L.A.-based Robert Harbour grew up in Cincinnati and graduated from UC’s DAAP program. After spending time working for architecture firms around the world, he took his talents to the West Coast as a set designer. From The X-Files, which earned him and his team an Emmy, to Criminal Minds, Harbour’s expertise expands further than film. His eye for design keeps him busy revamping celebrity homes in L.A. and flipping suburban finds in Cincinnati. The latest? An Indian Hill gut that Harbour calls a “Hamptons beach house.” We caught up with Harbour to learn more about the four-bedroom home with three full and two half baths and what it was like planning and designing from three time zones away.
Tell me about the house when you first bought it and what you were looking for.
The property was owned by Mrs. [Barbara] Pope; [she and her husband, Charles Pope, who was a dentist] built the house. But it had been basically lost in time because [it had not been] updated in many, many, many, many years. So what I was given was kind of a canvas of patterned wallpaper and carpet and dark wood paneling and tiny little chopped up spaces with no room to breathe. For me—in this pandemic not knowing what the market would do—I wanted to get into a neighborhood that I knew would always maintain value, even in a downturn.
What were some challenges you ran into while renovating the home while living on the West Coast?
Contractors. I finally just ended up general contracting myself because I lost faith in hiring anybody. I had a 23-year-old contractor who had never really done a large house on his own. And I took him under my wing and sort of turned him into an apprentice. And he was the man on the street doing it, whereas I was phoning it in and designing the house through FaceTime. I had to really be way more involved than I would have liked to have been. I’m also a little bit hardwired like that, too, because I sketch, I draw, I send resources, I send YouTube videos. I’m very hands on in that way.
How did that go? Training an apprentice and doing things like picking finishes virtually?
Now the websites are so efficient that when you hear a contractor say, you can’t get that here, I go, here’s a link from Home Depot and there’s four of them in stock. You have to be fully geared up to have the answers when they tell you it can’t be done.
How did you balance your vision and design with what’s trending here in Cincinnati and the Midwest?
I had to battle my inner demons because I know that I can dig my heels in. I have to sometimes be my own cheerleader. I have to be careful not to just throw down the gauntlet. I have to listen. So I usually will take that criticism or insight and then mull it over, sleep on the day, and revisit it.
What was something in the home you had to have and what was an area where you compromised?
The things I really wanted were the windows, the dark anodized aluminum. They were beautiful. They were also single pane and not to today’s standards, but [it was a high] cost of changing those windows out. The landscaping I did very little with, but took down the four-season porch because all this light was being kept from coming into the house and I wanted to open that up.
What is your favorite room in the house or favorite element of the house?
Oddly enough, when I first got the house it was a very tight vestibule and it was, I think, six feet from left to right wall. So I opened up that whole area so it was no longer cramped.