Photo by Aaron Milbourn
MAYBE YOU’LL FIND the kind of house with a name, like the exquisite Matthews Mansion in Ellettsville that sold for under $300,000. We met a family that swapped their suburban-Indy home for both a small-town palace and a nest egg for a second home in Florida, plus a pair of retirees who are the proud owners of a majestic bed-and-breakfast on the banks of the Ohio River—theirs for less than a northside condo. Have you hired the movers yet?
The Country House
A former Hulman family address in Terre Haute is taking a turn toward rural english luxury.
THIS MISSION REVIVAL beauty isn’t in the country, but it’s close enough, thanks to bucolic surroundings next to Terre Haute’s Carmelite Monastery and a country club. When this neighborhood was built, some of the houses didn’t have kitchens because the club delivered meals.
This original Hulman residence did, and its terra cotta floor is still in good shape. Recently, the house was purchased by a couple of native sons, Realtor Joe Everhart and restaurant owner Ken Ramsay, who have long split their time between their primary residence in Indy and a farm near Terre Haute. Everhart was fascinated with the house when he was growing up. When Ken opened a restaurant in Terre Haute and began spending more time there, they swapped their farm for this landmark and consider it a comparable rural getaway. The commute is just over an hour, not much longer than driving between downtown and Geist.
The house had been for sale but was taken off the market for some repairs when the couple reached out about buying it. Despite the 8,000-square-foot presence, it lives as cozy and informally as a country house should, and the couple is leaning into that aesthetic during the renovation. The richness of thick oak woodwork, luxuriously large rooms, and stained glass is relaxed by a rather simple floor plan and relatively few number of rooms—15 across three floors. The home is comprised of two structures—the back half was built as a spec home for this neighborhood, and the Hulmans added the front portion and connected the two with an atrium. On the main floor, two living rooms flank the entrance, a half bath sits off the atrium, and the large kitchen has an attached, still-functional summer kitchen. The pass-through to the dining room is a Dutch door with drop leaves on the lower half that raise to form a shelf on which to sit plates ready to serve. Upstairs, the couple is combining four rooms into a main suite and turning the attic into another for guests. Four bedrooms fill out the upper levels.
One previous owner did most of the major structural work and another went with a frilly Laura Ashley aesthetic when it was a Decorator’s Showhouse, leaving Everhart and Ramsay with largely a slow, thoughtful cosmetic job. They’re borrowing inspiration from the English Arts and Crafts architect Edwin Lutyens and have a good sense of what the house wants to be. “English, country, horsey, but with a cleaner palette,” Joe says. “The scale of the front of the house is huge, but it’s really a pleasant and easy house to live in.”
Already, adding Gucci wallpaper with dog faces to a half bath has made a big difference, bringing in modern drama. For Everhart and Ramsay, it satisfies a certain decorating rule: Choose one thing that makes you a little nervous. The mansion’s remaining tattered edges don’t—they know old homes, have a knack for bringing out one’s soul and marrying modern luxury with original details like Rookwood tile so that a house a mile away from a strip mall can still feel like it’s in the country.
The Bed And Breakfast
A riverfront mansion finds new owners in a whirlwind of fate.
SOME PEOPLE SPEND their retirement relaxing in a beachfront condo or putting on their favorite green. Mike and Susie Dean aren’t your average retirees, though, and decided to sell their home, buy a historic mansion, and transform it into a bed-and-breakfast—all in 120 days. That was nearly three years ago, and the Pleasants Rose Mansion Inn Bed and Breakfast has enjoyed success ever since.
The Deans had always been drawn to the charming river communities of Vevay and Madison. They’d previously looked at homes in Madison but never found the right fit. While living in their previous home in Greene County, a couple knocked on their door and asked to buy it, even though it wasn’t for sale.
Only a few days later, Mike came across the listing for the mansion in Vevay. Before he had even finished the tour, he knew it was the one. When he brought Susie back to see it, she fell in love as quickly as he had. “It was like the stars aligned,” Mike recalls. Through later research, Mike discovered that he had family ties to the area—and most likely the home itself—in the late 1800s, making it all feel that much more serendipitous.
Because the home had once been a bed-and-breakfast, it made sense to the Deans to go that route again. Mike was a military and civil-service man for 34 years, and his extensive traveling, combined with previous restaurant and business ownership, made the idea less of a leap. The couple wanted to share their beautiful home and its history with others. They are natural storytellers who love to entertain—winning qualities for successful innkeepers. Plus, the extra income helps offset the costs of maintaining such a large home.
