This Upper Arlington Home is Filled With Whimsical Surprises

A collaboration between a homeowner and her longtime designer results in a home that has a distinct artistic flair.

Laurie Allen
A cozy fireplace lights up the far side of the living room, and orange benches add additional seating.

With an artist’s eye and quilter’s dexterity, Sandy Ross has woven together her love of family, nature, the color orange and small surprises into the new home she and her husband Andy recently built in an established Upper Arlington neighborhood.

The house that preceded the Rosses’ was a long, narrow structure when Michael Edwards Building and Design bought it in 2018 and split the property into two lots. The Rosses’ all new, 4,400-square-foot brick residence is both airy and cozy, thanks to high ceilings, plenty of windows and a warm color palette.

The couple moved into the home from their previous one in Delaware County last year, just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Central Ohio. They lived near Marysville prior to Delaware County, Sandy says, but she felt the time was right to move back to the city. “I can walk to the library and my cousin’s bakery,” she adds. The bakery is the venerable Tremont Goodie Shop.

To help create the home of her artistic dreams, Sandy re-enlisted Peggy Smith of Howard Brooks Interiors, with whom she has worked on several of her previous homes. “I love to design and decorate … Peg’s job is very difficult with me. I have all these things in my mind that I want to get out,” she says with a smile.

A wish for the new house was to introduce more of Sandy’s favorite color, orange. In the living room, she and Smith accomplished that with the addition of two large Leathercraft sofas in a shade of orange that is neither overly bold nor bashful. The same leather was used to re-upholster two “perching chairs” by the media wall, which contains bookcases and a TV hidden by sliding wooden barn doors.

Tall cream-colored cabinets on either side of the large fireplace were custom crafted in North Carolina by the Guy Chaddock Company and “provide a wonderful anchor and balance for the room,” Smith says. A light-colored Oriental rug defines the seating area, and floor-to-ceiling draperies in cream with a cut-velvet trim frame and soften the windows.  

Flooring in the living room and adjacent areas is white oak custom-stained an ash blond tone, grounding the home in light and warmth. In the kitchen, Edwards built custom cabinets in a color called “Snow Bound” to match the Farrow & Ball paint color on walls and ceilings and keep the space light. Clear, seeded glass pendants, brass hardware and quartz countertops finish it all.

A soft marble backsplash that “is calm, but with movement” was designed in a French Gothic style and resembles vertical fish scales, Sandy says.

Sandy’s penchant for weaving together decorating themes is visible in the adjacent dining area, where a lacquered wood table sits atop cowhide rugs, surrounded by linen-covered Parsons chairs and modern, clear “ghost” chairs.

“I’m not a dark and heavy person,” says Sandy, who wanted to achieve “visual comfort” in her new home. At night, she closes the patterned sheer drapes at the front windows. “I want to keep it light inside, without the dark coming in,” she explains.

The home’s entry hall is distinctive, beginning with the custom-framed collection of eggs that hangs opposite the front door. Inspired by a display she spotted in a Chicago antique store years ago, the retired science and health teacher—as well as nature lover—set out to create her own egg display, using ostrich and emu eggs she and her husband blew out with a bicycle pump. She acquired colored chicken eggs from organic farmers and purchased swan, guinea and rhea eggs from a company that sold them already blown. More traditional art surrounds the shadowbox.

“I kind of like surprises,” Sandy says. Her love of surprises influenced other design choices, such as pairing a handwoven Persian rug on the entry floor with a Stark leopard-print runner used on the adjacent staircase.

Nearby, a custom, three-door cabinet made by Kindel Furniture Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, serves as an anchor for a large collection of landscape art on the wall above. Most of the art in the couple’s home is by Ohio artists and family members, including Andy’s mother and the Rosses’ sons.

The powder room on the entry’s opposite side is a delightful mash-up of design. Walls are covered in a Manuel Canovas pattern of intricately detailed Japanese purses in deep jewel tones, juxtaposed with a charcoal-stained farmhouse vanity with stainless-steel sink and industrial-style brass fixtures and riveting. Edwards Building and Design crafted the piece based on a photo Sandy had saved from a magazine.

“I think you really have to have fun [in decorating],” she says. “Most people are afraid to try new things.” That sense of playfulness is apparent in the master bath with its white birch tree wallpaper, an oil hung at bathtub eye level and a whimsical black-and-white-checked, gold-antlered moose head on a commode wall.

In Sandy’s studio, the birch wallpaper serves as a perfect counterpoint to a visual wall of green, created by a dense row of towering ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae outside. Although “it’s a postage stamp compared to my last house,” Sandy says, the studio accommodates a large drafting table, quilting and art equipment, as well as small-scale mock-ups of her larger projects. One of her most memorable projects was a quilt commissioned by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for an anniversary several years ago.

Her husband’s office is papered in burnt-orange grasscloth and features built-ins that house dozens of small machines he designed and made through the years, including a scale model of an external combustion train engine he saw in a Swiss museum. “He is trained as a lawyer, but has an engineer’s brain,” Sandy says.

Her multi-faceted talent takes many forms as well. She loves not only to create but to re-create. For her grandsons’ bedroom, she re-purposed an older Ethan Allen bunkbed by taking it apart and creating two twin beds and painting them lime green. A mid-century modern chair has been recovered in purple fabric, while the same chair in a nearby guest bedroom is peacock blue.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, the birch wallpaper emerges again in the bedroom and large windowed closet, which Sandy converted into a special space for her grandsons, complete with a tent. “They call it the secret cousins’ room,” she says. Her granddaughter has her own cozy nest—another closet Sandy transformed with pink-striped wallpaper hung horizontally, a wall-sized pink flamingo she painted and a glass lily pad ceiling fixture.

The attention paid to the home’s interior extends outdoors as well. She wanted a “warm and cozy” courtyard feel for the entry and had two narrow, bluestone terraces built in front of windows on either side of the front door. Concrete and steel faux bois benches sit at each of the windows, and large urns hold seasonal plantings and décor. Her favorite season is fall, with its harvest of all things orange.

The rear yard is located off a screened porch near the kitchen and is styled as a Japanese garden with supersized granite tortoises, pagodas and large boulders unearthed during construction.

Piece by piece, the mixed-media quilting artist and her longtime decorating partner have stitched together a home rich in detail, visual comfort—and a few surprises.