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Issue Date: July 2008


Living Luxe

This Ohio City home was gutted and rebuilt (all 7,000 square feet of it) with an eye to traditional luxury.
by Kristen Hampshire
Why travel to luxuriate in a spa bathroom when you can have your own? Homeowners have found they can enjoy the rich amenities and creature comforts of the world’s greatest resorts by splurging on five-star features for their own living spaces.

How about a spa bathroom with heated towel racks, 18-karat gold plumbing fixtures or a steam shower? In other rooms, wine cellars and kitchen fireplaces take high-end to a whole new level.

“When you stay at some of the more beautiful places on family vacations, you want your own retreat to mimic some of the luxury items you’ve seen elsewhere,” says Michelle Haas. She and her husband, Dr. Christopher Hass, worked with Ronald J. Puzzitiello Homes to build a 7,000-square-foot residence in Westlake that she calls a French-English hybrid, heavy on the Tuscan.

“We didn’t want something there were three more of down the street,” she says. “I wanted large, palatial areas — something unique with materials that had a look of being old.” Travertine tile, hardwood and stone bring that richness to the space.

“It’s not always about having diamonds encrusted in things,” points out Connie Turski, owner of Connie Turski Interiors in Cleveland. “A lot of times, luxe is having good, quality craftsmanship and novel ways to use materials.”

Splurge-worthy material options are endless, especially in the two rooms of the home that cost the most to finish but reap the greatest return at selling time: the kitchen and bathroom.

Construction & Craftsmanship

Extravagance is not always tangible. Sometimes, it’s a feeling — confidence that the structure is solid and the drywall is so thick that the drone of a television won’t penetrate it. “A tornado could whip through here and you wouldn’t hear a thing,” Haas says of her home.

Scott Francis and his wife restored an 1895 Queen Anne Victorian home in Ohio City. The gutted structure had sat vacant for 20 years — the gas hadn’t been turned on since 1988. Today, vintage marble fireplace mantels and floor treatments with patterned hardwood prove that luxury comes through true craftsmanship.

The little things, ceiling medallions, wainscot and arches, add to that feeling of richness. Quality Victorian windows are surrounded by rich, wood trim. When talented tradesmen pour their creativity and skill into a project, the result is an opulence you can’t buy off the shelf.

“My theory is, start with a good foundation and then put all the frosting you want on it,” says Puzzitiello, who acknowledges that his philosophy can double the price of home construction. His jobs are always custom — but even custom only goes so far. “If the home isn’t built right, it doesn’t matter if it’s custom,” he says.

Puzzitiello defines luxury construction in a number of ways: 2-by-10-inch roof rafters and thick exterior walls that allow more space for formaldehyde-free, energy-efficient insulation; high-performance insulated glass windows with UV protection; blended materials such as stone, stucco and wood; zoned heating with programmable thermostats and high-efficiency hot water heaters; and lifetime warranty roof shingles that replicate the look of slate.

“From a resale perspective, you don’t want to chintz on anything,” Haas says. Same goes for all that “frosting.” “If you pick quality elements that will stand the test of time, the looks may change and styles become modern or dated, but you want something that will stay for a little while yet so you don’t have to replace them,” she says.

Luxury isn’t exclusive to brand-new homes, but merging new and old requires talent. “It’s luxe in itself when you are trying to merge new materials with existing materials to bring it to the current technology and have [the home] look aesthetically beautiful,” Turski says of the Ohio City residence.

Trading Spaces

Because the Francis house was a gut job, the footprint was fair game. “We blew out the kitchen, made it considerably larger,” Francis says, reflecting the trend to go big in the kitchen and even bigger in the great room.

A reinvention in space allowed for a master suite with a spa bathroom that consumes half of the second floor. They converted another area into a workout room, and the walk-out basement was finished into a bar. Francis found material from an old bowling alley and sanded, polished and added polyurethane to alley boards to use as a bar top.

“Every room has its own identity,” he says. This sort of customization takes a home to a level beyond the four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath model. High-end homeowners with traditional floor plans are converting spaces into amenities, says Paula Boykin, president of the Cleveland-and Charlotte, N.C.-based firm Spectrum Design. Now that 5-year-olds understand how to search the Internet, some homeowners will justify a home office just for the children.

“If not a computer room designated to children, take advantage of the second-level Y-court [open area] and outfit it with bookshelves and a couple of computer stations in a wide corridor that is accessible to the whole family,” she says, noting that this setup allows for monitoring what’s on the screen.

Taking the special-order room to the extreme, one of designer Laura Suglia’s clients is toying with the idea of building a “man cave” — a poker room hidden behind bookcases that swivel open with the pull of a lever. “He wants it to be almost a speakeasy,” says Suglia, partner and co-owner of KAS Interiors in Chagrin Falls.

Mixed Media

“Luxe is about how you merge materials and use them,” Turski says. Her projects have incorporated stone, stainless steel and exotic hardwoods such as zebrawood.

