Custom home remodeling is always a creative endeavor. But when our client’s vision incorporated a very specific architectural style — from another century and continent, no less — our problem-solving and engineering creativity were pushed to whole new limits. And we loved it!
The Challenge: Retrofitting a Modern Home with Historic Architectural Elements
Unless they’re a custom build, most modern homes are constructed for functionality and efficiency. Although they incorporate beautiful design elements, they aren’t tailored to their owners’ specific tastes and personality. So, when our client asked if we could renovate her 2001 Indianapolis home to pay homage to French architecture, using vintage materials and fixtures…well, we were intrigued.
This project spanned several interior spaces as well as exterior work to tie the overall design together and pull the architectural elements through from the outside in. It also required feats of engineering and craftsmanship to give the renovation a vintage look and feel into which we could seamlessly incorporate not only repurposed antiques but also subtle modern conveniences. Our design partner Raymond Turner’s drawings gave us a blueprint for our client’s unique vision. Communication, organization, and the kind of on-the-spot problem-solving that only true craftspeople can manage brought the project to life.
Our remodeling goals:
- Bring elements of French country elegance into a modern-day home
- Seamlessly meld old and new materials to create a balanced, unforced feel
- Incorporate state-of-the-art functionalities to maintain or enhance the home’s livability
The Solution: Create Lavish Rooms Using Vintage Details
French architectural grandeur created with soaring Ionic columns
Although the interior space of our clients’ home was rather grand in scale, its white trim was almost minimalist, and its doors and hardware were mostly builder spec. The home was lovely and airy, but — as with most modern homes — it relied on décor to express its inhabitants’ personality. On the plus side, this gave interior designer Raymond Turner a nearly blank canvas with which to work. The challenge would be to find and incorporate vintage materials and elements in such a way that they felt like they’d always adorned the existing, modern suburban house.
For the main living room, our clients wanted to replace the bland, existing columns with Ionic-style columns to add a touch of grandeur. We located a California company specializing in this style of architectural replications, and we coordinated with them to build and carve the wooden columns. Our specifications had to be exact and highly detailed to ensure the accuracy of the fit. Because they were larger and heavier than the original columns, we also enhanced the home’s substructure to support them. We removed the flooring and subflooring and built in additional structural support for the main floor, constructing and installing a beautiful pecky cypress beam to support the second set of columns that would frame the second floor balcony.
When the completed columns arrived, we took great care to ensure they were lined up — a task made difficult because of their tapered shape — before making our final, on-site cuts to level and secure them. With only one shot at getting the cuts right, we relied heavily on the precision of our specifications.
Once they were installed, the artists of Indianapolis’ Blice Edwards, Inc. applied a stunning custom finish to make the columns look as though they’d weathered outside for centuries.
Pecky cypress beams recall old world style
We built additional beams into the room’s high ceilings to couple with the new columns to infuse the great room with the weighty substance of an old country estate. We constructed the beams with boards made from “pecky” cypress, which has holes caused by a fungus, much like the veining in spalted maple. Although the pitting adds an aged appearance to the wood, it also posed the problem of being able to see through to the structural plywood behind the boards. We solved this by painting the plywood black to conceal it and create the illusion of solid timbers. The room feels like it was transported out of another century.
Custom ironwork railings infuse the staircase and balcony with elegance
Raymond Turner’s vision for the space balanced the robust new columns with a delicate ironwork handrail for the remodeled staircase and balcony overlook. He drew every scroll and leaf of the design, providing enough detail for sculpture artist Ryan Feeney of Indy Art Forge to handmake and weld together each element. Our team dismantled the existing curved staircase, reshaping it with new treads and risers before installing the custom iron railing and curved newel post. As with the off-site build of the columns, our specifications for the on-site build of the staircase had to be rigorously defined and followed. Staircases are unforgiving constructions, so everything needed to be perfectly executed. The result adds movement to the stairway, drawing the eye upward toward the second floor and the wrought chandeliers.
Vintage materials create modern-day challenges
The artistry of any home renovation lies in its attention to details. For this renovation, we wanted to add authentic architectural touches to newly-made elements, so we incorporated antique hardware and fixtures into the build. Working with vintage materials presented interesting challenges where they bumped up against new construction. For instance, we built a custom door for the office entryway to showcase the 100-year-old handmade hinges the homeowners found. Each hinge had to be painstakingly refurbished and required different mitering to fit, all of which we completed on-site to ensure the door hung and functioned correctly.
Additionally, the various antique light fixtures — chandeliers, sconces, and pendants — not only required refurbishing to hang them but also rewiring to accept LED bulbs and work with dimmer switches. While elegance takes center stage, we collaborated with our talented partners to make sure modern convenience and functionality weren’t sacrificed.
The homeowners had acquired two lovely antique French cabinets they wanted to look built into the office wall, which required hand-crafted trim to blend them into the wall and ceiling.
Exterior touches hint at the interior renovations
We created continuity between the interior design and the outside style by adding architectural details to the home’s exterior. First, we used 80-year-old timbers to create a hand-crafted, radiused beam to fit below the existing brick entryway arch. Each piece was mounted using mechanical fasteners, which we concealed with handmade pegs to maintain the authentic look we were going for. Then we added a bay roof soffit using aged timber and copper shed roofing, which also tied into custom, rounded copper downspouts, all of which were given an old-world patina.
As a whole, the renovations strike a beautiful balance between modern construction and a centuries-old architectural style steeped in elegance.