A vintage greenhouse, an owner's bath and a ravine landscape get updates as COVID-19 forces homeowners to stay put.
When the world turned upside down last spring and nothing seemed certain, many people turned inward. Three women decided to re-create home spaces that grounded, nurtured and centered them during the tumultuous times.
“Bloom where you are planted” is the adage they lived.
The perfect storm of events related to the COVID-19 pandemic produced conditions ideal for leaps of faith. At her Clintonville home, Hannah Jew (pronounced Joe) revived an old greenhouse and filled it with tiny plants she started from seed.
“Gardening is an inherently optimistic activity,” she says. “You have to have faith that it’s going to grow and it’s going to get better.”
Jew was laid off from her job at an advertising agency at the beginning of the pandemic. Furthermore, she has an autoimmune disorder that required her to isolate at home. Unable to go into stores, she ordered a lot of seeds online with no way of knowing whether the fragile seedlings they produced would make it.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
“The quarantine makes you brave,” she says. “What else are you going to do?”
Among the seeds she planted were zinnias, nasturtium, sunflowers and lavender. If other, edible plants survive, her family will eventually enjoy the fruits of her labor in cantaloupes, cucumbers and raspberries.
For years, the greenhouse wasn’t a place that was hospitable to plants or humans. Neglected for decades, it was surrounded by shards of glass from the broken windows. Windows that still existed were covered in dirt, allowing in no light. The floor, she says, “was overgrown and disgusting,” while the greenhouse, itself, was equally repulsive.
“It was completely trashed,” she says. “It was so ugly.”
A thorough power washing revealed a brick floor that is both charming and practical. As layers of dirt were scrubbed away the greenhouse began to shine again. “Now it’s someplace I actually want to be,” she says. It’s also a favorite hangout for daughter, Sadie, 3, and the family’s two dogs.
The old space retains its vintage charm thanks to a rusted iron furnace once used to heat it and an old-school irrigation system, which she and her husband, Nick, hope to restore. An original clock hangs at the entrance, and an old metal hanging cage has new life as a white planter filled with flowers. Eventually, Jew flooded the greenhouse with tiny lights. “It makes it magical,” she says.
Her passion for growing took off prior to the pandemic when she enrolled in the Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Program. Nick suggested the program when he noticed how serene she was in nature. “When I started this, everything felt so unsure,” she says. “This felt like a very calming thing to do.”
Grounded in Dublin
Julie Paulino is a designer who has lived globally, with homes at times in São Paolo, Munich and New York City. She and her family now live in Dublin, Ohio, and it was at her house there that she turned a keen eye last spring.
The stay-at-home order issued in March curtailed much of Paulino’s on-site interior design work with clients, some of whom halted projects. So, she channeled her creative energy toward the Muirfield Village home where she, her husband and son have lived since 2018. The house hadn’t been updated, and they moved in with family during major renovation work.
She knew there were projects still to be done and the quarantine provided time to do that. “The condition of our home has never been more important than now,” she says.
Two projects that drew her immediate attention were the owner’s bathroom and front entry. In the bath, “we wanted to … build something that looked like it belonged to the house,” she says. To achieve that, she and her husband fashioned a visual frame behind the tub using a mosaic of Carrera marble tile they purchased at a local tile and flooring store.
“You could order online, and they had curbside pickup,” says Paulino.
The couple had the tile cut professionally but installed it themselves, a project admittedly out of Paulino’s personal comfort zone. As a professional designer, she is not a fan of do-it-yourself projects. When it was complete, the floor-to-ceiling mosaic made a big impact. “People have a misconception that bare space looks bigger, but a visual feature brings the eye up and heightens the space,” she says.
In the home’s entry, she tackled another project, styling a vignette centered on a round, composite wood table that is covered with a fringed cloth. The scene “brings a smile to your face every time you see it,” she says. “It lights up your spirit.”
Pictures from their travels are hung nearby on the stairway walls. “It was good to do during the quarantine when you really couldn’t go anywhere,” she says, of the gallery. “You remember those times [traveling] and it makes you happy.”
Once warmer weather hit, the couple started working on their outdoor spaces, planting vintage English roses and neat rows of boxwoods to evoke a European garden. They plan to create a picnic area under an arbor of graceful small trees.
Paulino says the outdoor projects have grounded her. “It’s therapy, and has made me realize how much the inside and the outside go together,” she says.
Leaning into the Ravine
Time at home during the pandemic offered another Central Ohio woman the opportunity to better adapt to her environment in professional and personal ways.
Melissa (whose last name is withheld by request) moved into her Walhalla Ravine home more than two years ago. She recognized from the start that the ravine’s natural features—an abundance of trees and wildlife—would be a challenge. Heavy shade and omnipresent deer are atypical of many home landscapes. For example, grass doesn’t grow well in shade, weeds proliferate and deer devour desirable plants.
When the pandemic hit, Melissa’s extensive travel and long hours away from home for her job were quickly curtailed. Suddenly, she had more time to experience where she was living.
“We knew it was kind of a mess, but now we could really see what was happening,” says Melissa, who lives with her boyfriend.
She began to better understand her surroundings and learn what she could about the shady landscape and the continually encroaching deer. By late May, the result was an exterior space that accommodated the home’s residents, as well the owls and critters that reside nearby.
In front of the house where deer had eaten all the ivy, she and her boyfriend created a circular bed of ferns, May apples and native plants. They then encircled it simply, and inexpensively, with trees limbs and branches collected from the ravine.
Using natural materials is part of the vibe that appeals to so many Walhalla residents. “It’s what people do around here,” she explains. “If you want pristine and manicured, that’s not us.” She created the landscape knowing that not all the new plants in it would survive.
“This is really a prototype,” she adds. “It’s experimental.”
At the rear of the house, the couple established a seating area around a fire pit and planted more ferns at the base of a tree. The site takes advantage of striking views and the ravine’s surrounding beauty. In her spare time, Melissa has photographed an owl family that she had never noticed before—including the wee owlets.
Shade-tolerant plants such as astilbe fill beds alongside the back of the house, and another tree-hugging garden was underway by late spring on the side of the home. In the home’s front, boxwood borders and hanging baskets of graceful begonias greet visitors. A cozy seating area on the porch invites guests to stay awhile.
While much work remains, Melissa is taking her time with the process. “We know we are going to be here,” she says. “COVID is not just going to disappear.”