A limestone classic
[This column originally ran in the Bloomington Herald-Times on Nov. 23 2013. http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/life/at_home/a-limestone-classic/article_6828d926-0eac-547f-8685-155ca1118eb5.html]
One of Elm Heights’ architectural landmarks is a handsome limestone two-story in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The home’s unique architectural details include arched window and door openings, pegged wide-plank oak floors, and a fabulous pink sandstone fireplace surround.“The house was built around 1929 or 1930 by Alfred Bruner, a stonemason from France,” noted owner Ada Simmons, who bought the house in 2002 with her husband Thom. “Bruner was a talented stonecarver and vice president of one of the local mills, the F.B. Harris Cut Stone Company.”
The home was Bruner’s pride and joy. He furnished the entire interior – everything from curtains to cabinets to rugs to furniture – with elegant décor purchased in a single large order from Louisville’s J. L. Strassel Company. But Bruner lost his wealth in the Depression and sold his beautiful house after living there only five years.
Bruner had built his home using the very best materials. The central staircase has ornate wrought iron balusters and the breakfast nook sits in an angled bay framed on the outside with spiraling limestone columns at each corner. Each successive owner of the home has taken good care of the house, a responsibility that has involved careful thought and expense throughout the years.
“The previous owners made a number of significant and tasteful changes,” said Ada. “They transformed the garage and another small room into a 21st-century family room with lovely wood trim, built-in bookshelves, and cabinetry. They also renovated the kitchen and both bathrooms. They added a custom wrought iron fence around the yard, and also installed a new clay ceramic tile roof.”
Every owner puts their own mark on a house, she pointed out.
“When Thom and I moved in, we did our share to add to the aesthetics and functionality of the house. We replaced all the iron windows for the sake of energy conservation. We tried to be respectful of the original design, so they’re as close as we could get to the originals, with wood.”
Ada also designed and planted a beautiful garden that wraps around the house, with shade plants along the east side and beds of sun-living perennials near the sun-drenched northwest patio. The original stone garden walls were leaning and bulging after eighty-some years, so Ada and Thom had them rebuilt by a local stonemason. They chose soft colors for walls throughout the house, and added a master bath in a small room off the master bedroom which had formerly served as the Bruner children’s nursery.
How did Ada and Thom come across the house?
“When we started house-hunting, I had always wanted to live in an old house, and Thom had always wanted to be able to walk to work,” Ada explained. “We looked at another house a block away, but it sold the very day we looked at it. We realized we had to move fast if we wanted to live in this neighborhood. When we saw this house, we recognized its very good bones and felt we could address the areas that still needed some attention. For me, the deal-breaker on a house is inadequate sunlight. This house receives light all day long, and it’s grounded well on its lot so there are interesting sights from every window. We looked at the house, made an offer almost immediately, and moved in a couple of months later.”
One day a neighbor saw an elderly gentleman looking intently at Thom and Ada’s house. The neighbor struck up a conversation with the man and found that he was Alfred Bruner’s son, who had traveled back to Bloomington to look at his childhood home. Later that evening, Thom and Ada invited him inside to look around, and after his visit he mailed them a trove of vintage photographs and information about the house, including the huge list of décor purchased from the Louisville home furnishings company. The Simmonses treasure these photos, which include shots of several lovely limestone garden sculptures carved by Bruner. (These sculptures are unfortunately no longer on the lot, after former owners parted with them.)
Bruner’s son also explained the purpose of the strange limestone shower in the basement, which has a fish-shaped spout as well as an overhead showerhead. The shower was apparently used for the benefit of a small alligator which the Bruner children owned.
Today the home may lack alligators, but it’s filled with sunlight and content.
“One of the things I like about the house is that it’s warm and inviting, and it lends itself to ornamentation because of the size of the rooms,” Ada mused. “It invites you to be bold in your use of seasonal decorations, for instance. And it’s great for entertaining; people can spread out and have conversation clusters everywhere. Also, because we have used a limited color palette throughout the house, you get a sense of connectedness from room to room. It’s not an open concept home but it flows very well from one end to the other. The rooms don’t separate, they join.”
She summed up, “I cannot imagine a happier house to live in.”