A lot of the hard work was already done when they bought the property, so they focused their efforts on a new roof, adding antique furnishings authentic to the era, and updating the five full bathrooms, the HVAC, two water heaters, and a summer kitchen.
Thankfully, many of the showstopping original features were intact and well preserved, like a massive stained-glass window on the landing of the grand staircase—its kaleidoscope of colors shimmering against the ornate walnut woodwork. Off the entryway, two parlors feature woodwork of Tiger Maple and the rare Birdseye Maple. The sumptuousness in each of the 16 rooms didn’t happen by accident. During a previous renovation, a board was discovered under the stairs that read, “The finders of this block, please know the loving care that was taken in the building of this home.” It was signed by the four brothers who built it.
Because of its position on the banks of the Ohio River, there are lovely water views from several rooms that add to the romantic ambience. The Deans reside on the second floor and love to watch the boats go by. Their big plan for the future is a simple one: to continue the home’s preservation (and give the stained glass some TLC). It may be an unconventional retirement, but it’s the perfect one for them.
The Passion Project
A family breathes new life into an exquisite town centerpiece and shares its beauty with everyone.
IF EVER THERE was a case of real-estate serendipity, it’s the story of how Rachel and Nick Vanoven landed this landmark Queen Anne in Brookville.
Rachel’s sister was walking by when the Realtor put out the “for sale” sign. Within a few minutes, she had texted Rachel, and Rachel had texted Nick a photo with the word “please.” He had no intention of moving there—they are both from Florida and were happy living in Brownsburg with their three kids—but he immediately set up a showing to make his wife happy. They were the first people through the home but had only 20 minutes before the next house-hunters would arrive. During the showing, a Facebook page called For the Love of Old Houses shared the listing—an immaculate five-bedroom mansion at just $284,000—with its 3.5 million followers, and the Realtor’s phone started ringing with offers from around the world.
Meanwhile, Rachel and the seller were making a connection. They had both lost their mothers recently. In fact, Rachel was only considering living in Brookville because she and her father and sisters, who are there, had all become closer while grieving. Also, the Vanovens could see raising their family in the house, and the seller didn’t want the mansion to become a business or chopped up.
“The seller was up all night, asking her mom to make it completely clear who needed to get this house,” Rachel says. “The Realtor told us before she left, ‘Make an offer today. There’s a lot of people who want it, but the house is yours.’ There wasn’t even a bidding war.”
It would need some renovations—more bathrooms, a bigger main suite, finishing the third-floor attic, paint colors to their liking, various repairs—but the bones were exceptional. Impeccable fretwork. Built-in benches. Window coves. Double wraparound porches. Turrets. A third-floor balcony with an arched doorway. “It breathes ‘a woman designed it’—so feminine and curvy,” Rachel says. “It almost reminds me of a wedding cake. I’ve never found a house [around here] that looks like ours.” They didn’t have any experience with such a renovation, but that didn’t stop them. “We are not qualified to have this house, but we are figuring it out as we go along,” Rachel says.
It helps that she had a big online following from her successful business as a photographer specializing in infant portraits. She quickly got an audience for documenting the house saga, so when she and Nick encounter a head-scratcher, like weights and ropes in their windows, a follower usually comes through with advice. Rachel loves taking time to post prolifically on Instagram because it allows local residents to see inside for the first time. “It has always been this mysterious house of Brookville,” she says. In return, she gets to see the place through the fresh eyes of her followers and remember the magic of first walking into the house.
Indeed, the time investment involved in owning a landmark mansion goes beyond the hours of labor. There will also be long, late-night research sessions devoted to learning its history. Rachel has become so intrigued by the original lady of the house that she and her dad even took a road trip to visit her tomb and her childhood home—where they found a turret, porch columns, and a second-floor balcony, and in them, likely the architectural roots of the legacy that they now own.
A historic Parisian home in Ellettsville might be the grandest real-estate surprise in Indiana.
BE CAREFUL ABOUT walking through a listed house out of curiosity. Jessica and Kaleb Ryan indulged their love of architecture when they were house-hunting by scheduling a showing of this magnificent French Second Empire in Ellettsville, about 10 minutes north of Bloomington, where the IU grads were living at the time. It wasn’t really what they were looking for—but the Ryans were exactly what the seller was looking for, a young couple who would protect the home’s soul after she had poured 30 years into a restoration. The seller kept dropping the price until the Ryans couldn’t say no. She went so low that they felt bad and insisted on paying an extra $20,000.
