Interior and Exterior - Mid-Century Home RemodelInterior and Exterior - Mid-Century Home Remodel

This Mid-century Modern house was born in a barn — literally. Featured as the 1959 Indianapolis Home Show’s model home, it was first constructed in a cattle barn at the Indiana Fairgrounds. And although many of its high-concept design elements (and original wiring) survived the decades in between, its compartmentalized floorplan (along with its tilting floors) needed a modern re-visioning.

The Challenge: Breathe New Life into a Faded 1959 Home Show Model Home

Every renovation project is personal on some level. Helping clients realize their vision for their dream home requires getting to know them — their lifestyles, aspirations, personalities. But remodeling this eclectic Mid-century Modern house hit close to home — literally. Because it’s ours.

Touted in the 1959 Indianapolis Home Show Directory as being “designed for living inside-out,” our mid-century modern house boasted “traditional and contemporary tastes” with cutting-edge (for its time) technology and high-end interior design. A large bank of windows sweeps across the back wall of the house, overlooking a beautiful pool and yard and attempting to blur the line between inside and out. Elegant details, such as the mahogany cabinetry surrounding the limestone fireplace and the artful light fixtures hanging throughout the house, elevated the home’s architecture to something truly special.

Over the decades, however, the design’s adaptability to modern living fell short, and while many of its original design elements still had the potential to delight, its configuration — too compartmentalized and overly concerned about creating “private spaces” — didn’t suit our more free-form lifestyle. In order to transform this Home Show model home into our family’s dream house, we wanted to preserve its fun, quirky personality while updating it for today’s take on contemporary life.

Our remodeling goals:

  • Open up the compartmentalized floor plan to create visibility and flow
  • Reconfigure key living spaces — kitchen, office area, basement — to better fit our lifestyle
  • Address structural issues and update utilities to meet modern needs
  • Showcase original design elements while adding new touches to express our personal taste

The Solution: Bridge Mid-Century Luxury and Modern Living

Relaxing restrictively defined spaces to give us room to breathe

One of the benefits of living in the house before we began renovations was that it gave us time to experience the space and think carefully about what we wanted to change and what we would preserve. For instance, the highly compartmentalized floor plan — originally meant to divide formal from informal spaces and give both adults and teenagers privacy — felt stifling to us. Over time, our home’s floors and ceilings had shifted out of level, which made knocking down walls to open the space up feel less daunting since stabilizing the structure was already necessary.

Two of the most significant changes we made in our home’s layout was expanding the kitchen all the way out to the back wall of windows. Originally a cramped galley-style room, the kitchen was backed by a half-wall, creating an awkward hallway of a sunroom that ran the length of the back of the house. We removed the half-wall, added structural beams, and replaced the windows along the back of the house. The original build used 8 sets of stacked windows — 16 panes — in an attempt to offer an expansive view of the pool area, but the divisions between the panes intruded on the view, so we installed larger, floor-to-ceiling windows, reducing the number of panes to 8 and removing the distracting horizontal line dividing the view.

As part of our structural reconfiguration, we also opened the entryway, converting it from a narrow hallway to a more welcoming space that allows visitors to see all the way through the first floor to the back windows. A new front door provides privacy with frosted glass while letting light in. The changes deliver on the Home Show’s promise of a home that allows its occupants to live “inside-out” by more effectively blurring the lines between interior and exterior spaces. In fact, the effect is one of living in a treehouse!

Taking the kitchen from hallway to haven

In addition to removing the half-wall between the kitchen and the wasted space at back of the house, we removed odd interior walls that encircled the kitchen and made it look and feel like a cave. We then rearranged the space into small, free-flowing “stations” for cooking, dining, and making and serving coffee and dessert. The new configuration makes better use of the space and provides easy access to the areas of the kitchen we use most when entertaining.

