Blast From The Past
Here’s the story: This 1968 split-level has a stone fountain, a spiral staircase, and a tiki bar. The Brady Bunch never had it so good.
Jonathan Eriksen didn’t want to leave his family’s Ivy Hills neighborhood, east of Allisonville Road and 79th Street. They loved the mature lots and rooted community. But they were prepared to give it up for a more spacious midcentury-modern home, their favorite style, and as a Realtor, Jonathan knew where the pockets of those coveted houses are located. How was it, then, that he and his wife, Stephanie, had never noticed the 1968 split-level (a Brady Bunch house, as they call it) a mere 10 doors down as the crow flies? True, most of the ranch sits below street level, making it hard to see and giving it the nickname “the sinking home” around the neighborhood. Luckily, one day a “for sale” sign caught Jonathan’s eye.
“I called my wife and said, ‘You need to leave work and come look at this house,’” says Jonathan. “We pulled in the driveway, and she was like, ‘You need to get this house today.’” Sure enough, within five hours, a bidding war ensued. By midnight, Jonathan and Stephanie found out they’d won—though they hadn’t placed the highest bid. What convinced the owner to sell to them was a letter that Jonathan had written describing his passion for the house. He said he could see his son playing in the creek behind it, and he professed his love for midcentury-modern design.
In the course of his work at Encore Sotheby’s International Realty, Jonathan has become keenly aware of just how hard it is to find a midcentury-modern home in Indianapolis. “That design never goes out of style, whether it’s furnishings or architecture,” he says. “People like the clean lines and simplicity.
A white button-down, or a polo—that’s what the midcentury-modern is like. It’s a classic. They always go quickly.” Building a retro-look home from scratch is tough, too, because the large expanses of windows and the flat roofs aren’t really suited for the Indiana climate,
“That’s the most decadent luxury,” says Jonathan, “to be able to entertain.”
This is the third such house that he and Stephanie, a school administrator, have been lucky enough to find, and at around 3,800 square feet, it’s about twice the size of their last home. Fortunately, since they’ve long loved the midcentury era, all of their old furniture and artwork transplanted perfectly to the new place. “What was amazing was how much it felt like home, like it had been waiting for us,” says Jonathan.
That was two years ago this month. True to their word to the sellers, the Eriksens have endeavored to preserve the home’s heritage, bringing in period-appropriate decor and resisting the urge to lay down hardwood flooring, which wasn’t a big thing in the late ’60s. There are just a few traces of modernization, like a neutral paint shade in place of foil that once covered an entire dining-room wall; kitchen cabinets that have been stripped and painted carbon gray; new kitchen appliances; and new flooring (carpet throughout most of the house, sheet vinyl resembling pale concrete in the kitchen and the home’s two-and-a-half bathrooms). The couple didn’t make any structural changes, even in the kitchen, a room that often gets ripped out and expanded in vintage homes these days. It remains largely intact, with the original backsplash, countertops, and red pendant lamp that lights up the family’s spot for playing Euchre. “We came in and respected what was original,” says Jonathan.
In some cases, their appreciation blossoms into marveling at the quietly thoughtful design. As the pleasure of living there has revealed itself, the couple has come to believe the house must have been a builder’s or an architect’s. (The records have been lost.) There’s excellent sound insulation, for example.
“What was amazing was how much it felt like home,” says Jonathan Eriksen, “like it had been waiting for us.”
The bedroom wing on the main level sits above a crawl space rather than directly above a downstairs living area. As a result, those sleeping areas stay quiet. The Eriksens have two teenagers, and when the kids invite friends over and hang out in the basement, the adults don’t hear them upstairs.
The couple also loves the massive stone fireplace upstairs that continues to the floor below. It’s a mirror image on both levels—including a large niche in the stone for wood. Nearby, at the base of an open staircase inside the front door, a hulking, tiered rock fountain might seem gaudy to some, but not to Jonathan and Stephanie, who think it’s bizarrely wonderful. The fountain’s plumbing doesn’t work, but until they get it going, they have filled the basins with dark stones.
As for decor, the major stamp that the Eriksens put on their home: lots of original artwork from mostly local artists. Since marrying 19 years ago, Jonathan and Stephanie have bought at least one new piece a year, often from Penrod or First Friday stops, so they’ve amassed plenty of pieces for filling the four-bedroom residence. But there’s also a framed Mark Rothko print from Ikea. “Sometimes you can mix in the cheap,” says Jonathan.
The house’s most spectacular feature is a spiral staircase made of suspended metal tubes in a satin-bronze finish, constructed so they appear to be floating. The railing has survived decades of kids who must have been tempted to swing on the bars. “When I saw this, it was game over,” says Jonathan. “I’ve been showing houses for 16 years and have never seen anything like this.” At the foot of the staircase sits a full-blown tiki bar, a true wet bar with the original olive-hued Formica and a shake-shingle awning. Jonathan and Stephanie have friends over here about once a week. “That’s the most decadent luxury,” says Jonathan, “to be able to entertain.”
Standout features like those anchor a home that’s really all about subtle style. “It’s innocuous from the street,” says Jonathan. “I’m actually pretty introverted, and my wife doesn’t want anything flashy. I love that you could drive by it and not even know there’s cool stuff going on inside.”