W.Hen Joyce Butterworth brought her construction-savvy brother to examine the English mansion she fell in love with Meridian-Kessler – the one with trees growing out of his chimneys – he had a question: “Joyce, have you lost your mind? ” The beautiful house had stood empty for some time before Joyce viewed it, and yes, it needed a little maintenance. In her eyes, a few trees were nothing compared to the palladium windows, intricate masonry, and royal look. She bought the house with her late husband without heeding her brother’s warning. About 16 years later, Joyce laughs at the memory. “He’s usually a calm, cool, collected guy,” she says.
In retrospect, she admits that she had no idea what she was getting into or the amount of work it would take to complete a restoration. From the start, she fell in love with the unique features and architecture of the home, but it required updates ranging from cosmetic fixes to rewiring all electrical systems and none of this was easy. The entire first floor is made of hardwood, over 10 inches of cast concrete on a steel foundation. Piercing this to run new plumbing and electrical installations was just one of many challenges they faced.
The 95-year-old house is built like a fortress thanks to the planning and design of its original owner, John Esterline – engineer, philanthropist, and founder of the Eagle Creek Nursery. Although the Esterlines sold the house in the 1960s, what remains of their property remains. Both the Esterline family coat of arms and a Mayflower emblem for Ms. Esterline’s legacy are carved into limestone.
The whole house was restructured and restored from top to bottom – no room was left untouched. Surprisingly, the four bedroom, six bath floor plan has never been added or opened up over the years, and Joyce loves that about it. She finds the layout and size charming. The floor space of the kitchen remained unchanged, but was remodeled with custom-made walnut cabinets and a balcony overlooking the garden. The French doors are often open in the summer while the homeowners are cooking. What is now the lower living room was once part of the old garage. To maximize the back yard and create better flow, they walled and converted the garage into living space, raised the back yard 11 feet, and built two lovely detached garages with Honduran mahogany doors and hand-forged fittings.
Restoration was key throughout the process. Any changes needed to stay true to the house’s history. “A house like this has to have some formality,” says Joyce. Carefully selected elegance can be seen everywhere, from the hand-painted Fortuny chandeliers in the dining room to the peach-colored Rosso Verona marble from Italy in the main bathroom. On the first floor, the quarter-sawn white oak floors have been beautifully finished. Their shiny wood grain is now emphasized by antique carpets. Each door adds to the house’s Italian Renaissance flair and is clad in molded Italian marble that the architect has restored and reproduced if necessary to match what was originally there.
It is no accident that their efforts went so well. The architect who worked on the restoration of the home was H. Roll McLaughlin, a founding member of the Historic Landmarks Foundation (now known as the Indiana Landmarks) and considered by many in the community the godfather of Indianapolis heritage conservation. He loved the house as soon as he saw it and, like many other professionals working on the project, appreciated the exterior stonework. The exterior brick is laid in Flemish Bond, a 17th century style that required a great deal of time and skill. Every second brick is laid for a refined, classic appearance.
Joyce now shares the house with her fiancé Steve, and artifacts from her travels can be seen in almost every room, with a wonderful story accompanying almost every item. She uses ancient Chinese stirrups as candle holders and Tibetan urns to decorate the dining table. “Everyone always wants to know what they are, and I just found them so interesting,” says Joyce. She found her in the Golden Triangle in Chicago, one of her favorite places selling fascinating relics. Woolly mammoth pearls hang over a pile of books in the solarium, the top one with the aptly titled I Married Adventure – a sweet nod to her life with Steve.
They love art, especially works by Indiana artists, and their homeland is home to CW Mundy, Denise Frazier Pettee, and Todd Reifers. In the living room, shiny Venetian plaster walls form the perfect backdrop for one of her favorite pictures, Frank Mason’s Passing Parade. After seeing A Light in the Dark: The Art and Life of Frank Mason, a documentary based on the painting, they spoke to the documentary filmmaker Mason’s great-nephew, who told them the scene, looking out a second-floor window at the Piazza Capranica in Rome. So they set out to find it and, out of sheer confidence, chose a hotel that was only five minutes from the town. “It was all meant to be and we had so much fun. We had lunch and some wine on the street below (the window in the picture) and we were absolutely delighted, ”says Joyce. All artwork was custom framed in New York so that the pieces stick together from room to room.
The restoration of the house was not limited to the interior. When Joyce moved in, the back yard was in a state of neglect – a big old pool, a crumbling wall, and not much vegetation. Previous owners had laid out the pool in the 1960s, and Joyce heard it was a pretty fun party place in those years. To breathe new life into the farm, she knew that the landscape architect Dick Gale was the only one for the job. They had known each other since 1978 when he was working on Joyce’s first house. Before founding his own company, Gale learned at the side of the nationally known landscape architect Frits Loonsten. His clients included LS Ayres, Eli Lilly, and Allen Whitehall Clowes, and he was an official landscape architect for Indiana University. Loonsten’s influence and guidance, as well as Gale’s love of travel, inspired his work for years. Joyce believes her garden overhaul was one of Gale’s favorite projects, and often remembers that he asked to drop in with guests and show them the transformation.
“Dick thought of everything,” says Joyce. “He diverted the driveways from the south to the north, built the circular driveway out of pea gravel, designed all the patios and sidewalks, and even arranged the two cottage garages.” He used an old technique called trellis that is found in formal European gardens , but was rarely seen in the United States. One type of trellis is an aerial hedge, a method of planting trees close together that resemble a sieve and pruning them for years until they are shaped like a hedge. Gale used aerial hedges to create beautiful definition – they’re cut low in some sections of the landscape to act as borders and left high in other areas to create privacy or borders. Airborne hedges often require years of careful trimming, but the payoff is well worth it.
A type of trellis, where a tree or shrub is trained to grow against a support and create a “living” design or sculpture, is another standout feature in the entire garden. Gale chose Winter King Hawthorns to run parallel through the center of the garden, pruning and guiding them to contain their size. With white flowers in spring and bright red berries against snow in winter, this sturdy tree offers interest for every season, just a different way Gale thought of everything.
Summertime brings bright pinks to the garden, with urns made of hibiscus and beautiful bougainvillea popping against the lush greenery and cool blue fountains. Engledow brings various palm trees with him, while other plants grow at Dammann (they also store the plants over the winter). Joyce pots succulents in soft lilacs and delicate greens to decorate the outdoor table tops. Although Gale passed away in 2016, his company, Dick Gale Landscape & Design, does garden maintenance at least once a week during the summer – they cut everything by hand and don’t use power tools.
After Joyce lived in the apartment for 25 years, her favorite things are not the palladium windows or Honduran mahogany garage doors, but all the wonderful people she met along the way and how their stories intertwine. The house feels like a castle to the couple’s grandchildren, but to Joyce and Steve it’s their happy oasis. She is surrounded by memories of all her fun outings, and nothing beats a stroll through her garden on a summer night.
gallery (Photography by Tony Valainis):