The discovery of an open lot inspires an architect and a builder to innovate.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019-20 issue of Columbus Monthly Home & Garden.

It’s hard to find land to build a custom home in Clintonville. So when Tom and Karen Gorman learned of an empty 50-by-150-foot lot for sale along the Olentangy Trail, they made an immediate offer.

The couple—owners of the residential construction firm Gorman & Sons Custom Builders LLC—were ready to downsize from their suburban lifestyle in Dublin when their younger son went to college. The Clintonville neighborhood’s proximity to Downtown and one of the Gormans’ favorite biking paths made the area feel like the right fit.

They discovered the available property by accident while touring a neighboring home that was up for sale. During an open house conversation with the real estate agent, they were pleasantly surprised to learn that the home’s vacant side yard was also for sale.

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“We were like, ‘A lot, in Clintonville? You mean we wouldn’t have to renovate and we could build?’” recalls Karen. They put in a verbal offer on the lot at the end of the walk-through, but were told that a potential buyer of the home would have first right of refusal on buying the piece of land. When the house went into contract later that evening and the buyers declined to purchase the additional lot, the Gormans became its proud owners. They had seized an unexpected opportunity to use their seasoned experience in home construction.

Stacked four stories high, the home’s contemporary custom layout includes three bedrooms and three and a half baths, with an unfinished lower level set to be completed this fall. It was designed in collaboration with architect Richard Taylor to thoughtfully maximize every corner of available living space, from the third-floor master suite—complete with a full bath, walk-in closets, a private deck and laundry—to various doorways that lead outside.

“We’ve always liked contemporary, but usually you think resale and all of that,” adds Karen. “But we just did what we really wanted in this house.”

In an attempt to mix function and style in this first home that they’ve built for themselves, the couple worked closely with Taylor, who has teamed up with them on some past projects. Modern design concepts were integrated, resulting in a space that feels fresh and streamlined, yet warm and welcoming within this vintage neighborhood.

The main floor’s living spaces, including the kitchen, family room and attached dining area, are open and enhanced with 9-foot ceilings, 8-foot doors and large windows overlooking a fenced-in pool and park just beyond. Straight lines define the spaces with features such as flush cabinetry and granite waterfall edging on the kitchen island. There is a floating wall bench and hearth in the family room, where a heightened ceiling emphasizes a sense of vast space.

The home’s unexpected architectural elements demonstrate its distinctive character. Suspended in the front of the main living area, a floating wooden staircase weaves through the home’s various levels becoming a central focal point. A reflective design was created on the exterior rear of the home where a spiraling staircase climbs from the backyard to a second-story deck.

More practical matters were also addressed in the design, including the installation of an elevator to the third-floor suite and custom, built-in shelving in the entry hall to house Karen’s treasured china and crystal collection.

“I think there’s a little bit more of people breaking away from the kind of styles they’ve seen all their lives,” says Taylor of a modest shift in local design. “And for me, what’s interesting about working with a client who wants to do something more modern and contemporary is that the rules for what it should look like and how things should work 
are non-existent.”

While that means there is more room for creativity, it also requires more flexibility, he adds. Given the home’s lot size and location, challenges related to space and city regulations arose from the start.

“Being that it’s such a narrow lot—we downsized—but we still wanted certain things … so we knew we had to go up,” Karen says.

Originally designed as a two-story plan, the layout evolved to accommodate the homeowners’ goals for more outdoor living and gardening space.

A lot of research was involved in understanding the three-dimensional envelope of the house, says Taylor. The design maximized the city’s 35-foot height restrictions with flat roofs—the home’s height falls just a couple of feet below that. Project construction also had to begin at the back of the lot with the pool installation because the lot’s position against a trail conflicted with city restrictions on bringing construction materials in through the adjacent community park.

Back inside, a fourth bedroom was eliminated in favor of office space to enable easier access to the “party deck,” one of the homeowners’ favorite hangout spots where a fireplace and potted plants create a cozy atmosphere and provide a perfect park view in the evenings.

“There’re always modifications while you’re building, regardless of the blueprint,” says Tom. “Some things change in the stride of things, that’s what I like about building—it’s challenging and it’s fun.”

Amenities here include a three-car garage, a wide driveway and plenty of storage throughout the house. Though unlike the design of many homes in the area, Taylor and the Gormans say they were sensitive to making sure the dwelling fit well into the Clintonville landscape.

Finished in earth tone materials, the exterior blends comfortably into its natural surroundings. Since the area is abundant with homes of many different architectural styles built throughout the 1900s, Taylor says he hopes this dwelling will continue Clintonville’s tradition of high-quality, well-designed houses.

“We don’t see this as a house that is stylistically different from the rest of Clintonville,” he says. “We see it as another style that fits into the many different styles that are present there now.”

As for the Gormans, they’re enjoying their new urban lifestyle, living near the bike path and appreciating the area’s natural beauty without the maintenance of a large suburban property. “On a weekend if I’m not working,” adds Tom, “the car doesn’t leave the garage.”