Everything Old is New Again

Sterling Homes, WentzDesign & Designs on Madison

Photography by Greg Grupenhof

Close to Ault Park, three beautiful houses sit on 1.3 acres, capping a tree-lined, dead-end street. Built in 2015 by Sterling Homes, a local custom builder, the houses are just an example of a rise in Greater Cincinnati’s infill market – taking unused, underused or dilapidated lots in an existing neighborhood and revitalizing it with newer homes or structures. 

Brad Olinger, owner and president of Sterling Homes, says he saw a rise in Cincinnati’s infill market starting in 2009. 

“After the housing market tanked, we started focusing on infill,” says Olinger. Before 2008, he grew up working with his father on custom homes in new developments. Now Sterling Homes focuses on 10-15 infill projects annually, ranging from $600,000 to $2 million.

“Brad was the driver behind the projects. It wouldn’t have happened without him,” says Mike Wentz of WentzDesign, which designed two of the homes. Architect Mary Cassinelli designed the third. 

The new homes fit right in with the older, classic homes in Mount Lookout with slate roofs and classic lines. 

“We wanted (the homes) to have modern conveniences with the classic, old Mount Lookout feel,” says Erin Seger, an architect at WentzDesign. “They don’t have to be a modern style to be efficient and include modern amenities. We wanted the homes to fit in.” 

The upscale houses have traditional features, such as coffered ceilings, built-ins, thick moldings; one home even has a stained glass window. But they also have modern, open floor plans, and all three received the highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification rating, LEED platinum. 

Each of the Mount Lookout homes have a rain harvesting system with a 2,000-gallon cistern, geo-thermal high-efficiency back-up furnaces, spray foam insulation, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and a tankless water heater, which is a standard feature for Sterling Homes. Olinger also secured much of his building material from local vendors.

In addition to fitting seamlessly in the neighborhood and featuring modern conveniences, the homes were specifically built for families. Olinger owns one of the houses, and the other owners are both young families with children around the same age. All three houses have separate playrooms. The layout of the homes on the property lends to a community feel that allows the parents to socialize while their children play in the yards or ride bicycles on the private drive that connects the homes.

To incorporate family friendly decor and materials inside the home, Olinger brought in Amy Holt, the founder of Designs on Madison. Holt worked with the floor plans to find what worked best for each client. 

“All three (families) had very similar tastes. It was a challenge to not do everything the same,” says Holt, who has collaborated with Olinger for 10 years. “I worked with each family to find their personal style, resulting in three unique, but complimentary homes.”

In keeping with current trends, inside colors are neutral and lines are clean and simple. The wood is lighter, which makes the rooms seem brighter. Marble is also replacing granite, but since marble isn’t exactly kid friendly, Holt worked with all of the clients to find a lighter granite that looked like marble. With three children of her own, Holt knows the importance of using durable or stain resistant products.

Inside and outside, the infill homes fit right in with the upscale neighboring homes. But infill properties can be a tough sell to the neighbors. 

“People have a hard time visualizing it, but then it really took off after people would see what it looked like,” says Holt. Infill developers sometimes receive pushback from residents who want to make sure the new buildings fit in with the old architecture.

“When we’re doing houses, we make sure each has its own character. All of us work really hard to make sure they were unique but all look good together,” Olinger says.


Sterling Homes is located at 347 Stanley Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45226. You can reach them at 513.659.5361 or visit thesterlinghomes.com.

Designs on Madison is located at 2026 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45208. You can reach them at 513.321.0545 or visit designsonmadison.com.

WentzDesign is located at 7813 Ted Gregory Lane, Suite C, Cincinnati, OH 45242. You can reach them at 513.745.0420 or visit wentzdesign.com.