Whether it's a new Downtown condo with a killer view or a remodeled suburban dwelling, four local executives talk about what makes their house a home.

Think you know what to expect while wandering through the familiar neighborhoods of Columbus? You might be surprised by what's hidden just around the corner.

New residential construction--from individual homeowners' renovation projects to the fitting-out of Downtown skyscrapers--has been steadily transforming, and updating, the city. Styles ranging from historic to contemporary can be found practically side-by-side, as the following four homes owned by Columbus executives demonstrate. Still, each one has all of the amenities necessary for modern life.

Art Inside and Out

The Short North Arts District has been a nexus of urban revitalization for decades, and its appeal is only increasing. Rhett Ricart, president and CEO of Ricart Automotive Group, lost no time in claiming his fifth-floor penthouse in the Parkview Condominiums at Goodale Park as soon as it went on the market in 2005. With his children grown, Ricart, a widower, liked the idea of making a change to urban living, so he downsized from a 6,200-square-foot house in Gahanna to the 2,600-square-foot unit he now calls home.

"I was the first person to buy and the last person to move in," Ricart says with a laugh. The time between buying and moving in was spent designing the unit to his taste, and installing artwork and custom furnishings.

"All of these things--the glasswork, the freestanding vase, the collector's guitars hanging on the wall--were things I couldn't have out when my kids were young and running around the house," explains Ricart. Now they define his living space. Ricart is a long-standing client of artist Scott Cochran of ellwoodscott design, and several of Cochran's pieces are an integral part of the interior.

A bar-height table in the kitchen serves as the perfect spot to enjoy wine tasting while overlooking Goodale Park, and Cochran carefully designed each portion of the table for both appearance and functionality. The circular base is made of Wenge wood, a tropical, farmed timber that's "great for use in the kitchen because of its high oil content--no matter what gets spilled on it, it is virtually indestructible," Cochran explains.

A hand-blown art-glass pedestal by Sam Drumgoole rests upon the Wenge wood base; inside is a concealed steel post that supports a glass tabletop. A lazy Susan made from a wine barrel top carries on the "wine room" theme.

Cochran designed a curved zebrawood countertop extension for the kitchen island. "The existing granite countertop was too shallow to allow barstools, so we mounted this hardwood ‘flying wing' to raise and extend the surface," he says. Across the room, a zebrawood sideboard with a slender profile complements the counter. The wood grain is continuous across all of the front drawers, and even where the top surface and sides meet. A piece of fossil-containing marble, which Ricart found at a shop in Mexico, also was transformed by Cochran; it now rests upon slender metal supports atop an entry hall table.

Perhaps most striking is the large-scale glass and wood installation opposite the entry door. Although it is a Cochran piece, Ricart originally purchased it through a gallery several years ago. Recently, it was reworked with the help of glass artist Anthony Gelpi. "We made it blend in more with the home, and brightened it up with different colors. It looks more organic now, and more custom," says Gelpi. Cochran says they also improved the mounting system and light penetration.

A final example of Cochran's art isn't as easy to spot. He created hangers for Ricart's extensive guitar collection using hand-blown glass, injectable resin and stainless steel. Their elongated, swooping forms, each mirroring the neck of its companion guitar, employ "design semantics," Cochran explains. "We used abstraction to represent the guitars."

Architecturally, a dramatic corner window is a highlight of the living area. "I always wanted to overlook Downtown," says Ricart, while enjoying the view from a comfortable sofa large enough to accommodate several guitar-playing friends.

When he chose the condo, Ricart says, he was looking for an urban location that didn't have a warehouse feel: "I wanted it to feel like a home." In addition to the carefully crafted furnishings and artwork, that feeling is achieved through the use of warm finishes and natural materials.

"I'm an outdoorsman," says Ricart. "So I like wood, cork, sponge ... all things that are natural and neutral in color." Flooring, cabinetry and even a bathroom shower stall that features river rock all reflect this preference.

Some very recent changes in the décor have brought a fresh, new element into the apartment's design. Ricart is a newlywed, and his wife, Nicole, has redecorated a half-bath with delicately beaded, gold-toned wallpaper that brightens the small interior room. She also has begun to add a few ornaments of her own choosing to the living room.

Village Charm

The city of Worthington was founded in 1803 by a group of New England settlers, and its planning and architecture were inspired by the old-world principles its organizers had left behind.

