Wood, Stone & Water
Outdoor Living Four Seasons in Solon
By Jennifer Atkins
Anyone building their dream house has to really consider exactly which influences from their life that they wish to pull to make central in the plan for their ultimate home. Patrick and Maribeth knew that for them, the perfect home would incorporate the ambiance of the resorts they loved to visit across the country, particularly in Colorado and the Adirondacks. They wanted to bring the connection to nature and sense of well-being that they felt after a vacation into their everyday lives. As former Floridians, the homeowners love to be outside around the water and wanted to make sure their environment allowed their whole family to do that through all four seasons…even in Cleveland.
With roots in Northeast Ohio, the family had had a summer home in Solon for many years while living in Florida. They fell in love with the mild summers and natural beauty of the area and decided to make it their permanent home. They began making plans to tear down the summer home and replace it with a masterpiece. As they were finalizing the plans, the couple discovered a home for sale that backed up against the Cleveland Metroparks. While the small house was hopelessly outdated and inadequate for their needs, the lot was amazing. They decided to relocate their construction project and redesign their original plans to fit the new spacious lot.
“We can’t rave enough about the job that Tom Medhurst did,” exclaimed Maribeth. Based in Chagrin Falls, Tom Meduhurst of T. Medhurst Builders has over 20 years experience working on custom projects like this. While the basic framework had been created with the architects, the family worked closely with Medhurst to create unique living spaces that were completely tailored to the dream house vision they had in mind. Today, the 8,600ft2 home is a true retreat for the family.
Nestled into the landscape, the Cape is a vision of stone and wood, suggesting its ski lodge inspiration. The mixture of multiple exterior mediums is a hot trend today. “All the new homes I am building are mixing hardy plank, stone, brick or shingles to visually create texture and highlight exterior architecture,” explained Medhurst. The front elevation is not the only mountain-inspired detail in the home. Throughout, there are elements drawn from resorts they’ve visited or features they’d fallen in love with in their travels. From the screened-in sidelights bookending the front door allowing air flow in the summer, to the arching rough-hewn beams with copper accents in the livingroom, inspired custom details are the rule not the exception in this unique home. No effort was too much to get exactly what they wanted. For example, the homeowners had fallen in love with the treatment done on the walls in their favorite resort in Colorado, so they contacted the company and got exact directions for copying the seven layer effect.
The six bedroom, six and a half bath house is filled with examples of custom work. Cabinets throughout the home were made by Amish crews, including an elaborate entertainment center/bookcase in the basement theatre which features a hidden door to the game room. Plans for a porch off the kitchen were altered to accommodate an elevator to allow wheelchair access to any of the three levels. From the flooring to the ceilings, fireplaces to showers, each element of the home is a special work of art created with unique materials, lending an air of craftsmanship and elegance that belies its age.
One of the most striking and challenging projects was a backyard that, like their favorite places in the mountains or at the beach, was usable during all four seasons. “We wanted to create a place where our children’s friends would want to come over all the time, and where we could gather as a family or entertain,” stated Maribeth. The couple worked closely with Medhurst to design the perfect environment that would make that easy whether the temperature was 30 or 80 degrees. Maribeth is a certified holistic practitioner and life coach, so had strong ideas about creating a place of solace. Elements from nature – the rough texture of stone, the whispering of trees, gurgling water—seem to hold a common power of soothing our spirits, so it is no wonder most people chose these images when meditating. Now take that image, that happy place, and bring it to life in a backyard – a peaceful environment of wood, stone and water that anchors the family in the midst of a busy life. This is the exact feeling one gets upon seeing Maribeth and Patrick’s backyard even covered in two feet of snow. “It’s about having a balance of Mind, Body and Spirit and how having nature all around makes you feel. It’s about visualizing and manifesting a dream life,” said Maribeth.
“Our specialty is working less from a set of strict plans, but rather finding out what the owner wants and figuring out how to give it to them in the best possible way,” explained Medhurst. This type of on-the-fly design has created unique and wonderfully functional elements that truly enhance the way this Solon family lives. A perfect example of this is the finished outbuilding that stands central in the backyard. The planning for a grill area soon grew to an open air gourmet kitchen, complete with stainless steel under-mounted sink, microwave and Frigidaire refrigerator with water in the door. The stainless steel 48” gas grill and smoker is surrounded by custom built cabinets of ipe. “This is a Brazilian hardwood. With the surface density of concrete, it’s rot resistant. It’ll last forever!” Medhurst explained. To ensure smoke doesn’t annoy the chef, he recommended a 1,600cfm blower for ventilation with the motor on the roof.
One of the things Medhurst is most proud of is the movable bar. “Because it is on wheels you can park it wherever it makes the most sense. Take it over by the Jacuzzi so the towels kept in the warming drawer are within easy reach, or pull it out a few feet to expand the kitchen for a caterer, or move it across the space to set up a separate bar at a more formal party.” Also made of ipe, the cabinetry is topped with a beautiful and unique piece of granite. Glossy black intersected by large ovals of river stones, it echoes the stonework and shapes found throughout the outdoor space and in the home.
The family wanted to be able to eat outside in all three seasons and into the fourth if possible. After consideration, the team created a screened-in dining room to protect diners from the elements and insects alike. With doors both from the kitchen and the backyard, dinner is easily accessible, as is the poolside view through the screen walls. Before installing the synthetic Weatherbest flooring, Medhurst’s team first poured a concrete pad on an incline to drain underneath, so that the room could simply be hosed off after a night of fun. A small garage for the lawnmower or golf cart was created behind both the dining and kitchen areas. A supply of firewood is stacked there, kept dry until needed, when it can be passed through the small utility door in the dining room.
