An Evolving Home for a Family of Five in Indiana

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This was originally three rooms. Your standard split-level main floor – living, kitchen, dining room. We took down the walls and raised the ceiling. We kept some of the 60s touches, complimented them with some mid-century furniture. (Image credit: Gina Rogers Photography)

Name: Susan Yeley, her husband, 3 kids and 1 dog
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
The basics: 12 years, owned |3,000 square feet

Susan, an interior designer, has slowly and lovingly renovated her home to meet the needs of her family of five. Taking their time with updates and expansions has helped the house truly make the lives of its inhabitants happier and healthier.

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: In 2005, I was 37 weeks pregnant with our first child. In one day, my husband and I closed the sale of our Lincoln Square condo in Chicago, hopped in a U-Haul, and drove four hours south — barely making it to close on this half-century-old house in Bloomington, Indiana. We had grown up in the area, met as students at IU, moved to Chicago, and, in a decision made in a long-winding line for a rollercoaster one August, decided to opt for having children young(ish) and seeing the world old(ish). We decided: we’d get pregnant, get Brian a job at IU, and move back to the only town we could see ourselves in in Indiana. The astounding part of that ludicrously naïve plan? It worked.

And so, just weeks before the birth of our first daughter, we moved into what is still our home today in a dense older neighborhood about two miles from the Indiana University campus. The previous owners (there have only been two) had done us the service of giving us an almost-blank slate inside – tearing out carpet and painting the walls crisp white – and outside, planting a thriving wildflower garden in front and a luscious vegetable garden in back. One of the brokers at the closing had spent her childhood visiting her grandparents in this house, and recounted to us stories of Thanksgiving gatherings while we signed. It’s a small town, Bloomington. We were back home in Indiana.

Our first big project kept me from twiddling my thumbs in the last week before Anna was born. Wood floors and drywall replaced vinyl, carpet and paneling in the family room – a low-ceilinged room on a concrete slab – and we shifted the orientation of the space by ripping out a closet and replacing it with a place for a tv and the book collection I can’t seem to purge. (The fiction section is in the Family Room, alphabetized by author’s last name.)

Just a year and a half later, our son Simon came along, and a few years after that, Liza. Somewhere in that blur, we realized we liked town-living and gave up the vague thought we had harbored of moving out to a piece of land and building ourselves the Farnsworth House of South Central Indiana. We bloomed where we were planted. We replaced windows, not just upgrading them but enlarging and adding additional, to let more light in; we swapped out the white aluminum siding for charcoal-stained cedar; we added a screen porch and deck. Still, in 2011, I found myself sitting in the (knock-off; sigh) Eames chair in the living room nursing Liza, and I knew that the wall between the kitchen and living room had to come down.

Down it came, soon enough. In 2011, we embarked on our first major renovation of the house, transforming that main floor, so typical to split-levels in our town, from a closed-off kitchen and not-often-used dining and living room into an open and warm family center. We busted the ceiling up into the attic and opened the back wall up for windows, from which I still watch kids swing in the backyard while I do dishes. I wanted quartz countertops and a built-in buffet and six skylights; we settled for laminate, no built-in, and two skylights, “for now.” It hasn’t dampened our enjoyment and use of the room.

By 2014 it was clear we needed more space. Four bedrooms and 1½ baths weren’t cutting it for our family as well as the growing business Susan Yeley Interiors was fast becoming. We shopped around but were loath to move into another house after we had made so many changes we loved, or to another neighborhood when our neighbors were the rock-solid type you didn’t leave behind lightly. I didn’t want to work outside the home, as I was still “the Mom”. The kids were home, often with friends, after school and on days off. It didn’t make sense for me to move the business off-site. So in 2016 we broke ground on a studio and ensuite bath addition.

As we were getting ready one morning in our new bathroom a few weeks ago, my husband said, “This project was way too expensive.” I’ve heard that, er, a couple times before. He spit out his toothpaste and went on: “But I must say, it makes a real difference in how I feel in the morning getting ready in this space.”

There it was. For a gal who ditched a PhD program in Philosophy and Religion to go to design school, a stay-at-home mom who a decade ago was trying so hard to claim a useful and relevant identity for herself; that’s all I need. To hear someone for whom I’ve designed a space say that the changes have made a real, genuine difference in his life.

What’s even better than that? Knowing that the people those changes have affected so deeply, are your people.

What is your favorite room and why? That’s a hard question. We just added my studio and the ensuite bath above it this year, and insofar as I got to design the space — from the soaring ceilings and high windows to the plumbing fixtures and low profile trim — I do love it. I’m typing this in my studio with a ray of sunshine sitting on my shoulder and a rabbit outside my window about 36 inches from me. Still, the heart of our life and family happens in the open kitchen/living area in the original part of the house. We gather there for everything from breakfast to puzzles, dinner parties and larger gatherings, family birthdays, card games, and the kids’ “shows” they stage for us. It’s modern but warm, bright but cozy, and just big enough.

If you could magically change something about your home, what would it be? One thing we could actually do would be to make all the old-fashioned base and window trim go away! A two-car garage would be wonderful too, but property lines will never allow for that. Oh, and what would be really magical would be real landscaping! I’m at a complete loss outside the house.

Susan’s words of wisdom: Here are the elements of design that I recommend. Philosophically, I recommend the 3 P’s: Planning, Priorities and Patience.

Thanks, Susan!

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