They immediately bought dining-room chairs that look like thrones, as a joke. Then over six years, they put in the sweat equity of moving and modernizing the kitchen, removing wallpaper, finishing the basement, fixing fireplaces, rewiring original chandeliers, replacing missing transom glass, completing the decorative ironwork on the roof, exposing brick, and—deep breath—restoring the original limestone steps outside.
The French aesthetic doesn’t stop at the slate mansard roof and monumental limestone walls. Inside, elegant windows and 12-foot ceilings with original medallions continue the Parisian feeling. There is some evidence that the house was designed by architect Charles Garnier, best known for the Paris opera house that bears his name.
There’s plenty of verified history. The original owner was John Matthews, a successful businessman who became known as “the father of Indiana limestone.” He had 12 children, but the house didn’t stay in the family. Eventually it was abandoned and hobos moved in—the Ryans uncovered their signatures on a wall upstairs and left them exposed. They believe the college students who partied here later probably did more damage to the house. But those limestone walls are nearly indestructible, and it survived to earn a spot on both the national and state register of historic places.
The layout hasn’t changed too much. It’s symmetrical with four rooms on each floor, two each side of the grand hallway, and doorways allowing for an easy circular flow around the entire first floor. Stone steps, worn smooth over a century, lead to a walkout basement with the limestone texture newly exposed and thick, wide doorways. Each floor has doors to the backyard, sitting on a busy corner in the heart of town. The Ryans say the house lives comfortably, but there are times when they feel like it’s a palace. “Every time I turn the corner and see the house,” Kaleb says. He’s not the only one stopped in his tracks. Gawkers are part of life—once, they found a sightseer wandering around the first floor. The Ryans have also heard footsteps from an unseen source, but have never been truly scared. Nevertheless, they are moving out—the home is on the market for $1.19 million.
The Forever Home
One of Greenfield’s most historic houses finds the perfect old-soul owners.
NINE YEARS AGO, Angela Hoffa and Ian Holloway moved out of an 800-square-foot basement condo in Washington, D.C., and looked to settle in Central Indiana. Though neither was from Greenfield, their Realtor recommended it as the perfect in-between town—close to both of their families with a convenient proximity to Indianapolis and an abundance of old homes.
Part of Angela’s childhood was spent in a Victorian, and those special memories remained with her into adulthood. She knew she wanted another Victorian-esque home, and though Ian had never been bitten by the old-house bug, he was happy to go along for the adventure.
When they laid eyes on the gorgeous Queen Anne mansion sprawled across a lush double lot (it’s nearly an acre in the heart of downtown), they learned it already had a pending offer. “We thought, We’ll just take a look anyway, it’d be nice to see it,” Angela recalls. That look turned into love at first sight. It’s one of the oldest homes standing in Greenfield, and nothing else they had toured could hold a candle to it.
The pending offer had plans to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast—even the zoning process was underway. Still, their Realtor said it wouldn’t hurt to put in an offer, just in case. “We never expected to get it,” Ian says. But something with the other offer fell through—or maybe the old-house gods intervened—and after nearly two years on the market, it was theirs.
Built by one of Greenfield’s most prominent businessmen, A.J. Banks, it’s clear that no expense was spared in its construction. Because the home passed from the Banks family to the Spencer family through marriage and down to their descendants, Angela and Ian were the first “new” owners in generations.
Though the house needed some work—and was more than five times the size of their previous home—the couple wasn’t fazed. They knew early on that it would be their forever home and proceeded accordingly. “Maintaining the timelessness is important to us,” Angela says. “Once that’s lost, it’s really hard to get it back.” Every project they tackled was planned with meticulous attention to preservation.
When the time came to repaint the exterior, Angela found a professor in Michigan who’s an expert on architecture and offers paint consulting. The colors were done in several rounds, with a final palette of warm tones like apricot, yellow, and taupe to complement the brick.
They’ve done the work themselves whenever possible. Ian even took on the challenge of removing and replacing two massive boilers in the cellar. Certain things, though, feel like blessings straight from the house’s guardian angels. None of the glorious woodwork was ever painted; the intricate ceiling medallions survived cracks from past foundation issues; pocket doors were never sealed shut; and every single window is original.
The house is a landmark of downtown Greenfield, and it looks even more enormous from the sidewalk. Gobsmacked admirers slow their pace to a crawl as they pass by. The home’s magic isn’t lost on Angela and Ian, either. Even after nine years, they’re still in awe of it, and judging from the gleam in the eyes of their young daughter as she peeked around from the back staircase, the wonder has been passed on to the next generation, too.