Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today, we visit the Valparaiso, Indiana, home of Guy and Kate Gangi.
After purchasing a piece of Kate’s family homestead, the couple hired her cousin, architect Fred Bamesberger (Bamesberger Architecture), to design a home that was the antithesis of how they’d lived before.
The day Kate left her hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana, for college, she never dreamed she would return. But after the interior designer, founder of Gangi Design, spent years working in and around Chicago working and raising a family, she and her husband were ready for a big change.
They left what they describe as a “high-powered, high-stress” design world (Guy is a retired brand strategist and designer) for the serenity of the property where Kate spent much of her childhood, a tree- and wetland-filled piece of land surrounded by the hills and farmlands of northwest Indiana.
The 10-acre parcel they purchased has been in the family for many years. Right after World War II, Kate’s grandfather Charles McGill—an industrialist who designed and manufactured electrical components, fixtures, and bearings—purchased land in Porter County and started to develop and shape it. Eventually, he’d own 250 acres.
“We grew up calling it ‘the diggins,’ because Grandpa was always digging there,” Kate says. “There are a lot of natural springs on the properties, so he dug ponds. He also created hills and planted trees. It was quite a production.”
Over time, the land was divided and sold among family members. When Guy and Kate bought their piece of land, they used it as a weekend getaway, but after four years, they decided it should be their permanent address.
When they began the process of designing a house, they didn’t have to look far: Bamesberger had already created a handful of homes there for other family members. “Some people hate working for family,” he says. “For me, they’ve been some of my best clients.”
The first order of business was to site the house, and that was no easy task. “The spot was so heavily forested, we had to use a machete to go out to the place where the house sits,” says Guy.
That was no problem for Bamesberger, who has been roaming the land from childhood, back when Kate was his babysitter, not his client.
“Basically, I’d spend the summer outside doing all kinds of boy stuff—building bridges across creeks, hiking in the woods, and making bonfires at night,” he says. “It was like a private park for our family, and I had the kind of freedom to wander that most kids probably don’t have today.”
Besides a deep familiarity with the land, Bamesberger had another design ace up his sleeve: his willingness to tackle “unbuildable” sites.
“I’ve become the architect in this part of the state that gets the land that’s impossible to build on,” he says. “Most people around here pick a flat field to build on, but I’ve come to look at land that’s hard to deal with as an opportunity rather than a problem.”
In this case, the problem took care of itself. Due to required setbacks from wetlands, there was only one really viable spot for the house. “It was so densely wooded, it was hard to see what Fred was talking about. But we knew that we would overlook wetlands, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see another house, and we knew it would be peaceful,” says Guy. Cue the digging (again).
In terms of the house design, the couple was ready for a sea change. As a couple, they had lived in two Craftsman-style homes, complete with the heavy design details that mark the aesthetic. (Guy notes that, until now, they had never owned a home built after 1915).
Having visited them in previous homes, Bamesberger’s first design iteration was more elaborate. “We had lived the Arts-and-Crafts style, and we were ready to move onto something modern and simple, but rustic,” says Guy. They gave Bamesberger free rein to come up with something new.
Together, they landed on a design they nicknamed “The Box” for its cube-like qualities. The 961-square-foot home is, indeed, box-like, with a front facade that’s composed of a checkerboard of windows.
“Most clients who want something modern envision a glass facade,” says Bamesberger. “That gets very expensive. Here, we arranged standard-sized windows in an alternating grid with pieces of solid wall. It started as a budget necessity, but I think it gives them views while also providing a sense of enclosure and comfort and a place to hang some of their amazing collection of art and artifacts.”
The footprint of the structure may be smaller, but it stands tall. “We took it as high as we could,” says Bamesberger. “This makes the space feel luxurious.” It also gives it a loft that allows them to be together, but separate in the same space.
The notion of simplicity is reflected in the building materials, which are limited to concrete, wood (with birch plywood as the primary finish material), stone, and metal.
“After years of a large house with three floors, lots of square-footage, and lots of ornamentation, this is a huge relief,” says Kate. “We have have the house cleaned up in minutes.”
That said, there are artistic flourishes: Stones excavated from the site were repurposed for the fireplace hearth’s base, and a tree that was cut to make way for the house is milled into the front door, with the tree’s trunk and branch structure still visible.
“In a simple, modern space, handmade items contrast in a way that makes them special,” says Bamesberger. “I think that we don’t see enough craft in contemporary architecture.”
From the outside The Box appears to lightly hover over the landscape, and a deck connects it to a shed and another box that acts as a screened porch. “I wanted the buildings to feel light and to preserve the purity of their forms by having them separate,” says Bamesberger.
For the Gangis, the screened box and the fire pit in front of it allow them to live outdoors for most of the year, something they deeply appreciate after city life. “My first year here, I kept a journal, but I gave it up because I was writing about how happy I was over and over again,” she says. “I even came up with a hashtag for our Instagram, #icantbelieveilivehere.”
They both note how the background sounds of their life have changed. “Instead of road traffic, we hear a lot of distant train whistles and the sounds of hoot owls,” Kate says. “When the frogs start up in the wetlands, we turn off the music so we can just listen.”