Brei and David Clifford’s recently refurbished home is tucked in Westerville’s sprawling Highland Lakes community, a neighborhood checkered with open spaces and natural wooded areas. The couple purchased the home in January 2022 during a frenzied pandemic housing market, ultimately choosing the home because it offered the right floor plan in the right location.
The home’s highlights were clear—functional, well-connected living spaces; large, arched windows peering out to a private back lot; and a centralized great room with a two-story, vaulted ceiling. With proximity to nearby Polaris and the possibility for a club membership with pool access at the Lakes Golf and Country Club (a membership which the couple later acquired), the Cliffords were drawn to the neighborhood for its convenience to amenities in an area surrounded by mature trees and natural beauty.
Like many subdivision homes built between the 1990s and early 2000s, however, the dwelling was constructed with builder-grade elements lacking in character, and a once-popular Tuscan-style aesthetic dominated the interior design. The couple knew that in order to create a cozy and welcoming space more reflective of their style, updates were in store.
“I had some ideas, and I enjoy decorating and kind of creating purposeful space,” Brei says. But with so much work to be done throughout the entire home, the project seemed difficult to manage. David’s main requirement was that the design felt livable and usable. To help materialize Brei’s vision and make their main living spaces feel distinct, cohesive and comfortable for their family, the couple hired Upper Arlington-based interior designer Erin Hackett of Hackett House Studio, who describes her approach to design as being grounded in using aesthetics to influence life and happiness, and to promote well-being.
“It’s amazing what a second eye can do for you,” Brei says. From the initial brainstorming consultation to shared Pinterest boards and detailed 3D mockups, they began to conceptualize what each space would become and how to transition away from the home’s builder-grade nuances to a more customized look.
Initial efforts focused on minimally invasive but high-impact updates to several of the main living spaces. Existing wood flooring was sanded, refinished and continued throughout, and nonstructural cosmetic updates were implemented—including the removal of dated, faux pillars framing the dining room entry and a newly installed reclaimed wood mantel piece added to the stone fireplace.
With an open layout that flows from foyer to living room, a top priority early on was creating an entryway that would set the tone for the entire house, Hackett says. That began through the integration of beautiful statement lighting. “Lighting is such an easy way to make your home feel updated, to make your home feel upgraded and to show off your sense of style,” she adds. “It’s kind of like the jewelry of the home.” Upon entering the residence, three very different, eye-catching chandeliers seamlessly work together to enhance the flow between the foyer, adjacent dining room and office. Through a mix of styles and sizes, each offers visual interest while providing day-to-day function.
Reestablishing the home’s color palette was another important consideration. Originally painted in shades of yellow and orange characteristic of the Italian-villa trend, Brei wanted a look with more freshness and warmth—but without the starkness of too much white. Instead of applying gray paint to the walls, a style that was well-loved for more than two decades but has phased out, Hackett says, an earthy gray color was applied on all millwork, door casings and trim throughout the main floor and select spaces on the second level to contrast against white walls. “It’s a hallmark of European, English cottage interior design to do a contrast trim, and it just brought a whole lot of warmth to the home.” In the office off the entry, a rich, muted green was applied nearly top to bottom on walls, trim and built-in bookcases for a moodier statement—a color scheme the homeowners love in a space used daily.
While updated lighting, paint and other overall improvements laid the groundwork for a fresh new feeling in the home, it is the carefully selected furnishings and accessories Hackett sourced for each space that infuse character and demonstrate the Cliffords’ personal style. From handmade French pottery and centuries-old antiques to more modern touches, the final look is a visual representation of the homeowners’ personalities, Hackett says.
It was important to Brei to support local businesses as much as possible, so anchor pieces, such as the living room sofa and floral Ottoman, were custom made by Norwalk Furniture, in Norwalk, Ohio. David’s carved wood desk was among items purchased from Central Ohio’s Trove Warehouse, and vintage and antique décor items on shelves and tabletops were found at Magpie Market in Upper Arlington and Eclectiques Antique Mall in Clintonville. The culmination of style and comfort has led to a final look the homeowners love—a process they say was made easier by working with an interior designer who could help them create a cohesive plan and not only stick to a predetermined budget, but come in slightly under.
“Now that I’ve worked with a designer, I will never go back,” Brei says. With many of the home’s living spaces now complete, she says the urgency to finish remaining projects has subsided. As they consider tackling a full kitchen renovation in the spring, a project they’ve already begun planning with Hackett, what was once a dated, builder-grade home now feels like their own custom haven.
Design Ideas From a Professional
Interior designer Erin Hackett offers these quick tips to transform a builder-grade space to a more custom look, preparing your space for the holidays.
Lighting: Swap out basic, builder-grade fixtures with something more interesting. With thousands of options available on the market, Hackett suggests sticking with two metal finishes and paying attention to the size and scale of lighting to ensure the look is well-coordinated and beautiful.
Paint: Instead of all-white everywhere, a contrasting trim color is an easy way to add character.
Holiday décor: Avoid flashiness and lean into natural materials like fresh garland, neutral and understated accents, muted colors and soft textiles.
This story is from the November 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.