The neighboring village of Riverlea is bordered on three sides by Worthington, and located just south of its downtown. In 1984, Barb Carruthers and her then-husband moved to Columbus from Cincinnati and purchased their 1951 Riverlea home. Worthington's character appealed to the couple, as did the classic New England-style homes. "We liked the details--such as the trimwork--and we liked that the homes were solidly built," she says.

Carruthers, who recently retired as manager of visitors services for the Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, decided to make some improvements to the 2,000-square-foot house. She enlisted the help of Bryce Jacob, a vice president at Dave Fox Remodeling Inc. Although the home's historic character remains intact, and only about 500 square feet of space was added, the carefully thought-out renovation allowed for a whole-house modernization.

The biggest change was an addition to the back of the house, built where a backyard deck had been. The original layout of the home's ground floor had featured a formal front parlor just off the entry hall; beyond lay a kitchen and dining room that shared tight quarters along the back wall. So Jacob opened up the kitchen to create an access point into the new double-height living room. "The old kitchen window is now a hall," says Carruthers.

"We were able to widen the new kitchen over the original kitchen and dining room." Jacob explains. "We approached the project not as simply adding a new room, but as finding a solution for how Barb lives in the space. This involved a design phase for planning and configuring the house according to how it is going to be used."

The result is a spacious, modern floor plan. The kitchen now has plenty of counter space and a long island, and the original front parlor functions as a comfortable dining area. Jacob also widened the front hallway, removing a small coat closet and replacing it with a built-in bench.

While the layout was updated to better accommodate modern needs, many of the traditional architectural elements were replicated, or even reused. Some upstairs windows that would have been covered by the new addition were relocated to the addition itself, becoming transom windows along its west wall. The cambered arch of a small foyer window is echoed in the wide doorway leading into the now-dining room.

Jacob even found windows with that same camber to install along the back wall of the new living room addition, where they open up a vista into the backyard. "This was a particularly exciting part of the project," he says. "I was visiting the warehouse of a window vendor in connection with a different project when I saw these cambered windows. They were originally fabricated for the Marion County Courthouse, but the vendor had some left over and available for sale. They were close to the proportion of the original foyer window, and carried on the theme of curvature."

One of Carruthers' favorite parts of the renovation is her new laundry room, which was positioned behind the interior stairways and garage hallway. "We were able to move the laundry room up from the basement," she says. "I had to give up a little square footage, but it was worth it."

Upstairs, each of the three bedrooms is receiving a makeover as well. The front bedroom was redecorated, and Carruthers' son's old room, which looks out over the backyard, became the new master suite. "We added 3 feet more to this room, and put in a new master bath," Carruthers says. The additional square footage caused an adjacent bathroom to lose its window, but Jacob added a light well so the room didn't lose access to natural light. "Because of the way the roof ties in, it would have been hard to do a traditional skylight," says Jacob. "So we put in a Sonotube [concrete form] lined with reflective interiors."

"It's amazing how much light they were able to bring into the room this way," says Carruthers.

A Penthouse over the Park

In 2000, the national architectural press recognized Columbus for its urban high-rise project at Miranova Place. Cris Assif and his wife, Beth, were living in downtown Chicago at the time, but saw, and liked, the Miranova condominiums.

When the couple came back to Beth's hometown of Columbus in 2005, they decided not to give up their urban lifestyle. Initially, they bought a unit on one of Miranova's lower floors; the building's penthouse level was still unfinished. "Then a couple of things happened," says Cris, who is a chair and managing partner for Entrust Healthcare, a consulting and professional services firm. "The developer finished one of the penthouse units, and that created a comparable [property]. ... It set the price. We also were looking for a bigger place."

Cris, who had been traveling frequently, changed his work schedule and found himself at home a lot. Beth, an independent IT consultant, was already working out of a home office. So, after looking at various neighborhoods in Columbus, the couple decided to buy the 2,800-square-foot penthouse shell in 2008. "It had the advantage that we were able to build it to our taste," says Cris.

The couple contacted architectural firm Behal Sampson Dietz, which created a design for the penthouse; the firm won a 2010 Watermark Award (sponsored by Builder and Custom Home magazines) for the condo's contemporary kitchen.

Some of the residence's stud walls were already in place at the time of purchase, which restricted the layout somewhat. "In some ways, it was a new project; in some ways, it was a remodel," says John Behal, principal at Behal Sampson Dietz. Still, he was able to modify the floor plan enough to give the Assifs more usable square footage and extra storage space.

Because the front door is located on the unit's interior corner, close to the building's elevator core, it made sense to use that zone for some of the utility rooms. In addition to a powder room and coat closet, the entry hall provides access to a capacious laundry room, media closet and cleverly concealed seasonal storage nook.