On hot days, the ceiling fans in the outbuilding help keep the air moving. On cold days, a beautiful fireplace of mixed ledge and field stonework keeps the gathering warm. With its unique double opening, the fireplace is accessible to both guests in the dining room and those in the kitchen. In the summer, it serves as a little view on life in the water. Rough-hewn mantles crown both sides above doors of glass and wrought iron formed into branches and leaves. This custom piece was commissioned by Patrick from an artisan in Montana. “We actually moved the placement of the hot tub so that it would be in a perfect line from the center of the fireplace which sits a slightly odd angle in the building, but it works really well in the space,” explained Medhurst. The fireplace and chimney stonework is a piece of art in and of itself. A mixture of ledge and field stones, it rises up straight through the extended roof … as a focal point, an anchor pinning the little gathering building firmly into an oasis of peace.
“As we were looking at covering these two spaces, we realized we had an opportunity to expand the space upwards and create some great storage for the family. The attic was framed in, and stairs and a landing alongside the far end of the little building provide access,” explained Medhurst. Now two stories, the outbuilding balances the additional 1-car garage with exercise room/office space above that had been added during the building process of the main house. The concrete walkway from the main house to the little building was covered and trimmed in black iron fencing. There is also a path accessing the driveway and 3-car garage around the front of the house. The ripple stone pattern of the concrete was chosen to approximate the flat pieces found at the bottom of a river, echoing the natural patterns found in the Metroparks.
The Metroparks literally cup the cozy, yet spacious pool and entertainment area, rimmed in stone that peaks from beneath the wintery white blanket. Blending nearly seamlessly from the natural environment surrounding the lot to the more cultivated one by the pool, the landscaping was designed by Terry Ries of The Ohio Valley Group. “Working with homeowners as devoted to the outdoors as these made this project a great deal more interesting, as it was not just about building new things, but preserving existing elements as well,” said Ries. “There were these big, old gingko trees on the property that were eight or nine inches in diameter. We made a conscious effort in the design to save as many of the old-growth stands as possible.” The homeowners also had over 58 pines planted on the property for additional privacy. Today, the trees provide shade for the sitting and gathering areas around the pool. The rest of the landscaping, focusing on native plants, enhances the peaceful environment in raised beds carved out by rock walls. The structure of the house and landscaping virtually join hands in an elliptical embrace of the outdoor living space.
Intimate gathering places are intermittently spread across the veranda that rings the house. “It was necessary to put something like a porch there to maintain the privacy of the house, but we didn’t want to conceal the views either.” Medhurst pointed out the skylights in the extended roof. The extension of the roof to cover the porch made interior spaces like the music room too dark. The skylights allow more sun inside the house, while making the exterior spaces feel airy yet protected. “During the winter, I love to curl up with a book by the fireplace in the sitting room off my master and look out across the veranda at the rocks and snow,” said Maribeth. “But in the summer, I love sitting in my handmade rocker on the porch where I can hear the waterfalls and watch kids jumping off the diving rock.”
Waterfalls provide the constant sound of water, not to mention a natural source of relaxation to swimmers sitting beneath them in the freeform pool. There is a rock diving board for those who want to dive right in, while the shallow end eases the more cautious swimmers into the water. It is a pool built for all ages and swim levels. Sun Lovers can simply relax on the sundeck or at one of the many little tables or chairs. “We made a decision early on not to have the pool deck go all the way around the pool,” Ries said. “Instead we created comfortable spaces for people to gather because entertaining was central to how the homeowners wanted to live in the back yard.” Maribeth agrees, “We wanted our home to be welcoming to all our friends and family. It couldn’t have turned out more wonderful. We use this space all the time for quiet retreats with my friends, pool parties for the kids or large fundraisers. No matter the size, the space always seems perfect.”
While the pool is unavailable in Cleveland winters, the family still wanted that cozy mountain resort feel. What could be more mountain resort than an outside hot tub to soak away the cares? The custom-built therapeutic spa is large enough for a company of 10. Its tiled exterior picks up the colors and texture of the natural stone in the background. Nevermind lake effect snow, thanks to Medhurst, who suggested adding in electric coils beneath the poured concrete walkway. The hosts don’t have to worry about shoveling, and guests enjoy a dry warm path to the hot water. Add in the warm and dry towels waiting in the warmer tucked away in the rolling bar and we’re talking the height of luxury. As an added bonus, the controls for the hot tub are secreted away in the main house, so that the bubbles can begin percolating before the party even steps out into the weather.
Guests can prepare for water fun in the main house’s pool mudroom. Stunning in rustic red wainscoting, the room features a multitude of hooks and storage for gear. Like all the floors on the main level, the easy to clean slate is heated to keep hot tub guests’ toes warm during the colder months. It also has its own generously-sized full bath. Like every other bathroom in the home, it is a unique work of art, mixing pebble stone, slate or stone, copper accents and tile to create a luxurious atmosphere. “It is like living in a resort,” exclaimed Patrick.
It is with some regret but also with excitement that the couple, having completed and enjoyed their dream home, are now ready to move on to another project. Maribeth explained, “This whole process has been a challenge and a gift. We’ve learned so much about who we are and how we want to live. Now we’d like to share that gift of knowledge about living a balanced life connected to nature with others.” It seems certain that whatever the project, it will contain the elements of wood, stone and water that have become so central to their lives.
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