Falling in Love with Upper Arlington

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Upper Arlington, a neighborhood just west of Ohio State University covering slightly under 10 square miles, is known for elegant stone-and-brick homes boasting million-dollar price tags. Upper Arlington's history dates back to 1913, when brothers King and Ben Thompson purchased the neighborhood's initial 840 acres from a man who would become the then-village's mayor five years later.

The brothers envisioned an idealistic residential neighborhood modeled after the Country Club development in Kansas City. Thus, the Thompsons named theirs The Country Club District. In 1917, the neighborhood changed its name to Upper Arlington, because it was located just north of a neighborhood with the same name (later, the original Upper Arlington changed its name to Marble Cliff).

The Thompsons hired a prominent landscape architect to plan the layout of the burgeoning village. The Pitkin Plan, named after William Pitkin Jr., encouraged the development of curving streets that followed the land, a sharp contrast to the gridded layout of Columbus. An abundance of trees were planted along the curving lanes, ensuring shade and beauty in the ensuing years.

In 1916, development of the area was temporarily halted when 8,000 National Guard troops used the village as a training camp. The troops, training to protect the U.S.-Mexico border, destroyed practically everything. Construction began again in 1918 when the troops evacuated the village, leading to Upper Arlington's incorporation later that year. The village became a city in 1941. According to the most recent population count, taken in 2013, nearly 35,000 people call Upper Arlington home.

Although the home in which they reside wasn't the first one built in Upper Arlington, Jerry and Karri Schildmeyer are proud to live in the fifth house inhabited in Upper Arlington. Originally erected as a Tudor in 1915, the inviting home has undergone a variety of renovations without losing its original charm, warmth and integrity.

The home's previous owner finished the attic, adding two large bedrooms graced by sloping walls and cozy corners. The Schildmeyer's twin daughters, currently sophomores at Upper Arlington High School, enjoy the attic bedrooms. Their youngest daughter, 13-year-old Ellena, is a student at the nearby middle school.

The Schildmeyers love the home's large screened-in porch, accessible through heavy wooden and glass doors just off the dining room. It features an impeccable beadboard ceiling that warms the space, lending a country feel to the outdoor area. "The porch is original to the house," says Jerry, managing director of Accenture. In fact, the porch was what sold him on the house.

For about seven months each year, the Schildmeyers can be found enjoying meals on the porch or lounging on the couch that sat empty during the cold Columbus winter. "It's a great entertaining space," Jerry says of the porch, noting an empty lot and a small, wooded ravine are next door. "Neighbors walk by and a happy hour may ensue," he adds.

Although she thoroughly enjoys spending time on the screened-in porch, Karri, the director of Corporate Alliance Marketing at Nationwide Children's Hospital, says it's not her favorite room in the house. Instead, it's the sunroom, a small, cozy spot in which to curl up and read a book, enjoy a chat or relax with a cup of tea, Karri's favorite pasttime. The room also serves as her office and features an unusual and breathtaking piece of wood furniture. "I love that in 1915, the builders had the foresight to construct a built-in desk," she says.

Because Karri spends so much time in the sunroom, the Schildmeyers updated it a few years ago. Karri brightened the space by changing its wall color and adding comfy furniture beckoning people to sit for a while. The colors "allow me to tap into my creativity. It's a great place to read the paper on the weekends," she says.

The Schildmeyers are somewhat of an anomaly in Upper Arlington, where generations of families either return or remain. Neither are from Columbus, let alone Upper Arlington. Jerry is from Cincinnati and Karri hails from Galion, Ohio. Karri moved to Columbus in 1989 for a job, and Jerry joined her after they married in 1997. The couple lived in Karri's condo until purchasing their first home, in south Arlington, a year later. They stayed there after having twins in 1998, but soon found the space too cramped for their growing family.

Jerry likes older homes, so the couple limited the search for their new residence to either Bexley or Upper Arlington. Both neighborhoods reminded Jerry of his childhood in Hyde Park, a Cincinnati neighborhood replete with grand brick-and-stone homes. "Once I got past the sticker shock of houses in both neighborhoods, we knew both neighborhoods were right," he says.

The unusual way they found their house is testament to the high esteem many in Upper Arlington hold for their neighborhood. The house was never listed with a real estate agent, but a friend of Karri's learned its owner wanted to sell. "I met with Mrs. Strauss, the homeowner, and she showed me around. She hadn't told her husband and I hadn't told Jerry," she says. After that, the Strausses invited the entire Schildmeyer family for another house tour. Mrs. Strauss had made it clear "she wanted a family (to buy the house) and we will do the same. We will always want a family here," Karri says.

