually worked," Bryan said of the fixture.
The couple spends evenings seated in their Stickley furniture near the gas fireplace in their 12-by-21-foot living room (the master bedroom above it is the same size) or on the couch in their solarium. The former porch, which was an early addition, is where their TV is stored in a large Arts and Crafts cabinet on top of which is displayed Lay's collection of Moss Aztec pots by Peters and Reed.
Dinner guests might wonder about the origin of the couple's dining room table. Although Lay and Bryan are Arts and Crafts experts, some pieces they find, buy and love have mysterious pasts. The table is one of those. Originally a library table, the quarter sawn oak piece has unusual, all-oak drawers that slide in and out smoother than expected in an antique. It's designed in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style, but has no maker's mark. The provenance of the four chairs around the table, however, is clear. Lay got the L & J.G. Stickley set from an eBay seller in Vermont.
Lay and Bryan entertain as often as possible on their deck and in their backyard, which slopes to the bottom of their property. Of the couple's third-of-an-acre lot, about 60 percent is fenced in and shaded by mature beech, tulip poplar and maple trees. To make the yard more woodsy, they've filled it in with spice bushes, coral berries and serviceberry trees they bought at a Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati sale. And they tore out a ton of ground cover to reveal a welcome surprise.
"There was this whole barbecue pit, a large stone barbecue pit and stone patio that was completely covered with vines and dirt," Lay said. His hard labor revealed the pit, which now serves as a secondary party spot to the deck.
The scene it helps set is just what drove Lay and Bryan to get into their Colonial and back to the woods.
"That's why we bought it," Bryan said of the setting. "It's one of the best things -- having owls, deer and yipping coyotes in the middle of the city."