Turski likes to play with patterns on the floor, treating it like a giant oriental rug composed of hard goods. A floor design can even be arranged around a feature table or light fixture in a dining room, she points out. For one client, she bordered a hardwood floor with porcelain inset with a glass mosaic. Other sophisticated effects include laying hardwood at 45-degree angle in a room, then setting flooring in the opposite direction in an adjacent room; or framing a chevron pattern with a border of stone.

“When you do beautiful inlay work in a hardwood floor, you don’t need an area rug,” Turski says.

Puzzitiello can translate this mixed-media concept to a home’s façade by combining stone, stucco and wood. Sure, it’s easier to execute all-brick facing. “But if you just put one material on the whole house, it becomes overwhelming to the eye and it doesn’t have a lot of curb appeal,” he says.

Blending softens the look, even if natural stone doubles the cost. “I think of it as a charming effect — it looks inviting, warm,” he says.

On a smaller scale, mixing materials can accent a certain feature, such as a kitchen island. When the island is treated differently, it stands out as furniture and looks far richer. “Nothing matchy-matchy,” Boykin warns. She recently designed an all-stainless-steel island that functions as a central kitchen.

The Living Kitchen

It’s easy to be a big spender in the kitchen. Beyond the stainless steel professional range, there are Viking six-burner units with double ovens, pot fillers, steam ovens, pizza ovens and warming drawers.

Suglia notices more high-end clients leaning toward oil-rubbed bronze finishes. She also says that homeowners are indulging the cultural habit of gathering in the kitchen by making it a luxurious entertainment center. “It used to be that the fireplace was the heart of the home,” she says. “Now, the kitchen is.”

Why not put the fireplace in the kitchen? Boykin opted for this design in her Brahtenahl home. “It promotes nesting,” she says. Banquettes and other spots help it feel as cozy as a French café.

As for other bells and whistles, Suglia suggests drawers with a “smart glide” feature. Slamming drawers shut is just not possible; they slow to a stop before closing completely. A microwave tucked into a drawer pleases cooks who rely on the appliance simply for heating up coffee or making popcorn. Rather than take up cabinet space, there are new models (including one by Thermodor) that fit under the countertop.

But there’s one place where the upgrade craze has leveled out: granite countertops. “Can you duplicate the diamond?” asks Kim Lisboa, owner of Cleveland Granite.

However, there’s a significant difference between a standard slab and some of the quartz finished, artistic designs available, with opulent edging such as a three-tiered waterfall. The most expensive slab at Cleveland Granite is Blue Bahia, which goes for about $150 per foot without fabrication or edging.

Rarities come at a cost, and because slabs with interesting movement and patterns are one-of-a-kind, they are a kitchen treasure. Price hinges on availability. “It depends on where the granite is quarried and whether the quarry is closed at certain times of the year,” Lisboa says. But, she warns, “just because it is expensive does not mean the density or porosity is better than a less expensive granite. It’s a supply and demand issue.”

Edging, however, does make granite more luxe. Haas chose a triple waterfall edge in the kitchen, which means the granite steps down in layers. “When you look at it — wow, that’s a good-looking countertop,” Puzzitiello says. A thicker countertop, say, 3 inches, is better — and more expensive.

Ultimately, Suglia says there’s no competition between widely available granite patterns and the much pricier expressionistic slabs she calls “river beds.” “They have a lot of grain and veining,” she says, “and they almost have scenes on them.”

The Spa Bathroom

Haas’ master bathroom is a retreat. “We wanted it to feel like a spa,” she says.

The space is outfitted with a Jacuzzi tub with internal, self-drying jets and a steam shower. Windows are cased in travertine and adorned in marble, and the sink fixtures are satin finish 18-karat gold. Haas was looking for an alternative to brass — “a much nicer version” — so gold made sense when an associate at Edelman Plumbing Supply pointed Haas to a California supplier that could fill the order.

Francis also placed high priority on the bathroom. He can enjoy downtown views from a soaker tub, and the marble steam shower is the size of a walk-in closet.

His guest bath doesn’t sacrifice luxury either. Twin glazed vessel sinks resemble pottery and are partially submerged into a carrara marble countertop with a 5/8-inch mosaic backsplash. Vessel sinks are available even in semiprecious materials, Turski says.

“I’ve seen them in Durangos and carved out of limestone,” she says. Sink-countertop units that resemble furniture, with details such as turned feet to make them more special, are a step above typical setups, Turski says.

The next steps get even more extreme. “I’ve had requests for radiant heating in countertops,” Puzzitiello says. Boykin recently installed a plasma screen television behind a bathroom vanity mirror. When turned off, the screen is invisible. Another bonus in the bathroom is a shaving station for men: an indent in the shower for shaving needs, complete with fogless mirror.

While free-standing tubs are more popular in lesser-used guest bathrooms, Boykin likes to make them special by painting the outsides in an enamel that matches wall coverings, or even using faux painting techniques.

“When you walk into the bathroom, you want the ‘wow factor,’ ” she says.High-end homes contain all the trappings of a five-star hotel, and then some.

There’s living large — and then there’s living luxe.

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