October 02, 2018

Old craftsmen gem gets new life

This craftsman style home, built in 1910, is one of the largest on the block.  Archived photo by Deepa Kumar|The Stowells manage to gather their family for a self-portrait in front of the original oak staircase in their beautiful, old home in Poplar Grove.|||| This craftsman style home, built in 1910, is one of the largest on the block. Archived photo by Deepa Kumar|The Stowells manage to gather their family for a self-portrait in front of the original oak staircase in their beautiful, old home in Poplar Grove.|||| |||||

By Rich Stowell

It was love at first sight. A friend from the neighborhood had told us that the large house on Indiana had been listed, and we decided to go see it. As we entered the foyer in the front of the house, we looked at each other and said, “We want this house.”

Our new home is a 108-year-old, two-story craftsman bungalow on Indiana Avenue. We noticed it for years after moving into the Poplar Grove neighborhood, thinking how neat it would be to live in such an iconic masterpiece.

Like so many west-side landmarks, it represents a proud history obscured by years of neglect.  

Part of the attraction was the space. We have a growing family and felt increasingly cramped in our small mid-century bungalow. The main appeal, though, was the beautiful architectural features.

Like other craftsman homes, it showcases a simple harmony of angles and structural features in its ornamentation. On the exterior: exposed rafters visible under the eaves, large paned windows around the house, and the stone sills and lintels. Inside the house, the simple beauty of oak and pine cabinets, door cases, and stair rails were hard to resist.

A thousand little interesting stories are behind the details of the home. In 1911, for example, seven-foot basements were a luxury, since the earlier Victorian cottages usually had little more than a crawl space or tiny cellar. It was likely one of the first in the neighborhood to boast a central heating system, with ducting and vents original to the home, but the furnace used coal, and much of the coal remains in the basement coal room. It still has an ornamental fireplace, but only on the first floor, indicative of the bedroom reliance on forced air.

The architecture also contains history lessons about the patterns of life 100 years ago. A smaller kitchen tells us that food was meant to be prepared, not stored in the home, and consumed in a large dining room. High ceilings and transoms above the doors would help cool the house in the summers. Large windows on the east and west helped to light the home, though it appears that it was wired when built. Small bathrooms lacking tile hint at the rudimentary appreciation of germs and sanitation at the time.

Craftsman homes are hard to come by, in part because the period in which these homes were built was cut short by the world wars, and partly because homeowners tend to hang on to them due to their sturdiness and value.

We hope to join the ranks of stubborn craftsman homeowners and be in the home for years to come. Our children love running up and down the stairs. They can do laps on the first floor, and vertical laps going up the front staircase and down the back. It is a 10-year-old’s dream house for playing hide-and-seek. We will entertain in the backyard, and enjoy fall evenings on the veranda-style front porch.

Most of all, we are looking forward to restoring it to its former stateliness, adding some modern amenities while respecting the craftsmanship of those who built it.