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Living the good life in a Bloomington cottage

August 7, 2012

[This post first appeared as an article in the Bloomington Herald-Times “Homes” section on August 4, 2012, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2012/08/04/homes.living-the-good-life-in-a-near-west-side-cottage.sto. Click on any image to enlarge. ]

Veda and Steve on the porch of Veda’s backyard art studio, built using architectural salvage to resemble a Victorian-era coach house.

Bloomington’s Near West Side is a historic district filled with many lovely old houses built around the end of the 1800s, but the home of Veda Stanfield and Steve Arnold is one of the most appealing.

From the shady front verandah to the cottage garden in the back, the entire place emanates old-fashioned charm. Although the interior is fully modern, with skylights and a contemporary kitchen, there’s still the sense of being firmly footed in Bloomington’s past.

Veda admired the house for many years but had no idea she would someday own it.

“We were meant to be here,” she emphasized, then related the story of how she ended up as its owner.

Some years ago, when Veda was a single parent, she and her son rented the house just across the alley. When Darryl and Eric Antilla began rehabbing the old house with the verandah, the manager of Veda’s rental commented “they’re doing great things to that house.” Veda watched their progress from a distance.

The living room has two shades of green on the walls, an enormous skylight, and an oilcloth that Veda made herself.

“I thought the house was so sweet, but I had no chance of owning it at that time,” she said. “Years later, after I’d married Steve, we looked at everything that came up for sale in this neighborhood. We didn’t see anything we wanted until we were at a holiday party at a friend’s place and I met the owners of this house. I told them, ‘if you ever sell, let me know.’ They said they were thinking of moving out west. I told them ‘don’t even list the house, I’ll buy it!’ I came over and toured the house, and on the spot I signed an agreement to buy the house, subject to Steve’s approval.”

Veda and Steve were living at that time in a condo on the other side of town, and of course needed to find a buyer for it.

“After church one day I overheard a woman say to a friend, ‘My boyfriend saw this great place on the Near West Side but it was already sold.’ And she was talking about this house! I told her that Steve and I were buying it, but that we had a lovely condo that her friend might be interested in.’ And he ended up buying it.”

The charming kitchen of this 1800s home is fully contemporary.

Twenty-some years ago, the Near West Side had not yet been gentrified.

“When we moved back into this neighborhood it wasn’t cool yet,” Veda laughed. “It was the wrong side of the tracks – back when there still were tracks. The Showers factory hadn’t been rehabbed yet and the Farmers’ Market wasn’t here yet. A few years after we moved in, this house was on the annual BRI house tour, and people walked through and said, surprised, ‘This is really nice…but isn’t it a dangerous neighborhood?’”

Actually, a strong sense of community has always united the Near West Side, which has an active neighborhood association. Veda and Steve researched their home and learned that their house began as a two-room double-pen cottage in the 1860s, and by the 1890s had gained the front room with the verandah and the rear addition. Their house was owned originally by the Thornton family.

The art studio was built on the site of the old Thornton barn.

“My former landlord across the alley was John Layman, who was born in his house and died there 86 years later,” Veda recalled. “He remembered sneaking into May Thornton’s yard as a boy to steal apples from her tree. When we built my artist’s studio in the back, John told us that it was exactly where May Thornton used to have her barn.”

 

By the 1890s the original double-pen house had gained a room built onto the front, with a wraparound verandah, as well as a rear addition.

The studio is Veda’s; she’s an accomplished painter. Golden Hands Construction designed the building to resemble an old-time carriage house or barn. All its windows and its Queen Anne porch were recycled from other now-vanished West Side buildings. May Thornton’s barn was only one of many throughout the neighborhood, for in the old days most people kept a cow or chickens in the back yard.

Lacey, a gold-laced Wyandotte hen, stands in the rich black earth of the back garden.

In keeping with neighborhood tradition, Veda keeps three fat hens that scratch in the deep, rich black earth in the back yard. Their coop is positioned inside a decorative enclosure built by a neighbor who is a finish carpenter; its superstructure looks exactly like a garden arbor.

Gazing at the carriage-house studio, the cottage garden and the hens can give a visitor the distinct sense of having stepped back in time a century or more.

The compact kitchen work-station.

This house was a rental for quite a while in the mid-20th century, but for a much longer span of time it was a home that people loved and took care of

“People who like suburban living say, ‘It’s so awful that people walk down the sidewalk just three feet from your front porch,’” Veda said. “But that’s the good part of it for us! We sit and greet our friends who stop to talk to us.”

“I just love living here,” Steve emphasized “It’s easy to walk downtown or go to Bloomingfoods. It has a welcoming feel. Having been here for twenty years now, we know the people who live around here. Looking out the windows, the trees we planted at the beginning are now large. It’s very satisfying.”

Veda and Steve dine on the back porch when the weather permits.

The pergola-styled chicken enclosure.

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