By Abby A. Marmion
Photography by E.Anthony Valainis
AN ECLECTIC RANGE OF STLYES CREATE A
DESIGN MASTERPIECE ON INDY'S NORTHSIDE
Indianapolis, in the view of many observers,
doesn't inspire visions of architectural wonder. Most of
Indy's office buildings are solid, Midwestern monuments
to financial stability; most homes are sturdy American ranch homes,
with the occasional neighborhoods, on closer inspection, are not
so easily classifiable. Occasionally, remarkable houses arise
in unique settings. All it takes are homeowners interested in
creating something unique and a builder willing to take risks.
Tucked away in a northside neighborhood is a
country-French-style chateau nestled in three-and-a-half acres
of woods. Overlooking a small valley, the home exudes the atmosphere
of an earlier time-when homeowner's treasured privacy and
The builders originally envisioned an English-colonial
spec home on the site, but a chance meeting between the homeowners
and builder Bill Tait on the golf course changed the entire project.
"I had worked with them on their previous homes, and thought
I may just have the perfect lot in mind for them," says
Tait, owner of W.G. Tait, Inc. "The only problem was that
I had already started to pour the foundation for a spec home on
this particular lot-and it was to be an English colonial."
The couple drove past the home's location,
and fell in love with the lot. "They liked the floor plan
of the home, but not the elevation," Tait says. "They
were looking for more of a country-style home. So, over the next
weekend, I revised the drawings to better fit the potential new
owners." Fortunately, the foundation was adaptable to the
new plans, and the couple's desires could be met in the
existing footprint. "The homeowners have wonderful taste,
and knew what they wanted-which was and old, European-looking
exterior and interior," he continues. "That is what
I tried to accomplish with the new plans." Tait completed
the project in late winter about a year and a half later.
"We previously lived in a home that Bill Tait renovated
for us," says the female half of the couple. "We knew
if we found the right lot, we wanted to build a small French-country
chateau. When we found this lot, it was going to be an English-colonial-style
home, so we changed the exterior and some of the architecture.
Beyond that, we had no vision."
Ceramic drawers from
France were the inspiration behind the kitchen and breakfast
areas; the island was specifically designed to hold the
French flea-market finds. Highlights of the kitchen include
the Lacanche range and hand-painted tile backsplash (by
local artist Martha Brammer) in the kitchen, and a bluestone
floor and farmhouse-style angular ceiling in the breakfast
The homeowners found designer Deb Smith by asking
friends and acquaintances about the local design scene. "Once
we got started, we hooked up with Deb Smith by referral because
we had heard so many great things about her," the homeowner
says. "We just started pulling things together and it began
to take shape and fall into place. This is really so much beyond
our expectations. We feel like we are on our second honeymoon."
Smith's vision involved combinations of
diverse design elements and furnishings with different colors
and finishes. "I wanted the look to appear that they had
an acquired taste," says Smith, owner of debra j smith interior
design of Zionsville. "We did not want everything to match.
Much of the furniture was purchased on a shopping trip to the
Paris flea market to stay in keeping with the look and feel we
The home's surfaces include: walnut floors;
warm-toned area rugs; knotty alder-wood paneling; custom-designed
baseboard moldings; oversized chandeliers; recessed, coffered,
and barreled ceilings; and reverse bow-shaped walls. Artwork is
displayed throughout the home, including paintings from galleries
across the country as well as from local artists. "I wanted
the artwork to tell a story throughout the house, and have a meaning,
but be warm and casual," the homeowner says. "I am
a country girl, so I enjoy flower and meadow scenes as well as
barn and other farm images."
The front door, dark oak accented with stained
glass, opens into an Old-World grand foyer with a tall ceiling,
a large chandelier, a two-landing stairwell swaddled with antique
runners, and a custom-made wrought-iron balcony above. A large
European floral rug from Joseph's Imports (supplier of rugs
for the home) in ivory, gold, reds, and greens covers the foyer
floor, creating a warmth that sets the tone for the entire home.
The dining room's scheme was inspired
by two oversized European-style china cabinets that the homeowner
and Smith purchased in France. Ornate custom molding creates depth
and texture on the dusty-blue-and-ivory-painted walls, accented
by hand-painted medallion-like scrolls created by local artisans
Blice Edwards. The colors and textures complement the custom 16th
century-style Spanish and Ottoman damask rug, with shades of camel,
bronze, and blue. Guests dine around a large round table with
French tapestry chairs in dusty blue, gold, and red tones, with
added detail of chenille, tassels, and a large center braid on
the back. "The real beauty of this room is in the ceiling,"
says Smith. "We installed an onlay to appear like a French
plaster relief design. It is simply stunning."
