It Takes a Village

A Powerhouse Design Team Reimagines A Traditional Ranch House Into A Home With Striking Mid-Century Influence

Story by Nancy Miller

Photos by Luke Metzinger

Julie and Daniel Metzinger’s home articulates curated style that’s predicated on a decidedly personal aesthetic.

Some would say that their finding a home with which they immediately bonded was a stroke of luck. Julie would say it was destiny.

Julie, now brand and project manager at Natalie O Design, came home to Louisville to house hunt while her husband completed a surgical fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. His only request (more like a requirement) was that their future home have a fireplace.

Upon walking into a traditional ranch home with mid-century elements in Northfield, she fell in love. There was no courtship; no wondering if it was the one.

“I didn’t even have to see the bedrooms,” says Julie. “The house felt like where we were supposed to be. I called Dan to say the house hunting was over. He asked, ‘Does it have a fireplace?’ and I responded, ‘Yes, it has two!’ I made an offer at full price because I was afraid I wouldn’t get it if I didn’t.”

Natalie Officer, founder of Natalie O Design and Julie’s eventual employer, wasn’t at all surprised by the on-the-spot decision. She experienced the same feeling with her own house, and believes she and Julie are birds of a feather.

The house became home to Julie and Daniel, their five children and, years later, to Arthur, a Scottie who Julie describes as the smartest dog in the world. But unlike the quick purchase, making the house a real home was a process.

“Dan is passionate about his career and has allowed me liberty with our houses,” says Julie. “It’s sort of a division of labor. He blesses them, but isn’t one to say, ‘Golly, I wish the walls were green’ or whatever.”

Part of the theme of the home is family. Julie home-schooled her four boys so they wouldn’t be away at school all day and could instead become a tight-knit group around their sister, Edythe, who became very ill when she was two years old. 

Edyth’s death in 2014, when she was 13 years old, was a trigger point of change for the family. The Metzingers had considered building a home in Crestwood but decided to forgo the idea since the market there wouldn’t support the type of house they hoped to build.

“Redesigning this house in Northfield had been in my head so long,” says Julie. “We raised our kids here and love the neighborhood.”

A serendipitous meeting at a clothing swap brought her together with Natalie. “My interview for her to design our home lasted less than 30 seconds because I was immediately drawn to her,” says Julie. “I don’t own anything that’s not a reflection of who I am. Everything is very intentional and has meaning, and I could tell Natalie was that kind of person. She understood what made me tick and what was important to me.”

Natalie assembled a team. “Mobilizing a team locally is not a small feat for this kind of project,” says Natalie. “The precision of such a design is a challenge. We collaborated with an architectural designer, Britney Groneck, with whom we have a strong, eight-year relationship. And we brought in Covenant Construction as general contractor because they were the most willing to see and execute our vision.”

She considers the ethics and transparency of the relationship with Covenant to be the linchpin of the partnership. Also, she believes strongly that being a woman in her field creates the need to partner with a company that will respect the talents of her team and her clients. “Covenant was so respectful of me and they were very conscious of how they treated me and our home,” seconds Julie.

Britney designed the addition to the home, which is the dining room, to both complement and contrast (respectively) the existing style of the 1950s house. She adhered to the Metzingers’ desire for the addition to be characterized by clean lines, natural materials and ample glazing for outdoor views, and she orchestrated daylighting inside the space.

“The addition’s high ceilings, floating hearth and broad floor plan offer an uplifting and social experience capable of serving larger gatherings as compared to the more intimate, personal spaces throughout the existing house,” says Britney. “Careful selection and placement of furnishings, walnut wood panels on the interior, cedar siding on the interior and exterior, glazed openings and concrete create a gallery-like feel as the backdrop for people and light to bring color and motion to the space.”

According to Cory Adkinson, Covenant Construction managing partner, his company jumped at the opportunity to take on the project because of the talent behind the design and the challenge in execution.

“As a construction company, we are often curbed by the imagination or the expectation of our clients,” he said. “This project held the opportunity for limitless design in both product and functionality. Every inch of the design was labored over for months, resulting in the masterpiece finish you see today… . The project stretched the mold on conventional remodeling, with most materials requiring custom fabrication here in Louisville and the rest being shipped in from out of state, resulting in a uniquely sleek finish.”

Tackling the yard was a major undertaking for the group. The previous owner, a pack rat, had surrounded the property by six-foot-deep, 12-foot-tall shrubbery that he used as a dumpsite, an area Julie refers to as “a harbor of strangeness.” A landscape company was called in to level everything and re-seed the yard not once, not twice, but so often that the company decided it was fruitless for the time being. The yard became a mud hole that was a complete delight to the Metzinger children.

