Carl and Laura McLaughlin lean over their expansive cedar-stained deck and peer out into the Cleveland Metroparks. A branch of the Rocky River some 100 feet below trickles through the seemingly endless nature preserve. Birds occasionally tweet, but otherwise, all is quiet.
"This is why we moved here," Carl says.
The couple debated building a home in Strongsville in 2008, when they needed more space for their three children. A search through the Ledgewood development led them to relocate from their modest Bob Schmitt ranch in the nearby Heathers neighborhood to a larger 4,188-square-foot Schmitt ranch, built in 1972.
"We wanted a good private lot and more storage space," Laura says.
Since then, they've spent $150,000 in renovations and are about to allocate at least that much on more upgrades.
"We're modernizing according to our lifestyle, but trying to preserve the integrity of the property by subtly trying to bring the outside in," Carl says.
Their efforts are apparent throughout the home, where walls painted in earthy tones complement wood cabinets, slate tile flooring, traditional furniture and, of course, the woods seen through large windows.
One of the highlights is the great room's 500-bottle wine closet, integrated with cultured stone that blends with the nearby stone-encased fireplace. Customized furniture — including a coffee table crafted from reclaimed wood and metal ceiling tiles — adds dimension.
"We prefer natural products that blend in with the rustic feel of the outside," says Carl.
The McLaughlins converted the den's main wall into a focal point and functional space with dark wood-stained poplar cabinets covering 12 drawers of files and a desk. A treadmill folds down like an ironing board from the center cabinet armoire.
They eschewed the kitchen's former French country style for a contemporary feel, achieved with granite countertops, subway tile backsplashes and stainless steel appliances. White kitchen cabinets and a 17-foot oak plank counter are about the only features the McLaughlins have left intact. Those elements harken to a former remodel, highlighted in a 1987 Cleveland Magazine article the former homeowner, a widower, left for the McLaughlins on the kitchen counter.
The master bathroom, formerly a "Pepto-Bismol" space with pink floral wallpaper, toilets and sinks, Laura says, now is a respite. A ceramic tiled steam room/shower is an invitation to linger.
"I'll go into the steam room and sit with a cup of coffee, especially in the winter," Laura says. "It warms you up all the way."
The McLaughins' renovations reflect a national trend among ranch homeowners looking to customize their dwellings for modern living. Ranches debuted around the 1920s in California but became popular with the post-World War II middle class because of their economical design.
They didn't populate Northeast Ohio suburbs such as Strongsville until the 1960s and 1970s, when families relocated from inner ring neighborhoods in search of more living space.
Architect Ted Macosko says the McLaughlins' future plans call for a 20-by-20-foot foyer with a higher pitched roof to showcase the dramatic backyard view.
"One of Bob Schmitt's masterstrokes is that he preserved many of the neighborhood's mature trees when he built his homes," Macosko says. "The woods provide a natural landscape, and we want to enhance that feature."
Once renovations are complete, there will be no place like this home, at least for the McLaughlins.
"We're hoping this is a place our future grandchildren want to stay," Laura says. "We plan to be here forever."
You don't need to add a new wing to make your house seem bigger, says Sarah Simpson, a Cleveland-based interior designer and owner of All Things Savvy. Use these small tricks to add depth to a room.
PAINT. "One of my favorite things to do to make a room seem bigger is to paint the ceiling," says Simpson. Blue is a natural choice since it's the color of the sky. "Without realizing it," she explains, "visitors will look up and think the room is much airier and larger than it is."
SUPERSIZE. Another trick is to furnish the room with a single oversized object. "Your eye instantly goes to the largest piece of furniture in the room," Simpson says. It gives people the perception that everything else in the room is also bigger.
DEVIDE. Sheer curtains or screens can help divide a room. "Visually, it doesn't take up a lot of floor space," she says. "But a partition creates the appearance of two different zones. And when a room has multi functions, it makes the whole place seem larger." // Rebecca Meiser