Despite the cluster of utilitarian rooms, "We wanted to really look at the entry as a space," says Behal. "So we made it into a gallery. Because the front door opens into the long side of the unit, we were able to create a situation where you enter, turn, and then have a ‘wow' factor." Artwork that the Assifs picked out with the help of interior designer Amy Hiteshew was installed here and throughout the unit.

Behal also was able to optimize the function of the combined kitchen/living room area. "The original layout had included a working island and a bar island," says Behal, "but this ate up too much length and caused the leftover space--the living room--to become awkward. Fortunately, our entry reconfiguration extended the wall just enough to add 3 or 4 feet to the kitchen."

Behal used the additional wall area to emphasize the L-shape of the kitchen and create one large island instead of two smaller ones. This allowed the living room to expand to a more comfortable proportion, and allowed for additional cabinetry in both the kitchen and the adjacent dining area.

Other changes were made to enhance the perception of spaciousness. Custom-fabricated pocket doors were used throughout the penthouse to avoid disrupting the flow of space with door swings. And after years of loft living, Beth says Cris was comfortable pushing the envelope a bit: He suggested leaving the unfinished ceiling mostly exposed, in order to add height to the room. The surface was painted black to conceal imperfections, and white "floating" panels were suspended in the central areas to brighten the space and further conceal conduits and ductwork.

Raising the ceiling height opened up possibilities for other space-defining features. A soffit in the kitchen curls back toward the wall to define the dining room. Also, Cris points out that the extra inches of height gained at the perimeter of the unit allowed them to take full advantage of the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. "It avoids having a difficult slant from the windows down to dropped ceiling height," he says.

Rooms with a View

From her secluded rear deck, Sandra Fekete overlooks a quiet forest. Although located in Worthington, she resides on a cul-de-sac lined with homes that date from the late 1980s. Fekete's 3,500-square-foot, contemporary-style house was built in 1989.

"I'm from Montana, so I didn't want to be looking into a neighbor's backyard," she says. "The woods behind the house occupy a full acre, and it is protected, undevelopable land."

Once she found the lot, Fekete, a public relations professional who founded Fekete + Company and is now an owner of Marketing Works, set about designing a home. She oriented the house to take advantage of the privacy and the view.

More recently, when it came time for an update, Fekete decided to remodel instead of look for a new home. "I considered moving," she says, "but just didn't want to leave all this."

Mindy Graney, Fekete's friend and an experienced renovator, helped with the makeover. "It's a gem of a house, and the setting is the best part," Graney says. First and foremost, they wanted a design that would "bring the woods inside," Fekete says.

A large corner living room is the heart of the house. Its cathedral ceiling is finished with wooden planks that are varnished but otherwise maintain their natural color, establishing an outdoorsy theme. A wide fireplace positioned on an outside wall lends a homey feel while providing a visual anchor for the tall windows that frame the view of the woods.

Adjoining the living room is the updated kitchen. Various tables, most of them antique, are scattered throughout the kitchen and living room to provide seating during Fekete's regular dinner parties. "She's a fabulous cook," says Graney. "So my personal goal was to give her a chef's kitchen."

To reduce the project's cost, they reused and resurfaced most of the existing kitchen cabinets. "New trim boards were set around the door edges, and a thick wax finish was applied," says Fekete. The revamped cabinets lend a farmhouse feel and provide a tie-in to the home's antique furnishings, as does a new island fabricated to resemble a farmhouse table.

The kitchen door leads out to a deck that wraps all the way around the side of the house, even extending to the master bedroom; it unites the home's rooms and extends living space into the outdoors.

A primary goal of the renovation was to remove objects that blocked views to the outside. A large entertainment center that extended out from the living room wall was replaced with a lower-profile antique. In the kitchen, a set of double ovens was removed to provide views from the workspaces to the outdoors. Even minor changes, such as installing small track lights and replacing heavy-looking countertop tile, helped shift attention toward the windows.

The dining room, which has only oblique views to the woods, got new artwork depicting silhouetted trees. Dark, outdated wall colors throughout the house were replaced with white paint, making spaces brighter. Window treatments removed during the renovation were not replaced. "We wanted to get as much of the window space to show as possible," says Graney.

"The house has good bones," says Fekete, "We really didn't need to do corrections to the layout. But we needed to make it more airy, and lighten it up with neutral colors."

Kristin Dispenza is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the October 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.