W.G. Tait, Inc. Bear Lake Trading Company Home Page
By Abby A. Marmion
Photography by E.Anthony Valainis


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 tranquility.

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 area.

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 wanted."

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 fun note.

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 interest."

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," she adds.

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 cooking/serving area.

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 design.

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 room."

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 watch television."

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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