The Next Chapter

A couple of city dwellers design an ‘oasis’ for the years to come

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Jeremy Murdock

Carol Littlejohn and Mike Bernsen want to clear up any misconceptions about the name they gave the house they built together. The neat sign out front reads “Epilogue.” That may have started out to imply ”final chapter,” but five years in, the couple has put their own spin on the word.

“It’s not the last chapter, it’s the next chapter,” says the vivacious Carol. This home that radiates personality is not a codicil, an addendum or a postscript: It is their next adventure.

It almost didn’t happen. When the time came for Carol to leave her home of three decades, she and Mike searched without success for just the right place.

“I love Columbus, and I knew I wanted to be in the city,” said Carol. “We drove and drove, looking. We were exhausted.” The epiphany occurred one day while visiting her mother, whose house is at Plantation Pointe, a retirement community in east Columbus. Voila.

After purchasing a double lot in the quiet neighborhood, Mike and Carol collaborated in planning the ultimate environment.

“I didn’t get anything I wanted,” Mike says with droll humor. “I’m thankful we went with all the stuff I thought wouldn’t look good.”

COLOR AND ORDER
Carol knew up front the color palette she wanted: white, lime green and brown. It served her well. The instant impression is “light.” The use of white — on walls, ceilings and, most strikingly, floors — combines with an open layout to evoke a sense of space and flow. The floor plan is no accident. This couple was thinking ahead.

“If either of us ever needs to be in a wheelchair, I didn’t want us to have to change our lifestyle or have to move,” Carol explains.

Red oak flooring, painted white and distressed, anchors a large open area accommodating the living and dining rooms, kitchen and breakfast nook. A wide adjacent hall extends the conversation area. The few interior doors are sliding pocket doors that disappear into wall recesses when open. The arrangement invites entertaining. Carol and Mike do their fair share of it.

Varying shades of white form a backdrop for accents such as the mocha sofa, a vibrant martini green island top and the one and only black drawer. “It’s the garbage,” grins Mike. “When we have company and everybody’s asking where the trash is, we can just say ‘look for the black drawer.’”

The axiom “a place for everything and everything in its place” is at work, thanks to advance planning. From a built-in phone-charging niche to the crafts closet, the possessions of everyday life all have a place to call their own.

The large master bedroom, with its clean and serene ambience, is flanked by his and her baths. In Mike’s, framed photographs of sea and surf recall the Beaumont, Texas, native’s days as a competitive surfer. A family member made the distinctive ceramic wood spirit masks mounted on a nearby wall.

“We each designed our own closets,” begins Carol, leading the way into her spacious walk-in. Here, too, everything is organized, including a procession of purses, each upright between dividers, which Mike made. His handiwork is evident throughout the home.

“I’m really careful about what I buy,” Carol says, setting up the punch line: “The only exception to the rule is purses — just buy any of them.”

A house tour is not complete without a peek at the attic space. When asked if they had a name for this unique spot, she answered, lively and quick, “My grandson Cole and I call it the best room in the house!”

Easy to see why: There’s a party going on. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, birthday — it’s all here, decorations for inside and outdoors. All well-ordered, easy to access. In this family, everything is a celebration, whether it’s “making a 100 on a spelling test or pulling a tooth.”

BLESS THIS HOUSE
The appeal of Epilogue lies, too, in touches that channel the outgoing, genial charm of its owners. It emerges in the rubber ducky floating in a patio fountain, a bright green exterior door, lazy Susans Mike made from repurposed countertop, peace signs, the pulpit from an old Artesia church and a kitschy ceramic hot dog nestled in a silvery sea of pewter serving ware.

“If I’ve got it, it’s got a story behind it,” says the lady of the house. “Things don’t fall out of favor if you love them.”

One item is telling, but unseen. It rests inside a wall, a cross Carol made. During construction, the couple placed it together before drywall went up. They asked for blessings upon the home. It seems to be working.

“I tell people when you leave our house, you’re going to leave happy,” Carol says.

And that’s just about as good as an epilogue gets.