Sterling Homes and Designs on Madison Team Up for Homearama Project

Photography by Greg Grupenhof


Amy Holt, founder and owner of Designs on Madison, hears it all the time: what’s it like to build a Homearama home without a homeowner onsite to select floorplans and fixtures and everything in between?

In building their second Homearama home as a team, Holt, Brad Olinger of Sterling Homes, and architect Mary Cassinelli had to wear both the buyer and builder goggles.

“If there’s no homeowner, then the builder and myself are the homeowners,” says Holt. She and Olinger took their inspiration from the farm that’s been in Olinger’s family since 1934 and the neighborhood itself, Highland at Heritage Hills.

“Highland at Heritage Hills is such a unique development in that it is close to all of the amenities homeowners are looking for, but when you’re in the neighborhood you feel as if you’re hundreds of miles in the country,” says Olinger. “Photographs of [my family] farm, taken by Lauren Olthaus at Designs on Madison, were featured throughout the home, including a large photo of the barn in the main living area. It took all of us out of our comfort zone to design a farmhouse with a modern twist. At times during the design process we were very nervous, but we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”

The process began, of course, with that modern farmhouse dream. “My vision was to walk into the house through the front doors into a big, open floor plan with a view of the large 20-foot, outdoor fireplace,” he says. “The indoor/outdoor feel of the home is probably my favorite feature. The flow is seamless.”

The success of the build and design relied heavily on tending to details in the planning stages. “We spent a lot of time developing the architectural details and thinking about things that would be happening months down the road to make sure that it all worked,” says Holt. Everything must be meticulously calculated, from the number of beams and their placement so that each room is the correct size and they all lined up equally over the doors to the soaring garage-door-style window above the kitchen sink overlooking the bar-top seating area on the covered, screened-in patio. It took several meetings between Brad, Amy, Mary, AE Door, and the interior trim team to make such an unusual detail become a reality.

“The next part of the process is going to our vendors to get the products that we want to make it look like modern farmhouse,” says Holt. “But also–who’s going to give us the best show price for doing a Homearama house and how can we make it happen?”

The collaborative process was all about balance between innovative design and practicality. “Brad needs to sell the house. But we also need to put something together that’s going to ‘wow’ people,” says Holt. “I feel like you have to design and select so that everything is sellable, but you also have to design and select so that you have features that are wow-factors for the show.”

Holt had wanted to feature gold fixtures with accents of black in a home for several years and she knew this was the right project at the right time for such a striking element. “Brad had gone down to the International Builder’s Show in combination with the National Kitchen and Bath Show knowing that I said that, and that’s what he saw at the Kohler exhibit. Gold and black. So he jumped on board,” says Holt. “We had to fight really hard to get [Kohler] to move their production up so we could get it when we needed it because they weren’t really ready to release it to the smaller regions until later on in the year.”

Budgets are crucial to a project like this, but they add up to a win for everyone. “Buyers get hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings because subcontractors and suppliers want to put their best foot forward and often do so at a substantial discount as an incentive to builders and buyers,” says Olinger.

While the process can be nerve-wracking, Holt credits the all-in attitudes of everyone involved for the project’s success. “Everybody works really hard and well together and in usually a very tight timeframe, in tight quarters. You might have electricians and plumbers and trim guys there at the same time, and everybody just has to work together to make it all happen,” she says. “Brad and I couldn’t do what we do without Mary, and I couldn’t do what I want to do without all the vendors, and Brad couldn’t get it all together if he didn’t have great subcontractors. So it’s really important to surround yourself with a good team, where everybody makes it a priority and they work together to get the best end result.”


Designs on Madison is located at 1743 Madison Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45206. For more information, call 513.321.0545 or visit

Sterling Homes is located at 347 Stanley Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45226. For more information, call 513.659.5361 or visit