Like the personal spaces
in mansions from the Gilded Age, the master suite is detailed
in much the same way as the formal entertaining rooms-but
with lighter tones and more functionality. With hand-painted
trompe l'oeil by Blice Edwards on the bedroom walls
and a pearl accented padded silk window surround in the
bath, the homeowners' retreat sounds a refined but
Down the hall is the library, containing a coffered
ceiling, knotty alder paneling with custom-designed molding, and
an ornate antique marble fireplace with hand-carved scroll detail.
"I had actually planned this particular fireplace for this
house when I designed the original plans," says Tait. "I
purchased it from an old castle in France. It's just a beautiful
piece." The knots of the alder wood were deliberately exposed
in the space to provide the look Smith and the homeowners desired.
Above the fireplace is a painting (by local artist C.W. Mundy)
that retracts into the wall to reveal a flat-screen television.
An oversized tufted leather ottoman, a curve-backed velvet couch
with nail-head trim, and a worn leather chair complement the plaid
window coverings and the dark library table purchased in France.
A large hand-woven Victorian floral rug with an eggplant background
and a hand-painted ceiling (also by Blice Edwards) provide the
finishing touches to this warm, masculine hideaway-and the husband's
favorite place in the home.
The master suite, designed in creams, greens
and soft lavenders, features a 13 foot curved recessed ceiling.
"We chose furniture for this room to be a little on the
lighter side," says Smith. "We wanted to convey more
of an airy feeling. The furniture works will with the hand-painted
wall by Blice Edwards." A French-style bed, with cabriole
legs and a lavender upholstered headboard, is flanked by two distressed
bedside tables, while a table desk and hand-embroidered upholstered
chair at the foot of the bed are a perfect place to write letters
before turning in. A folding screen with hints of butter-yellow
and cream stands behind a lavender chaise lounge, providing an
elegant nook in which to read a book or take a nap. "The
screen is unique," Smith says. "We took paneled doors
and decorative molding, applied wall covering and hinged them
together. It creates a nice addition to the room." Deep
cornices constructed from the crown molding and finished with
plaster onlays are a beautiful complement to the light, flowy
chintz draperies. Two area rugs in hues of pale citrus, gold,
and green add to the light and airy feel of the room.
The master bath features a luxurious French bateau soaking tub
and a walk-in shower with marble insets. A star-shaped ottoman
upholstered in a yellow-on-yellow fabric and long bullion fringe
blends well with the pale yellow walls, providing the perfect
place to throw a robe while soaking in the tub. Behind the bathtub,
a white beaded silk lambrequin-a large upholstered valence, inspired
by French designs-surrounds the windows.
Down from the master suite is the great room:
an elegant yet comfortable space with a 13-foot coffered walnut
ceiling and tall windows. Smith combines mustard tones on the
walls, rich cranberry and gold fabrics, heavy cord and fringe
detailing, crackled finishes and chunky furniture to craft a European
look. The focal point of the room is a custom-built, hand-carved
limestone fireplace with a five-by-five-foot firebox, surrounded
by a hand-carved wedding armoire purchased at the Paris flea market,
a baby grand piano and a large burled-wood server.
The main seating area features a chaise lounge
recovered in a red fabric with a swirled gold print and finished
with heavy cord and fringe. "This piece gives an unexpected
look," says Smith. "It's also great because
it will seat two people during entertaining." Also in the
space is a clover-leaf-shaped ottoman in a stylized paisley print
fabric finished with gold and red fringe. A dark navy blue mohair
sofa adds additional texture and provides more comfortable seating.
"Two rugs overlapping provide the look that Smith wanted
to create in this room," says Michael Wolf, sales manager
for Joseph's Imports. "We included a large rug with
European floral design and center medallion in hues of ivory,
black, blue and red. The second rug is a damask design in golds
and ivories. Each had a different texture and pile, which created
Full-length draperies in a heavy gold and cranberry-stripe
print with bullion edges and hidden pocket doors add finishing
detail and privacy. "When we worked on this room, we did
not want a traditional furniture arrangement," says Smith.
"We wanted a place where the owners could be comfortable
as well as entertain. Rugs are very important in here and define
out seating area. To me they are like artwork and are not meant
to match. I wanted them to blend but not overpower."
Adjacent to the great room is the kitchen, one
of the female homeowner's favorite spaces in the home. "When
we designed the kitchen, the colors evolved," says Smith.
"We wanted a light country French feel and wanted to mix
it all up. We used different colors and finishes such as a mustard
tone on the walls, dusty blues, dark glazed cranberry, and alder
wood to accomplish a look of acquired taste." The inspiration
for the kitchen was the baking alcove on the copper-tip cooking
island. "We purchased large ceramic drawers from the Paris
flea market to go on the cooking island to hold spices and oils,
and these really shaped the look and feel of the whole area,"
The stove was also a key element in the design
process. "When we were in France, I visited the Lacanche
oven factory and fell in love with it, and decided to purchase
one," says the homeowner. The dual range features seven gas
burners, a French simmer and two ovens. Behind the stove is a
large hand-painted tile backsplash designed and kilned by local
artist Martha Brammer. "The backsplash was a last minute
decision," she adds. "I love the French motif on this.