The custom cedar and glass front door with powder-coated steel lights was inspired by Julie, envisioned by Britney and created by Covenant Construction’s carpenters.

Inside the home, every room presents its own chapter in a compelling book of exceptional design. Function marries form in the dining room, where powder-coated white tables are juxtaposed with a raw steel buffet hand-forged by Andy Cook of RockerBuilt, who is also responsible for most all of the true metal art in the home.

“The room is an organic blending of four components: the sunlight, the cement to emulate stone and the walnut and cedar that are like aromatic candles,” says Natalie. “It’s all the perfect envelope of nature brought inside – a terrarium of life. If any of the elements were missing, the room would be void of effect.”

The formal living room pairs a vibrant wool sofa with a black and white boucle area rug. A spalted, ambrosia, maple table with acrylic legs and brass bolts was designed by Natalie and crafted by local artisan Dave Bramblette. Taking influence from the raw concrete in the addition, Matt Barber of Louisville Concrete Studio created a poured-concrete hearth and mantle piece.

An exception to Julie’s preference for minimalism is the room’s bookcase. “It’s my heart on shelves, a treasure trove of life artifacts,” she says. On display are photographs of her parents and her children, a vintage tray holding rocks from every place she has traveled, as well as a rock that was a gift from her son, Sam, from his trip to Moab, Utah. It is in the shape of a butterfly in honor of Edythe.

“The shelves also hold a paper mâche robot made by Luke that I refused to return to him; books that inspire me; a fruit bowl earned by my mother-in-law at a product introduction when she was the new home products editor at Parents magazine; a skunk that represents my love for that smell on a cool fall evening; the hand-blown glass globe from a night light that Dan grew up with; and the sweet art work created as Edy’s ‘self-portrait’ by a fellow student at her school,” continues Julie.

Throughout the home are paintings by her mother-in-law, Helen Cudworth Metzinger, that Julie found lined up in an attic crawl space. The colors, the era in which they were painted and what the paintings evoke set the tone for how Julie wanted the house to feel to the family and visitors.

Steel windows, a recessed vent and the clean lines of cherry cabinets by Cornerstone Cabinetry in Middletown make the kitchen the communal passageway of the home rather than a destination, as is the case in many houses. There is no hardware on the cabinets because it would take away from the visual appeal of the wood. “Nothing intrudes into the space, which we tried to honor,” observes Natalie. “And there’s nothing verbose with the technology.”

Scandinavian meets mid-century with a garnish of texture in the upstairs den, where a local Omni Designs LED-disk wall lamp alternates the light cast in evening hours, and changes Roy G. Biv hues: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Woodsmith and artist Brandon Harder of RockerBuilt fused all of the wood finishes in the home into an artistic expression over the fireplace. Whimsical welting on custom pillows play with the modular sofa, and a custom table designed by Natalie boasts superlative-honed marble. “Dan grew up sitting on his father’s lap watching Walter Cronkite in the Scandinavian chair we had recovered in fabric specific to the era,” says Julie. “I love the masculine feeling of the room. Natalie hit a home run.”

Off of the den is a hidden reading nook that receives beautiful afternoon sun and is a cozy place to nap.

The redesign of Edythe’s room, now Julie’s lounge, was treated in the most artful way. “Edythe didn’t talk,” says her mother. “Her voice was in my head.” The room is accented by imported French textiles and an original 1957 John Stuart Danish modern chair. Family artwork is hung throughout, including a painting by Julie’s father, artist Joe Druga, former Western Kentucky University quarterback and eventual furniture enthusiast. Brandon Harder also framed a piece of blush-color plaster from the original walls of Edythe’s room. It hangs in the hallway outside the room. 

A mudroom accommodates 25 coats and pairs of shoes for visiting family members. “We’re a shoeless family because Edythe often laid on the floors,” says Julie. On the wall is a photo taken by son Luke, who photographed this story, when he and his mother traveled to the Washington coast. It was a transitional journey for her after losing Edythe.

The four boys shared one bedroom when they were young. Today the room is Sam’s domain and is decorated (or not decorated) as befits a 20-year old man. Julie tries to avoid going into the room as much as possible, although she is somewhat attached to the four planes that are painted on the wall, each depicting the personality of a son. Luke’s is of a Hellcat and Sam’s is of a B-17 Flying Fortress. Personal to Benjamin is an F-4 Corsair while a P51 Mustang is all Louis.

“The bedroom is like an architectural dig but very different,” says an amused Natalie.

Resigning to the bedroom’s unusual décor and often questionable housekeeping, Julie concedes, “When I come in here, I remember why I love them so much.”