A Nantucket Christmas — in Ohio

How one Rocky River family transformed a house built in the 1990s into the classic lakefront abode it always wanted.

The sweeping staircase in the front hall is dressed to impress. Lush garlands of faux greenery — an unconventional combination of magnolia leaves, cedar and pine boughs, and white winterberry sprigs — hang from the banisters in swags, each anchored with a length of sheer white ribbon striped in silvery baby blue. White potted poinsettias flank each walnut-stained oak step, further defining their dramatic curve to the second floor.

 “We mixed some greens to get the fullness,” Cleveland-based interior designer Karen Weber says as she surveys the opulent scene. “The staircase is very large, so you need a lot of fullness to make it work.”

The holiday decorations are the emphatic finishing touch to an extensive renovation of the five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath home Kim and Ryan Crane share with their four children. Buying the red-brick structure in early 2010 was the realization of a dream for Kim, a real estate agent for Howard Hanna Real Estate Services who grew up just six doors away, along the lakefront on Cleveland’s suburban West Side. Indeed, it afforded the breathtaking views of the water she had missed. The backyard patio was perfect for hosting the family’s many cookouts and watching fireworks displays staged by various lakeside communities throughout the summer.

“When the Cleveland Yacht Club does them, it’s like having our own personal show in our backyard because we’re so close,” she says.

But the 1990s construction lacked the character and charm of the traditional 1920s Nantucket homes Kim admired. So she and Ryan embarked on a nine-month refurbishing that endowed the residence with the architectural details needed to replicate the look. “We wanted to tie in to the neighborhood, so it didn’t look like a new-construction home,” Kim adds.

The project began with the Cranes bunking with Kim’s parents so contractors could make architectural changes and additions to the house’s floor plan. They lowered the vaulted two-story ceiling over the living room to a 10-foot coffered counterpart so a bedroom and full bath for 8-year-old daughter Kylie could be added upstairs. At the other end of the house, they built a fourth bay onto the three-car, side-load garage, a move that freed up the innermost bay for a mudroom and allowed 3-year-old son Carter’s bedroom to be extended over the expanded garage. The bath and walk-in closet in the neighboring master suite also were reconfigured and the second-floor laundry room across the hall enlarged.

Carpenters then began adding a wealth of custom millwork. In the kitchen — now fully visible from the family room after the removal of a half wall — cabinets were replaced and topped with Pietra del Cardoso honed-soapstone counters. The living-room fireplace mantel and hearth were reconstructed and paneled wainscoting and chair rails installed in the dining room and upstairs hallway. The attention to detail extended to the existing dining-room corner cabinets. An extra shelf was added to the top of each so they’d match the height of the transom windows. Kim estimates that 80 percent of the house’s original windows, many of them arched — a feature she deemed inconsistent with the classic coastal look she wanted to achieve — were replaced with double-hung counterparts and outfitted with plantation shutters.

 “None of the windows opened on the first floor except for one,” she remembers. “I wanted a cross breeze, as much fresh air as possible.” Now the only windows that don’t open on the first floor are the decorative round ones added in the family room. 

The Cranes also opted to add a range of architectural amenities to the home’s private areas. In the master suite, contractors installed paneled wainscoting, added beams to the vaulted ceiling, and laid a vintage, basketweave-patterned floor in the bath. Five-year-old Addison’s bedroom, now painted lemonade yellow, was upgraded with paneling in the hot-pink tray ceiling and a built-in desk, the latter of which is similar to the one in big sister Kylie’s new pink room. Kylie’s bath boasts a round window with custom mullion, arched tub-shower alcove, chair rail above white subway tile, and white hexagonal-tile floor with a black border — all a perfect foil for the hot-pink floral wallpaper Karen chose to cover the walls.

But the most elaborate space is little Carter’s light-blue bedroom. Each twin bed is an approximation of a classic Chris-Craft motorboat, complete with port cage light, constructed by builder Mike Zart. “The handles on the boat beds and on the built-ins that we added are all real cleats from boats,” Kim points out. Bookcases flank a desk built under the new dormer window, which sports a valance of sailing flags. The opposite wall, painted navy blue, is hung with colorful oars.

Karen used strong shots of blue, along with other nautical touches, throughout the house to help create the updated classic décor her clients desired. Kim approved a dark-navy paint for the library walls and blue sailboat wallpaper — a print similar to that on the cushions of a woven-seagrass chair and ottoman in the sunroom — for a powder room lit by a rope-wrapped sphere chandelier. The master bath was papered in a white geometric print on a navy background that mimics the pattern in the navy area rug and pale-gray curtain panels and duvet in the master bedroom.

