Hidden by trees, this MCM home renovation in Indianapolis used stunning wood materials to expand its connection to nature.
Large, paneled windows and architecture merging with natural surroundings are familiar features of Mid Century Modern homes. However, an abode concealed by trees near the Williams Creek neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana, takes these characteristic motifs to new, grander heights.
Unearthing a Gem
First built in 1956 and designed by Bill Wright of the Indiana firm, Vonnegut, Wright, and Porteous, the home had felt like a time capsule. In fact, original mid-mod materials, such as white laminate cabinetry, were still in place.
Peeling back the historical layers of the home, principal architect and owner of HAUS|Architecture For Modern Lifestyles, Chris Short actually succeeded in making the renovated home feel more “MCM” than the original build.
“Starting a project such as this, we asked ourselves, How do you identify the original essence of the design? And then, how do you build on that? So, we took the strongest elements and continued that pattern,” he says.
This meant extending what was working for the home, such as the large, flat-paneled windows, while wrapping areas with a new privacy wall.
“Without the privacy wall, you could see inside the neighbor’s windows. It’s really a fence—but it feels like an extension of the architecture,” Chris explains.
Collectors of Mid-Mod
Tom Vriesman of Design Studio Vriesman helped the owners extend the historical accuracy of their spaces with as many classic pieces as he could find, including a Florence Knoll couch.
“My design choices provided a warm, natural backdrop and palette to reinforce the warmth already in the family’s collection, including their artwork,” Tom notes.
Everything in the living room revolved around the warmth of the original brick fireplace. It’s now a focal point, and the open-plan living room features a mix of period furniture and modern fixtures, such as the curved pendant lights.
“The design choices were meant to give a sense of timelessness that still feels contemporary,” Tom says.
Outside Meets Inside
The HAUS team also added the screened porch by extending the existing flat rooflines. Here, the land gradually slopes in the front of the property.
“We tried to continue the existing lines in nature and in the home. Altogether, we added 240 square feet—which includes the screened porch,” Chris says.
The porch further extends the views into the surrounding forest. But, not being insulated, the space feels the outdoors “inviting itself inside” on chilly nights.
“The outdoor fireplace gives some heat, but we really wanted to establish that connection to nature here with this room.”
In other areas of the home, the connection to nature is equally pronounced.
The original redwood siding of the home had been beset by industrious woodpeckers and insects, which made the home theirs too. Hence, the home was reclad in vertical-grooved, poly-ash siding with a smooth finish.
Cedar strips with an ebony stain were used for the entrance area that, when seen through the narrow window slit at the front, gives the illusion that the inside wood matches the wood siding.
“We wanted to keep everything simple while enhancing and modernizing where we could in the most respectful way that stayed true to the original architecture,” Chris points out.
The custom millwork, crafted from walnut, is another clear gesture to nature. Given the grand windows, occupants might even imagine the complete life of the wood as a material—stretching from tree to wood pile to jaw-dropping cabinetry. The wood pile leaning against the screened porch, says Chris, was a subtle gesture to this concept.
Clean Lines in the MCM Indianapolis Gem
The HAUS team also changed the surrounding landscape by removing clinging underbrush. New, verdant greenery was planted.
“Nature is really the star of this home,” Chris notes.
Thus, a private moss garden tucked behind the privacy fence connects the home to nature even more. The curved forms of the garden’s statuesque rocks are a nice juxtaposition to the clean lines of the home, both inside and outside: “The landscape design team wanted to complement the straight lines with curved edges.”
In addition, the rounded shapes of the live-edge walnut table and headboard also blend clean lines with nature’s rounded shapes.
At various points throughout the renovation, Chris and the team wondered if they had pulled too much from nature.
“We were thinking at the time that perhaps we were using too much wood. However, walnut is a timeless MCM material, so we went with it.”
Adorned in rich wood and surrounded by forest, this mid-mod abode blends nature with architecture in a way that’s unique to Mid Century Modern design.
Initially, the renovation was going to flip the main living area by the fireplace with the kitchen. The owners had wanted to open up the space to get more natural light and better views of the surrounding woods, but this would have meant tearing out the fireplace and its original brick and cantilevered concrete hearth. All this extra work would have taken time and money. Plus, it would have affected the narrow window slit in the entryway that offers the view of the inside cedar paneling extending out to the poly-ash siding.
“By far, the biggest splurge of the renovation was replacing all the windows around the sides of the home. The panoramic window walls also needed new steel, which had become too old at that point. So, they had to be replaced as well,” Chris says. In the end, they replaced the original windows with new, double-glazed, floor-to-ceiling windows to let more natural light in. “We replaced and added new skylights above the kitchen pantry. The original small, south-facing windows, where the screened porch is now, were also replaced with high-efficiency windows to allow the sunlight to heat the space as much as possible.”
The main entryway is connected to a surprising architectural feature: the privacy wall that frames the rock-and-moss garden. These gorgeous landscape elements can be seen from the bedrooms, offering a “secret garden” available to occupants but barely viewable from outside through narrow breezeway slits. The wall not only helps maintain privacy, it also presents spots for south-facing sunrays to peer inside the rooms.
For more MCM renovation inspiration, Tour the Frost House, a Rare Modern Gem in the Midwest. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!