It's very subtle." A large-scale antique reproduction distressed
wood hutch was a custom-designed in Brazil to house a coffee station
and espresso machine as well as cabinets for extra storage. Adjacent
to the coffee area is a long rectangular serving bar with a wine
refrigerator and extra kitchen storage. High chairs enable the
bar to double as a serving area for a quick meal.
The custom limestone fireplace, large
enough to stand in, sets the tone for the informally eclectic
great room: Paisley and floral patterns, subdued colors
and marvelously juxtaposed textures complement furniture
pieces that appear to have been acquired over generations.
Overlapping Oriental rugs and a non-traditional furniture
arrangement contribute to the room's stylish appeal.
Connected to the kitchen is the breakfast area,
which has a bluestone floor and a hexagonal-shaped barn wood ceiling.
"We wanted this room to be unusual," says Smith. "To
create that, we used four chairs along with an upholstered bench
for seating. The round table fits well with the shape of the room
and the ceiling." White lace window treatments add to the
airy feel. "We wanted this to be casual and not symmetrical,
so we just draped the lace treatments to accomplish this,"
she adds. "We did not want formal draperies." The
breakfast nook leads to a screened-in porch, perfect for reading
and relaxing on a warm evening. The backyard beyond includes a
bluestone patio area with a wood-burning fireplace and a marble-top
To reach the second floor, there are two stairwells-one
leading from the kitchen and one from the entry foyer-and both
have unique design elements. "The stairs have unusual features,"
says Smith. "Those from the kitchen leave the hardwood bare,
but include terra cotta and yellow tiles on the risers. This was
inspired by the backsplash in the kitchen, giving us a provincial
look. The main staircase uses old Oriental rugs as runners. Each
stair is different, and it worked well." Michael Joseph,
owner of Joseph's Imports, adds that the homeowners were
looking for a very livable but elegant feel. "We looked
for better conditioned pieces so that they would handle traffic
well," he says. "They worked great with the rest of
the home's design because it's very European to have
different rugs. Each of these was very individual."
The second floor includes a guest suite complete
with a kitchenette, a separate sitting area, a wet bar and a washer/dryer,
allowing houseguests to be entirely self-sufficient. The green
walls, leather headboard, dark-brown wicker chairs and chocolate-brown-and-celadon
color scheme combine a warm and cozy feel and a more masculine
look. An additional guest room with a more feminine flair is designed
in pink and yellow, with cream wool carpet in an entwined trellis
The lower level's
seating area, bar and game room are all in the same open
space, providing lots of leisure options as well as plenty
of room for parties. The main seating area, above, faces
the flat screen television off to the left, but another
seating nook near the window gives non-TV watchers room
to converse. The game room, right, features a European style
pool table, a tin ceiling and comfy window seat for curling
up with a book.
The daughter's room has a safari theme,
with red walls, a day bed draped with a light gauze canopy, a
red bedspread, red animal pillows, sisal carpet, and a zebra-print
rug. "Our daughter went to Africa two years ago and fell
in love with it," the homeowner says. "She wanted
to be able to put her collectibles in the room, so we gave Deb
some parameters and let her run with it. It's a very fun
Separate his-and-hers offices complete the second
floor. "Her office is decorated in a very fun scheme,"
Smith says. "We used her grandmother's hats, gloves,
and purses and hung them from wide ribbon on the walls. This worked
well with the peach walls and the wonderful distressed looking
furniture pieces we included." Walking down the hall to
the main stairs provides a glimpse of the landing, which holds
a Louis-XVI gilded table with a marble top and a six-foot mirror
in front of a camel colored upholstered wall. "These pieces
were so large that we had to redesign the landing," notes
Smith. "They really add beautiful drama to this area."
The lower level includes a large wine cellar
with an arched stone entry. The wine-tasting area's tables are
actually old barrels from the farm the female homeowner grew up
on; in addition, real grapevines add to the wine cellar's ambience.
"This is one of the best wine cellars I have seen,"
says Tait. "It's simple, yet functional and elegant."
Outside the wine cellar is a large Old-World-style
mahogany bar with chairs upholstered in leather with nail-head
trim. A generously sized mahogany-and-stained glass hutch behind
the bar provides storage for glasses and other barware. "The
front bar area was actually custom-built to match the unique hutch,"
says Tait. "It makes a great place to sit and socialize or
Page title picture: The home's mid-stair
landing was specifically designed by the builder to hold the exquisite
rococo mirror and table, purchased at a Parisian flea market;
the wall behind the piece is charmingly upholstered with tufted
fabric and buttons. This page: The dining room's style hearkens
back to the elegance of grand European mansions, with two crystal
chandeliers, oversized china cabinets from France and a table
that expands to seat 12.
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