Old Town Living

A couple of years ago, Charles and Ellen Miller faced a quandary. They lived in a beautiful two-story 4,400 square foot brick home (with finished basement) in the Willow Lakes East subdivision in suburban Center Grove. The home had been a destination for friends of their three children (Alex, Nate and Chase) with plenty of space for both adults and teens to entertain. Located in a nice, well-kept neighborhood, it was close to the children’s Center Grove schools and convenient to the family’s church. It had been perfect for their family for the 10+ years they lived in the home.

But now, the children were in college and beyond. Charles and Ellen found they were “empty nesters,” pretty much only using the kitchen, family room and bedroom. Charles estimated they now had about 3,500 square feet of unused living space. All bedrooms, including the master suite, were located on the second floor, which they felt was not ideal when they enter their later years. They determined that a different home was necessary.

The New Phase of Life
A very comfortable and colorful living room.

As they began seriously thinking about the criteria their new home would need to meet, they came up with a list of must-haves. First, the home must be one level. Ellen’s professional training is in physical therapy, so she recognizes the challenges that stairs create for individuals as they advance in age. Second, the home had to have adequate bedroom space for visitors, so when children return for visits or friends visit, there is space for them. Their new home must have, or allow for renovation, to create a gathering space. Finally, the home must be in a walkable neighborhood.

Ellen said, “We had always talked about living someplace walkable” to shopping, services, dining and entertainment. They “wanted to live someplace where we could walk to things,” says Ellen. While their Willow Lakes East home had been a great place for that time of their lives – they loved the house, the neighborhood and the people – they felt something different was in order.

In early 2016, they engaged Realtor Mike Watkins to begin the search. After driving through many areas, they focused on Old Town Greenwood, determining it had the look and feel that interested them. Additionally, the Millers felt Old Town was “on the way up,” said Ellen, and they wanted to be part of that.

They found it was a seller’s market. Homes were not on the market long, especially in Old Town. The first house that met their criteria was on the market for two days, and they were too late with their offer. They made sure they were prepared going forward, so when they found a property they wanted, they would be able to act quickly.

It was good they did. Watkins called them suggesting they come immediately to look at a home he had just listed, feeling it would not last long on the market. They looked at it the same day and invited their contractor, Dan Planker of D. W. Planker, Inc., to walk the house with them. They made an offer, and the house was theirs after only two days on the market. There was not even time for Watkins to place a for-sale sign in the yard.

The Millers weren’t interested in living in the new home during the heavy remodeling, so they continued to live in their Center Grove home for a bit before listing it for sale. They were able to fairly closely coincide the listing, sale and transfer of possession of the house in Willow Lakes East with the completion of the renovation work on the Old Town property. Ellen stated she would probably have preferred another month before occupying the Greenwood house, but it still worked out well for them to move in September 2016.

Major Features

The bathrooms and sleeping quarters of the house received a bit of a facelift, and the living room of the 1930s-era home received some renovation, but the major remodeling effort went into the kitchen and living space. A design was created that called for Planker to build a large addition onto the back of the house that tied a small galley kitchen with a den room (an earlier addition to the original house).

The resulting space was perfect – a combined kitchen-dining-living space that is, according to Ellen, “the space we live in.” Including high ceilings, open architecture and lots of windows for a light, airy look, it is ideal for daily living as well as entertaining. A portion, the old den room, has been transfigured into a comfortable living space with a newly constructed fireplace and their flat screen TV. This is open to the kitchen-dining area featuring built-in dining seating (Charles’ handiwork) reminiscent of a diner booth.

Including a well-appointed kitchen to support Charles’ culinary skills, the centerpiece of this space is the island separating the cooking from the dining area. Built around a cool antique bar salvaged from the old Claypool Hotel in downtown Indianapolis, the Millers discovered this find at Doc’s Salvage on Indy’s near-Eastside. Surrounded by stools made of old, distressed wood that closely match the bar, the island is a perfect place for guests to sit and chat with the Millers while they prepare a meal.

Miller also created an alcove on a sidewall with more counter space for things such as a coffee machine. Reclaimed industrial-looking cabinets purchased at Midland Antiques are the foundation with the backsplash wall covered with lath wood reclaimed from one of the home’s original walls removed during the remodel.

Sweat Equity

The Millers have invested a significant amount of sweat equity into the renovation project. In fact, it is a work in progress with some interior and exterior work still to be completed. Both Charles and Ellen wielded hammers to chip away plaster to reveal original brick, manufactured by the old Brooklyn Brick Company of Indianapolis in the old living room fireplace. Ellen painstakingly recovered lath wood from demolished walls for reuse. The Millers removed seven layers of flooring in the kitchen to expose the original hardwood flooring.

Charles created custom made woodwork for the new addition to match the style of the original woodwork in the rest of the house. He is also constructing, with the help of a friend, a large deck at the rear of the home, which will allow comfortable outdoor living. The deck also includes a ramp to make the entire home accessible. The work continues with the external modifications and landscaping to be done, hopefully, this year.

End Result

Charles and Ellen can now walk to the farmers market, stop for a glass of wine at the wine bar, walk to an appointment at the hair salon or dine in a nice restaurant. They have found the neighborhood where residents get together for pitch-in picnics, a lady’s book club and chats with passers-by from the front porch. They have a gathering place to entertain friends.

They loved their life in Center Grove, but they are looking forward to loving their life in Greenwood too.

Writer / Jim Eichelman
Photographer / Jim Eichelman