The balance of the walls were finished in neutrals: a light-gray paint for the living room, traditionally furnished in shades of blue and gold; wheat grasscloth for the dining room, a nice backdrop for the twine-latticed, robin’s-egg blue panels at the windows; khaki paint for a family room dominated by a pair of navy-blue twill sofas and a boldly striped chair-and-a-half and ottoman. The refinished oak floors, like the rebuilt kitchen island and library and family room built-ins, were stained a dark walnut, providing a contrast to the sisal carpeting laid on the stairs and second floor. The rest of the woodwork was painted white.

“We wanted a more neutral palette to show off furnishings and to show off window treatments,” Karen explains.

The home’s exterior was completely transformed. A front porch was built, along with the other additions. The brick was then painted white and the front of the second story finished with cedar-shake shingles stained to complement the faded-blue shutters.

“That was a challenge, trying to find that perfect stain that looked weathered, but yet wasn’t,” Karen divulges. “If you go natural weathered, the cedar tends to turn black in this climate. So we had to find the perfect stain that had the different variations of the gray.”        

The Cranes returned to the house amid ongoing construction in January 2012. But Kim wasn’t done — she eventually enlisted Karen to revamp her Christmas decor. Karen dutifully placed Kim’s grandmother’s collection of Santa figurines around the house and hung needlepoint stockings stitched by her mother and grandmother from the family room fireplace mantel. Traditional red-and-green decorations, however, were confined to the house’s exterior, kitchen, family room and sunroom.

 “We wanted to keep with the colors in the coastal venue,” Karen explains. “So we just started with that.”

Karen topped the artificial tree in the living room with a huge bow fashioned from the same ribbon used on the staircase, wrapped the bow’s cascading streamers around it garland-style, and adorned the branches with pale-blue, blown-glass pine cones and balls, mercury-glass ornaments, white winterberry springs, natural sand dollars and starfish. In the master bedroom, she trimmed another faux fir with a burlap-ribbon bow-topper and garland, more winterberry sprigs, and a mix of silver balls, miniature lanterns, blue-glass and natural shells.

But the decorations in the children’s rooms reflect their respective color schemes. A silver twig tree trimmed in tiny hot-pink glass balls and topped with a hot-pink bow brightens Addison’s dresser, while a gold wire tree with jewel-toned glass ornaments is stationed on a table by Kylie’s door. Trios of brightly striped “brush” trees stand on each girl’s desk unit. Kim points out the personalized stockings hanging on the doors. Local designer Christy Bennett made them from fabrics that complement each child’s bedding.

While Kim can point out every single improvement tradesmen made, the changes were so skillfully implemented that it’s impossible to tell what is original to the home and what is not — or, for that matter, to put a date on its construction. 

“You would never guess that the house was built in the 1990s,” Karen declares.  

Holiday Surprises
Five tips for festive — and unexpected — holiday decor from designer Karen Weber.

1. Use a mix of greens. Karen added unexpected interest to evergreens by interspersing silk magnolia leaves with faux pine boughs on the Cranes’ living-room mantel and adding silk lemon leaves to an arrangement over their master-bedroom fireplace. The warm-weather foliage, available at craft stores and online, is surprisingly at home, even in the wintry Great Lakes. Insist on nothing but fresh-cut greens? Try boxwood. “I like to put some live stuff into the mix, too,” Karen says. “If you go 100 percent, completely all faux, it lacks a little bit of whatever.”

2. Redefine your idea of “Christmas tree.” Karen stunned Kim Crane by arranging a trio of bare deciduous trees bagged in burlap — fakes purchased at a furniture store — by the family-room fireplace, then wrapping them in strings of tiny white lights. “She ended up loving them,” Karen says. The idea, she advises, is best implemented in groupings.

3. Turn seasonless collectibles into holiday ornaments. Karen transformed Kim’s collection of antique wooden shorebirds into holiday decorations by nesting them in faux pine boughs atop built-in corner cabinets in the dining room. Similarly, she’s tucked teddy bears and dolls into artificial trees and hung greeting cards from branches with lengths of satin ribbon. The practice not only makes use of treasured items all too often packed away in attics, closets and drawers — it adds a new motif in a world of Santa Clauses, reindeers and candy canes.

4. Trim a separate tree with kids’ homemade decorations. The live tree in the Cranes’ sunroom also displays the hodgepodge of ornaments picked up on vacations and special occasions — items in colors and materials that clash with the shells and glass in the living room and master bedroom. “It works really, really well,” Karen says. “It ends up looking quaint.”

5. Deck the lights. Tuck a little fresh boxwood and white winterberry in a fixture, like Karen did in the Cranes’ living room. Or tie boxwood and red berries to the top of a hanging light, a touch she added to the lantern pendants over the Cranes’ kitchen island. “The trick is not to do too much,” she cautions. “You do it in one room and pull back in another.”