It was the neighborhood’s location on the cusp of Whitehall as much as the charming property that sold Melissa Soderberg on the 1953, 2-story home she moved into with her family last summer.
“This is a house that really appealed to us for all sorts of reasons,” says the newest—and first female—head of school for Columbus Academy. “The community is incredibly warm.”
The 4,300-square-foot brick home with a circular drive sits on a deep-set, 2.5-acre lot about one mile southeast of Hamilton Road and East Broad Street. Soderberg prefers to embrace urban living and renewal rather than seclude herself.
“We’re in a city that’s changing around us,” she says. “That appeals. It’s a gracious area, but it’s so close to an urban area, too.”
She also likes living near several Columbus Academy families—both past and present. “There is an incredible number of Columbus Academy alum that live in these houses,” she says. “There’s a whole history of the school in this area.”
BACK IN TIME
History has always played a role in the lives of the Soderbergs—from the professions they’ve chosen to the homes they’ve purchased.
“We like living in houses that are very much representative of the era in which they were built,” says Soderberg, who moved to Columbus from Minnesota with her husband, John, and two sons last June. “I’ve taught history most of my career, and John is an archeologist, so both of us like places that represent their time.”
Soderberg’s previous home, for example, was built in 1969 and truly embraced the free-spirited, psychedelic period.
“It was as if no one had touched it since then,” she says. “It had sprawling spaces, wall-to-wall shag carpet almost everywhere, three wet bars, a tiki lounge, a sauna, a dance floor in the basement, a lava-rock wall in the family room, lots of orange tile, gold door handles.
“It also had a lot of fireplaces—we love fireplaces—and a huge deck on an elevation that looked out, treehouse level, into the woods,” she adds.
The family’s current home has two fireplaces and also backs to a tree-lined yard, but it overlooks the 16th green of the Columbus Country Club golf course.
“Having a golf course in your backyard is kind of like having an ocean,” she says. “It’s a view, things change about it, there are people using it and you can watch them from a distance. John says it’s like looking out at an aquarium. Things go by.”
It also gives their home a retreat-like feel.
“We just love looking out our windows and not seeing another house,” she says. “There’s something great and relaxing about that.”
Although Soderberg says she doesn’t have a dream home style, she appreciates the classic 1950s-style finishes throughout her house.
There are beadboard wall coverings and built-in bookshelves in the family room. There’s a pass-through window from the kitchen to the eating area.
“We really love the built-in stuff that’s very time period, the French doors, the windows,” she says. “The stairs are just so graceful and beautiful. The marble windowsills are so elegant.”
Then there’s the enormous “walk-in” fireplace in the family room, where a polished, herringbone-patterned, brick-look floor creates a warm, casual look.
“The family room is where we spend our time,” Soderberg says. “It feels a little to me like it fits its era. It has leather couches. We have a Claire Murray rug on the wall that we were given for our wedding.”
The Florida room is another favorite spot for Soderberg, who likes to write for work while relaxing on the padded bamboo furniture with a wall of windows as her backdrop.
“There are so many things around the house that have really charmed me,” she says. “I just love it here.”
A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING
While the architecture of the Soderbergs’ home may exude 1950s style, not all the decor follows suit. “We have eclectic taste. We have a lot of things that our families have given to us,” she says. “So we’re more likely to keep those and just have them in the house, even though they don’t fit, than to sort of remanufacture everything to fit the right time period. It’s more about having our things around us. Everything has a story.”
A Zairian tribal mask hanging on the wall directly inside the front door, for example, was a gift from Soderberg’s sister-in-law—a former United Nations ambassador—as was an extraordinarily detailed Balinese shadow puppet residing in the living room.
“She’s traveled everywhere,” Soderberg says.
The foyer also includes a Swedish-style clock that was handcrafted by John’s father and given to the couple as a wedding gift. It’s been in the front hall of every place they’ve lived, Soderberg says.
Two other items near and dear to Soderberg’s heart are a first edition of “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, presented to her by a college professor, and a small, unadorned Simon Pearce glass pitcher.
“I just love the simplicity of it,” she says of the Revere-style vessel.
But her most treasured possession of all is a nautical-themed, wooden whirligig perched on a rustic trunk in the Florida room.
“We were at a folk art fair in Nantucket while visiting John’s family, and we spotted this, but it was nothing we could afford at the time,” she explains. “John’s parents gave it to us as a gift for Christmas. That really meant a lot to me.
“I believe your house is part of your narrative,” she adds. “We keep these things around even though they don’t match. Those are just the things our family loves.”
Soderberg, who grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, had the typical young girl dream: “I wanted to own a horse,” she says.
She did some barrel racing in her youth, but her love of horses never subsided. In fact, one yet-unfulfilled item on her bucket list is to take her family to a dude ranch.
“Most of our vacation time is spent visiting family,” she says. “They live in lovely places, but I’d love for my family to take a spring break trip to Arizona and stay in a cabin at a real family-style ranch.”
Until that time comes, she finds satisfaction in knowing she recently fulfilled one of her bucket-list items by making the career move that brought her to Columbus.
“Becoming a head of school is a huge piece of what I wanted to do in my life,” she says. The former All-American field hockey player was also pleased to get back on the pitch this past fall when she occasionally joined the academy team for field hockey practice.
“For 20 years, I was not around field hockey,” she says, noting she also coached field hockey along with tennis, sailing and basketball at different points in her career. “I loved it. It was a real identity for me.”
Today, her free time is more often spent taking walks, playing tennis, working in the yard, cooking—John says she makes a fabulous homemade pizza crust—or dribbling a basketball.
“I go outside a lot and shoot baskets,” she says, noting there’s a hoop by the garage. “Sometimes my boys will play, but I’ll go do it by myself.”
Soderberg wants to get more involved in the Central Ohio community as her time permits, although exactly what form that will take is still up in the air.
Prior to her move, she chaired a nonprofit board for a college access program in Minnesota. She also has a passion for regenerating downtown spaces.
“I don’t want to come and just live in an enclave,” Soderberg says. “I want to really be part of the community.”