Craftsman home in Irvington blends historic design with owner’s art

In 2020, Halie and Justin Vining were focused on planning for the future. They had ruled out buying a house until a friend who also happens to be a real estate agent posted a new listing for an Irvington gem.

An evening drive-by led the couple to call from the car saying, “Be prepared to help us put in an offer.”

Although older homes had been on their radar, they just hadn’t found anything that did not require considerable restoration.

This home was different. Previous owners Brian and Emily Mack spent 17 years living in and lovingly restoring the 1908 Craftsman home built by Carlos and Anne Recker. It was designed by Gustav Stickley and is the only known example of his work in Indianapolis. It is also one of only two homes attributed to the designer in Indiana.

When the Vinings purchased their home, they thought they would be living in an empty house while waiting for their budget to catch up with their investment. Instead, the Macks sold them much of the furniture on the first floor.

Most of the house has been modernized, with original features restored or retained. Knob and tube wiring has been replaced throughout most of the house. Off the kitchen, a small room that once housed blocks of ice for keeping foods cool is now a half bath. Layers and layers of wallpaper were stripped—including ceiling wallpaper in some rooms. In an upstairs bedroom, beneath all that wallpaper, the Macks discovered an original painted border.

In their restoration process, they pored over articles and detailed descriptions of the home discovered in “The Craftsman,” a publication by Gustav Stickley that included the floor plan and construction details for the home identified as Craftsman House: Series of 1905, Number VIII.

“The Macks were meticulous about following the published plans for the house,” Justin said. “That included the use of period colors throughout.”

The Macks gave the Vinings the original copy of “The Craftsman,” as well as the application to the National Register of Historic Places completed by the Irvington Historical Society on behalf of the home. Both documents provide further details about how the home was constructed, previous ownership, and the history of Arts and Crafts architecture in Indianapolis.

“Essentially, we live in a Craftsman museum,” Halie said.

The Craftsman magazine describes the home’s character, laying out the types of wood to be used for woodwork (grayed chestnut) and flooring (oak). It illustrates thoughtful features focused on comfortable living, such as the inclusion of a large square coat closet that opens from the entrance into the kitchen—creating a convenient passageway. The dining room’s details boast ample dimensions and provide a light-filled space.

Favorite spaces for the Vining family are the intermediate landing between the first and second floor where Justin, an artist who specializes in plein air (painting in outdoor daylight), maintains a growing collection of works by artists with whom he’s painted.

This room, like so many in the home, is filled with a warm glow of light at different times of day. The couple also enjoys relaxing in the sunroom, which was likely enclosed in the 1950s, behind the main living room. “It has a rustic cabin vibe,” Justin said.

The biggest upgrade the Vinings have made is the inclusion of an extensive collection of Justin’s own artwork, as well as that of many Indiana artists—from the likes of Clifton Wheeler (a painting above the living room fireplace) to Harry Davis and Kyle Ragsdale.

From their daughter Penny’s bedroom walls to the master suite to the landing room between the first and second floors, the Vining home is a living gallery of local historic and contemporary Indiana artists.

The beauty of these pieces adds to the abiding sense of history for the Recker house.

“We feel as if we are living inside a work of art,” Justin said.•

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Justin Vining is an award-winning professional artist and owns Vining Gallery on the near eastside of Indianapolis. To learn more about Justin’s work as well as the gallery’s calendar of events,  visit vininggallery.com.

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