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Photo by Chris Casella

Non Complex

Robin Oatts is living simple.

How simple? Her 1950s north Clintonville home didn’t come with a dishwasher…or a dining room…or a porch.

Yet the photographer and graphic designer saw potential in the small, outdated structure and its  backyard overgrown with ivy.

“There’s not one thing that I just kind of moved in and kept. I’ve made it my own,” she said. “Even though there’s parts of it that bug me, I love that it’s mine.”

After moving in 2009, Oatts stripped the house down to its walls, picking at it for six months, checking off small renovations until she was happy with it.

Her background in photography and design has helped her decorate. She’ll plan something on Photoshop, simple designs translated into elaborate reality by her neighbor Jim Hansel.

The transformation of the backyard has been among the small ways in which Oatts has maximized use of “the smallest house on the block.” Hansel built most of a large wooden deck for Oatts, and together they hung refillable lanterns he made from old bottles of OYO Whiskey, also stringing lights around the yard and adding padded furniture to the patio. 

Now, the once-overgrown yard has turned into her favorite part of the house.

Since she didn’t have a dining room, she decided to build an outdoor table for herself. Along the way, she turned it into a wooden ping-pong table that has become the centerpiece of the space, where she spends most of her time hosting friends and kids from the neighborhood.

“I didn’t have a back porch or a front porch, and I definitely wanted an outdoor space,” Oatts said. “I love entertaining out here. It’s awesome. And I eat out here a lot because I don’t have a dining room either.”

Inside, the house continues the dynamic yet simple motif. Tidy and modest like the structure itself, the interior features plenty of white, giving the space an open, non-claustrophobic feel. Oatts has brought some whimsical outdoor touches inside, as well, like the built-in planter on the master bedroom headboard, where two plants sprout inches from where the owner slumbers, or the paper sparrows that “fly” up the corner of the living room. She’s done wonders with the basement, too, carving a charming living room set into one corner and a home bar in the other, all resting atop beautiful new hardwood flooring. Doing a lot with a little is clearly Oatts’ strong suit, and she said her inspiration usually comes from finding deals – not unlike the deal she got when she bought her house. She proudly states that half the house is decorated with small items she finds on clearance.

Finding a spot in the neighborhood was the best part of the deal. Oatts wanted to live on the north side because she knew she’d be close to Park of Roses, the bike trail, the farmers market, and the library, and beyond that, the neighborhood was more inviting than she ever could have imagined.

The first day she moved in, someone brought her a basket with freshly made zucchini bread, cocoa, tea, and a letter welcoming her to the neighborhood.  The next day, another neighbor brought her tools to help her with the renovations. And from there, she’s never looked back.

“I always make fun of it because I always tell people it’s the smallest house on the block,” Oatts said. “I used to call it the old little grandma house, but not anymore really. “It’s an updated grandma house.”

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