Home Of The Month: American Gothic

One of the city’s most skilled house flippers unearths a treasure for himself in up-and-coming Sacred Heart.
Cottage or bungalow style home painted black.

Photo by Tony Valainis

Man posed with dog on kitchen bench.
Blake Richardson in his Sacred Heart neighborhood home.

Blake Richardson was familiarizing himself with near-southside real estate when he heard church bells—a divine signal, perhaps. Just past Sacred Heart church, a cottage porch triggered an inner voice: Pick me, it beckoned. In short order, he bought the century-old two-bedroom charmer and set about giving it a dramatic transformation, including a black exterior. Yes, black—the body, the trim, every detail is swathed in flat midnight paint. “It makes someone stand out in front and look for the original details. It’s a fun game,” Richardson explains. Where many choose the small-scale “painted lady” approach for this style of home—bold colors screaming their minute architectural flourishes—he does the opposite. It works.

For Richardson, an up-and-coming real-estate broker for Everhart Studio and a talented rehabber, no residence is merely a commodity, but rather a portal to story and connection. He’s a house whisperer, reinventing quiet, reserved spaces into inspired, eclectic showcases. He is respectful—even reverent—of original craftsmanship. His approach to interior decoration is intuitive: curating collections with eagle eyes, finding the beauty in what others have casually discarded.

Making a small space such as this 1,100-square-foot home feel bigger requires a special kind of creativity. What to do when the swing-span of a regular door takes up half a room’s real estate? Slice it down the middle and rehang it, French door–style. Or simply make it a pocket door. Grandma’s expandable table doesn’t work in a tight layout, but a portion of it does; cut it in half and attach the legless side to the wall. (The result is shown on the opposite page, bottom.)

Richardson doesn’t measure house furnishings. He just snaps up what he loves, trusting he’ll find a place for it. Three-quarters of the original rose window frame from a church in the Old Northside sat in a dusty pile at Society of Salvage; Richardson dragged it home. Larger than anticipated, it became an unexpected semi-halo between two kitchen windows bookending a built-in bench. An Eastlake dresser—a steal at $100 from Midland Arts & Antiques—was refashioned into the guest-bath vanity. The kitchen’s cast-iron farmhouse sink required only 30 minutes of elbow grease after an alley trash-pile rescue. An ornate light fixture from a Raymond Street church now casts an inspiring glow over the master bedroom, while the transom from a previous house lets even more light into a bathroom.

Kitchen with white wood walls (shiplap) and vintage stove.
Richardson has hauled his vintage stove through every move.

Some inspiration is born in situ, like the glass cabinet pull on the lone remaining kitchen cabinet. While Lockerbie Square Cabinetry fashioned two walls of custom cabinets, for Richardson, the pièce de résistance is the collection of vintage glass knobs and pulls matching the original, diligently scoured for at Tim & Julie’s Another Fine Mess and added to the new cabinets. The space above the sink called for something artsy, so he hired carpenter Jim Story to create open shelving from sheet metal. It’s an ideal showcase for collections of knickknacks: milk-glass containers, brass pitchers, vases and animals, and the good china. The defunct chimney stack became the perfect tuck-away spot for a stacked washer/dryer. After stripping the bedroom walls down to the lath, Richardson did something he will never do again: removed, cleaned, de-nailed, and re-sawed each slice of wood to a uniform width, then pieced together a new pattern. The result, though difficult to achieve, is divine; from 5 feet away, the wall looks like it’s layered floor-to-ceiling in rough-hewn stonework, interrupted only by the original attic vent, visible now that the bedroom has been opened to the rafters.

Living room with white wood walls and antique style portraits.
Shiplap walls provide a modern backdrop for aged photos and thrifted hand-drawn portraits, hung in every available spot in the living room.

Numerous treasures in the house travel with Richardson through every move he makes—and there have been four in the two years since he started his Indianapolis real-estate adventures. A white 1935 Chambers stove still works perfectly after its latest move from Fountain Square. His growing collection of vintage portraits dots white shiplap walls like an art gallery, but more interesting, as the images warm the front room with their stories. This one is the father of a friend on the police force. That one is purportedly James Woodruff, developer of the near-eastside neighborhood, acquired at the famous Woodruff Place Flea Market.

Richardson’s house is a multisensory experience. The fragrance of fresh flowers wafts over an artful visual feast, bathed in natural light. The history of the house and its treasures are endlessly captivating. His aesthetic and the soulful philosophy behind it persuade guests to reconsider displaying family hand-me-downs and to use the good china. It’s hard to leave this inspired space, especially when Richardson’s dog, Lamb, lightly snores on a vintage green velvet chair. The comfy porch setup is a final visual invitation to stay longer, but church bells beckon visitors back onto the streets of Sacred Heart, where more stories and fixer-uppers wait to be discovered.