New-build homes are usually made from a kit of parts, and constructed with plans meant more for rapid reproduction than character.
But when Maddy Barnas and Evan Dickerson started itching for a place to call their own, they didn’t want a plug-and-play house.
Though Barnas and Dickerson each love the character and charm of old homes, they were starting to tire of the work required to maintain their circa-1890 townhouse in the Herron-Morton neighborhood of Indianapolis. The house had been renovated multiple times over its lifespan, and was beginning to become more of a burden than a joy.
“I found myself constantly fixing things that weren’t done the right way [in previous renovations],” says Dickerson.
The couple began to seriously consider the idea of building a home after spending two years in the townhouse, and started seeking out developers in the area with whom to work. In some ways, the couple was searching for someone who could be a partner in the project rather than simply provide a service, notes Dickerson. He adds that most developers in the neighborhood worked in an aesthetic similar to that of the area’s older homes, and thus came out looking like something straight out of the suburbs.
In January 2017, Barnas and Dickerson selected a builder, Indy Smart House, primarily because they were able to put their stamp on the home in every way, from custom built-ins to finishes and fixtures. They finished drafting plans in March 2017, making numerous adjustments to the standard layout Indy Smart Homes offered by selecting different windows placements, moving bathrooms around, and changing the location of the stairs.
They also added an angled, natural-wood front porch awning that slopes in the opposite direction from the house’s roof. The siding is thin Hardie Plank, and Scandinavian design influenced the house’s black exterior and minimal window framing.
Barnas and Dickerson designed their stairway so that natural light pours in through a second-floor skylight. And, “when you walk up the stairs to the second floor, you’re immediately facing a door that leads outside to a deck,” says Barnas.
Clocking in at around 1,050 square feet, the house’s main floor is fully open, save for a half-bathroom. A breezeway to the detached garage adds another 50 square feet, and the second floor comprises another 1,050 square feet, which is home to three bedrooms and two full baths. A basement, when finished, will include another bedroom and full bath.
The process of making the house exactly how they wanted wasn’t without a few bumps in the road, of course. “It was kind of a double-edged sword,” Dickerson says. “The builder allowed us to do whatever we wanted, but we had to stay on top of them on every little detail. It definitely wasn’t your typical churn and burn.” Luckily, their new plot was just a few blocks away from the townhouse from which they were moving, which made it easier to stop by and check in.
By the end of July 2018, Barnas and Dickerson needed to list their old house; it had been over a year and a half since they began the planning process. Still in the midst of a few finishing touches—the staircase railing had yet to be installed; windows didn’t have screens; the air conditioning didn’t work—they moved in.
To aid in the process of building out the interiors, Barnas created a document that laid everything out visually, room by room. And when the couple says they drilled down to the nitty gritty, they mean it: They chose every switchplate, lighting fixture, light bulb, and faucet; added a wall of built-in shelving on the main floor and in the master bathroom; and commissioned a staircase railing that didn’t block light or use cable. The interiors are designed around a black-and-white color palette, since the couple knew their objects and furnishings would bring in color.
“I don’t think we had any real idea what [the home] was going to look like when it all came together, because everything was such a blank slate,” says Barnas. The couple’s style ranges from midcentury modern to Art Deco, with a few more traditional pieces in the mix. But Barnas’s love of vintage and antique rugs takes center stage in the design, and these textile elements influence everything else in the home.
Barnas had several rugs she’d collected over time, which, she says, she had “just rolled up in our third floor storage” waiting to be moved into their new home. “Some rugs I literally had for over a year! I really, truly developed an addiction.”
Most of the couple’s furniture is collected from antique stores and estate sales, like the living room fireplace they hoped would be wood-burning. After they bought, refinished, and painted it, they found out the installation scheme they wanted was impossible; no one would install a flue and chimney, because it had no original maker’s mark and would therefore be a potential fire hazard. So, instead of ditching all their hard work, they opted for clean-burning ethanol fuel instead.
“We found the best solution out of what was turning into a nightmare,” Dickerson says, with a laugh.
The fireplace is an apt example of Barnas and Dickerson working together, something they both found rewarding throughout the process. Even with a minimalist approach and an open floorplan, their collaboration made for a home that, today, feels like them.
“The spaces are really defined and different, but they all flow together really nicely,” says Barnas. “This house is the perfect representation of our styles melded together. It’s really us, in a house.”