Home: Finding joy on the banks of the Scioto

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

When Ashley and Matt Barnhart first laid eyes on an 1,800-square-foot bungalow overlooking the Scioto River in December 2009, they were more thrilled with the land upon which it sat than the house itself.

With grand plans for the property, they bought the place for $400,000 and lived in it for two years while consulting with an architect about renovation plans. By March 2012, it became too difficult to live in an active construction zone, so they rented an apartment in the Short North. Their new home was finally completed in September 2013.

Adding to the cacophony of activity, the couple's first child was born in 2011 and a second son followed in July 2013.

Seemingly oblivious to the stresses wrought by the dual challenges of new construction and new parenthood, the couple forged ahead. It was all part of their master plan to erect their dream home on the banks of the Scioto.

"Living near water was something we both dreamed of (separately)," says Ashley, who grew up less than a mile from the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina. Her husband, Matt, a veterinarian, sailed on Long Island Sound as a youth growing up in that area. Those joyful childhood memories left an indelible mark on the couple, leading them to dream of raising a family on the water, even in landlocked Columbus.

"We both missed the water," says Matt.

When Ashley learned of the bungalow's listing from a Realtor friend, the couple wasn't actively looking to relocate. Still, she says, "I looked at it without even telling Matt and realized it was just what we wanted: a double lot with a tiny house." They would later demolish it to make room for their ideal abode.

Living off Dublin Road near Hilliard and Upper Arlington is convenient for the active family. "This is one of the few places in Columbus that is near water and near town, close to the things we like to do. It's the best of the worlds that are important to us," says Ashley.

The Renovation

When the home that once occupied their property was originally built in 1960, it featured one bedroom and one bath. Later, another bedroom and bathroom were added. What occupies that same land today is the Barnhart's gracious home boasting 6,000 square feet, including six bedrooms, five full and one half baths, an open-concept kitchen, dining and living area as well as a smaller, secluded second kitchen that's helpful when the couple entertains.

Now that the interior of their home is completed, the enterprising couple has set their sights on improving the exterior of the house this year. Plans call for a swimming pool, a fully stocked outdoor kitchen and entertainment area erected on a new wraparound deck and a full bath, complete with an open-air shower.

Because Ashley relishes the nuances of vintage and antique décor, the couple didn't simply demolish the entire structure that once inhabited their property. Instead, they directed their contractor to preserve some aspects of the former abode, a decision that complicated their renovation.

For example, the man from whom the Barnharts purchased their property was a woodworker who created an intricate, braided pattern in the wooden threshold of the door to the home's basement. Elsewhere, a petite pink wooden rose was interwoven into paneling. The incorporation of these elements into the design of the uber-contemporary home caused a few challenges along the way.

The home's now-spacious basement features different rooms designed for their current uses. For example, a cozy, stone-walled room left over from the original home boasts a small stone semi-circle that holds wood for the nearby fireplace. A generous leather sectional couch from Restoration Hardware offers comfort while its inhabitants take in a movie or read a book by the warmth of a fire. Although the room's cold, heavy stone directly contrasts the home's light and contemporary feel, Ashley opted to keep it intact because of the warmth exuded by the room's overall persona.

The couple added a large space to the basement, which is where Ashley oversees her personal fitness and nutrition business. She was a competitive bodybuilder before her sons were born and she continues to live a busy, active life. She runs the year-old business, complete with several pieces of fitness equipment, in the basement's workout area. Fitness is such a big part of the Barnhart's lifestyle, having a home workout area was imperative, she says.

The Barnharts both come from large, close-knit families who visit often. The couple also enjoys entertaining, so the 24 chairs and stools that line two granite kitchen islands and a dining table are often full of family and friends. Ashley's keen eye for aesthetics meant that one wall in the kitchen could not be fitted with electric outlets, resulting in her construction crew hiding strips of electric outlets under the cabinets.

Describing her design style as classically modern, Ashley says, "When it comes to my home, I want it to feel comfortably curated." She wants her guests to feel like they can put their feet up, yet "be surprised by what they see."

She recognizes that having two young boys running through the house means it looks lived-in and she is fine with that. When the couple's older son was their only child, Matt's favorite room in the house was his son's room. He described it as dark, relaxing and quiet. Today, however, his taste has evolved. He is happiest when his wife and children are happy, and while that may not label his designing preferences, it speaks to his flexible attitude, says his wife.

"I love the kitchen, my walk-in closet and bathroom but, at the same time, I also really like the new powder room, with its black paint and gold wallpaper," Ashley says. An open area in the powder room will soon house a custom-made aquarium.

The walk-in closet is another favorite. At 416 square feet, it features numerous built-in shelves housing an expansive shoe collection. Clothing is organized by color. A small window allows natural light into the room and a playful chandelier lends a feminine touch to the space.

Not surprisingly, the home is equipped with the trappings of a green, smart house. With just a touch of a button, various controls can be adjusted for the temperature, indoor and outdoor lighting, window treatments, a built-in audio system and the security system. All can be adjusted via a smart phone as well.

Life on the Water

Down on the river, a private boat dock awaits springtime. But the family doesn't limit its love of living on the Scioto to just the warmer months. One of Matt's favorite memories of living along the Scioto occurred during the winter of 2013, when the river froze. "When it fully thawed in mid-March, hundreds of seagulls flew by to snack on all the fish that had frozen," he says. He also enjoys watching the moon undulate on the water, reflecting light and shadows on the various ceilings throughout his home. "This house satisfies my desire to be near the water," he says. "It's not the ocean, but it is fantastic."

His wife agrees. "When the sun rises, the water reflects and glistens on our bedroom ceiling," she explains. "It's like paradise. You don't think of Columbus as a paradise, but it really can be if you are in the right place."