As part of the overall home remodeling project, we created a feeling of unity by using wood flooring throughout the open, more “public” parts of the first floor. This decision relieved the chaotic, choppy feeling of the kitchen, in particular. Prior to our renovations, multiple flooring surfaces had been used throughout the house — four of them in the kitchen alone! Using a single flooring solution gives the first floor a sense of ease and flow.

Expanding the finished basement’s comfort and utility

The basement’s original design sought to extend the indoor/outdoor entertaining potential by connecting the outdoor pool area with a wrap-around bar inside. Although the bar’s funky retro look contributed to a sense of fun, its bulk ate up floor space and ultimately limited its possibilities for gatherings. We replaced it with high, bistro-style seating and a simplified wet bar with a mercury glass mirrored wall and spacious storage cabinets that pop with a bright, vintage green.

Off the bar was a full bath with a shower most likely intended for swimmers to use between dips in the pool — but we never used it. However, we knew we’d be spending significant time on the ground floor, so we converted the full bath to a half-bath to prevent us from having to run upstairs. Rather than turn the remaining space into a closet, we decided to install a sauna to use after exercising.

We love the results! We incorporated vintage touches, such as the etched glass sauna door, the brushed brass fixtures on the free-standing drop sink and a mirror and light fixture with a mid-century vibe. But our favorite design element is the custom wallpaper by Walter Knabe. We’d admired his work in several of our clients’ homes and fell in love with a textile sample in his studio — so he made it into a wallpaper for us and even signed it after it was installed. It’s the kind of personal touch we strive to bring to our clients’ renovations, and it makes our half-bath truly and uniquely a reflection of our personal style.

On the other side of the bar area a fireplace divided a sitting room overlooking the pool from the original office space. Since we not only share office space but also spend a lot of time in it, we decided to flip the two spaces, making the larger lounge space into our office and converting the old office into an exercise room.

As we did with the first floor above, we unified the whole lower level with hardwood flooring and installed two floating desks with a central island in the new office. We each have our own desk, but the island allows us to spread out for looking at renovation plans or doing year-end paperwork. We covered the entire wall facing our desks in cork, which gives the room a warm, organic feel. Near the top of the cork wall stretches a single shelf of natural cedar, and a bookshelf anchors Deanna’s side of the desk. We were able to simplify the space, removing a wall of unneeded cabinetry for an uncluttered look. A smooth, nearly seamless slab of porcelain treated to resemble rustic metal cleanly and beautifully ties the work surfaces together. The natural light from the large windows allows us to connect with the outdoors (and sometimes tempts us to take a midday swim).

The smaller of the two spaces became our exercise room, and it’s the perfect size for doing yoga or pilates before starting our day. We built out the original concrete fireplace to help keep both the office and the exercise room cozy.

Bringing new life (and whimsy) to the original design details

As with any of the renovations we do for our clients, our home’s magic is in the small details that mark it with our sense of style. We had fun getting playful with shape and texture and materials, carefully preserving or repairing original design elements where they added character or interest but boldly reshaping the overall construction and design to suit our needs.

We loved the weight and textures of the original limestone fireplace with its mahogany surround and cabinetry, which acts as our living room’s focal point. We not only had the existing installation restored, but we also found a brilliant craftsman to recreate and extend the mahogany trim to match the 1959 original woodwork.

We also kept the quirky, sculptural “circle walls” that delineate the basement spaces without completely enclosing them. However, the one in the exercise room was damaged and full of nail holes, so artist Blice Edwards created a custom mural that not only disguises the blemishes but also reflects the way we use the space for yoga and meditation.

And even some of the smallest details enjoyed a little upcycling to give a distinctive nod to our home’s beginnings. For instance, we incorporated an old structural beam into the kitchen island, along with a few vintage bottle openers and a purse hook.

Looking at it today, you wouldn’t suspect our home had been born in a barn — although we think the beauty and originality that earned it the spotlight as the 1959 Home Show Model Home shines through, both in what we preserved and what we reshaped for our lifestyle. It’s the kind of dream home project we love helping our clients realize as we did for ourselves.