Adam Graef has a knack for taking an object no one wants and transforming it into something that not only looks good but is functional, too. His new home in the revitalized neighborhood of Fall Creek Place is a 2,200-square-foot eclectic mix of both new and old materials, conversation pieces, and the odd vintage cast-off.
Everywhere you look, there’s something interesting to see, whether it’s a collection of ice cream scoops artfully arranged in wire baskets on the wall, a giant scoreboard that used to hang in the gymnasium of Brownsburg High School, or an old wooden door that reads “Indpls. Asylum for the Insane.”
“The door was salvaged, but I mirrored it and did the lettering myself, so it’s not really from an insane asylum,” Graef says.
As a furniture-builder who specializes in reclaimed materials, Graef often travels the country looking for unique items to add to his stockpile of salvaged goods. Some of the items around his house came from his shop (Graef owned Rogue Decor), while others he traded for with friends who are in the antique business. He often buys things that he thinks are cool even if he doesn’t know how to use them yet.
“I see the possibilities in the parts and pieces rather than focusing on the finished product,” he says.
Rife with resourcefulness
Graef comes by his passion for reinvention and restoration naturally. As the son of an architect, growing up meant never living in a finished house. Whenever his father would complete a remodel, he would put the house on the market and move the family onto the next project. It was a pattern Graef continued as an adult.
However, after renovating three homes in the Irvington area, Graef decided his current abode would be built from the ground up. He and his girlfriend longed to live closer to downtown amenities and were drawn to the charm of Fall Creek Place. Using a blueprint created by his father, Kurt Graef, he contacted the team at Carley Custom Builders to see if they could help turn his concept into a reality.
“We broke ground in February of 2014, and we had very definite ideas about what we wanted to do,” Graef says. “The builders were really great about working with us on all that we wanted to do ourselves. I sat with them and showed them pictures of my other houses, and they said they would give me a chance. By doing a lot of the flooring, lighting, and tile work ourselves, we were able to save some money and put it toward upgrades.”
The result is a light-infused industrial space with elements of warmth, a few whimsical items, and fun pops of color here and there. A five-foot-tall stuffed bear greets guests in the entryway, along with street signs bearing the names of the places Graef has lived before. Adorning the metal diamond-plate steps leading to the second floor is a banister Graef found at Midland Arts & Antiques Market and discovered fit perfectly in the space.
Across from Gentle Ben is the couple’s office and a powder room that features a toilet-paper holder made from a fire-hose cabinet, as well as a head-to-head Pac-Man table screen that has been refashioned into a vanity mirror.
“All you have to do is find the game and then get some mirror finish from the craft store,” Graef explains.
The main level also includes an open great room with a brick-stitched sofa found in a shop in Michigan and a coffee table from a furniture factory in High Point, North Carolina. Vintage factory stools provide seating at the kitchen island. Various items in the space have some local significance. The large industrial light fixtures overhead were originally used in the old RCA plant on Sherman Drive, while the brickwork was sourced from the former Irvington post office that was toppled by strong winds, which serves as a tribute to Graef’s old neighborhood.
His pantry doors came from a large neon sign that once graced a restaurant in Elwood. Graef cut the sign in half and outfitted the pieces with two Burger King spatulas that serve as handles. Though he’s willing to modify some items, others—like the 1800s workbench that serves as the couple’s sideboard—are off limits.
“The history on that thing is amazing,” he says. “It’s written on the back who built it and how it was passed down. I thought it was a very cool piece when I put it in my shop, but then it didn’t sell, so I brought it home. At one time, a couple looked at it and said they could cut a sink into it, and I cringed. I mean, I’ll repurpose a lot of things, but some things should be left alone.”
Another unique feature to the room is the insulated windowed garage door that functions as a gateway to the back patio. Graef considered installing a folding-glass system in the space, but it proved to be too cost-prohibitive. French doors would have been comparable, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized that a garage door fit in perfectly with the home’s theme. In good weather, it could be raised to provide a nice extension of the living room for outdoor entertaining.
“Eventually, I plan to screen in the porch, which will make that whole space even more functional,” Graef says.
Behind the kitchen is the mudroom, which boasts a fun splash of fuchsia above horizontal white subway tiles; an old wood-topped storage cabinet; and a nozzle for rinsing the paws of Graef’s two German Shepherds, Falkor and Captain Pickles, before they come inside.
“The secret to repurposing the past is in seeing the possibility of what the item can be in the future,” Graef says.
Upstairs, the guest bathroom and master suite incorporate several recycled items. After they’ve been turned on their sides and fitted with wiring so they illuminate, vintage pay-phone boxes serve as nightstands. Another large workbench acts as a dresser/TV stand for the couple, and a sitting nook provides a respite from the day with a tall, graphic-patterned wing chair, a glass table with a driftwood base, and cabinetry that Graef acquired from his grandparents.
Graef says that the secret to repurposing the past is in seeing the possibility of what the item can be in the future, not what it is at the moment or what it was in the past. So what does the future hold for him? Although the couple has only been in the house for a few months—and there’s still more work to do—Graef is his father’s son.
“I don’t know yet. I might sell it,” he says with a smile. “We want acreage eventually.”
Kitchen countertops and terrazzo backsplash: Santarossa Mosaic & Tile, Kitchen cabinetry: Drexel Interiors, Kitchen sink: build.com, Kitchen/living-room flooring: Santarossa Mosaic & Tile, Dining table: Indie Arts and Vintage Marketplace; chairs are from a supplier for Rogue Decor, Great-room fireplace: RT’s Fireplace Shop, Subway tiles in mudroom and master bathroom: Menards, Foyer/upstairs flooring: Custom Floors, Master bathroom flooring: The Tile Shop, Master bathroom sinks: build.com
This article appeared in IM Home, a 2015 special publication.