"A lot of houses sell here before they actually go on the market," Jerry adds.

The couple has found Upper Arlington to be a fantastic place to live and raise a family. The school system is top-notch and the neighborhood is convenient to their needs. Port Columbus International Airport is within a few miles, important to Jerry since he travels often for work. Karri works downtown, and Upper Arlington is a quick drive away.

The Schildmeyers have made close friends with many of their neighbors, and relish the community-minded attitude prevalent in the neighborhood. And, despite the economic, residential and retail growth of their neighborhood, the couple agrees not much has changed. "We've been fortunate that, even with the development, the integrity of Upper Arlington has been preserved," Jerry says.

Melora and David Meyer (no relation to the writer) are dedicated to living in Upper Arlington. So much so that despite moving to three houses in 17 years, they haven't moved more than a mile from their original home.

Though she was born in Columbus, Melora was raised in Massillon, near Cleveland. Her husband moved to town from Charleston, West Virginia, to attend Capital Law School. Melora also attended Capital University, as did her parents before her. The Meyers were both living in Grandview when they met. David was a young lawyer and Melora was a teacher in Bexley schools.

When they decided to move to a larger home, the couple wasn't sure if they wanted to stay in Upper Arlington or move elsewhere. So they looked at properties all over central Ohio, including Granville, Lewis Center, Dublin and even in Lake Choctaw, a private, security-conscious lake community in London, Ohio. They also considered Bexley, partly because the neighborhood features characteristics both Meyers enjoy, such as sidewalks, older and unique homes and an excellent school system. "I grew up somewhere that didn't have blocks and I wanted that for my kids," David says.

"In the end, we moved to a house one block from our first house," Melora says. The two houses were so close, in fact, you could see one from the other.

Their current abode is their third in Upper Arlington, and the Meyers say this one is a keeper. The upgrades they have made to their home have been so costly, David lost track of how much money was spent.

The biggest financial investment they made in their home occurred in 2012. Among the projects was a complete overhaul of their once uninspiring and dowdy basement. The couple refashioned an "old, dingy Upper Arlington basement with fluorescent lights to a fantastic space," David says. "It is a total transformation with a creative design."

The basement is definitely a showstopper. Black and gold carpet reminiscent of an art deco theater house covers the floor. Red letters spelling the word "Cinema" greet visitors to the space, which features a 110-inch wide-screen TV built into the wall. Leather theater seats beckon people to sit and enjoy a movie or sporting event on the enormous screen, while a lengthy marble bar-height table with stools for accommodating additional guests stands just behind the theater seats.

If the Meyers want to wet their whistle, a sophisticated, sleek bar designed to evoke smoky nights in a Rat Pack lounge offers refreshment. Four black leather bar stools swivel to face the TV.

Cleverly decorated doors continue the theme. Doors to storage areas and leading to the furnace were transformed by the placement of bronze-colored tacks and round, darkened windows, emulating the nostalgic feel of being in an old theater house.

Other major renovations the Meyers completed that year include the reconfiguration and remodeling of the master bedroom, closets and bathroom, as well as the creation of a laundry room on the second floor.

David, a trial lawyer with an active litigation practice, owns nearly two dozen suits. He's also a great fan of neckties, ranging from the usual suspects to more comical versions. His generous wardrobe led to the creation of a master closet. The master bedroom's two smaller closets were then combined into one larger space to house Melora's wardrobe.

They also added a stone mantle to the impressive stone fireplace that adorns one wall of the bedroom. David likes the appearance of the updated fireplace, especially because it reminds him of the ornate fireplace in the couple's second home in Montana.

Their master bath, meanwhile, is so elaborate that even Charles Schulz's perennially dusty character Pigpen would want to clean up his act in there. A large soaking tub sits in the center of the bathroom, under a soaring ceiling adorned with a light fixture featuring hanging glass bubbles.

Marble tile beautifies the enormous walk-in steam shower, and the bathroom's expansive marble vanity makes the double sinks seem like they're not even in the same zip code. David also enjoys a design contribution he made in the vanity: a circular opening in which to throw garbage. A trash can sits just below, and the convenience of dropping trash into the opening evokes memories of being in a luxury hotel.

Living near Ohio State's campus has proven to be an unforeseen benefit of living in Upper Arlington. "Living near Ohio State is like living in an Olympic Village, but OSU is that, on steroids," he says. "There is always something to do there. We ride our bikes to OSU football games. We are home before many people get to their cars!"