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It would have been easy for Nathan Taves and his partner, Don Jennings, to walk away from buying their home on Big Cedar Lake in the Tri-Lakes area north of Columbia City.
After all, the first real estate broker they called in 1999 didn’t even want to show them the house, which had been empty and on the market for about a year.
“He said it was dark and gloomy, and it would be a waste of time to look at it,” Jennings says.
The broker wasn’t exactly wrong. The living area of the house was lined with paneling that had been painted dark brown, and there were drafty windows and a leak or two.
But the two had enough vision to see beyond that.
“I’ve always been interested in architecture, and when we looked at the space of the house, that’s what we really loved,” Taves says. “We didn’t worry about wall colors.”
When a contractor they called inspected the place and found it structurally sound, the pair decided to buy. And since then, they’ve turned the home into a retreat from their busy lives as co-owners of BitterSweet Gifts in Fort Wayne.
Taves even created a retreat within a retreat by raising the roof of the home’s garage in 2003 to add a spacious second-floor studio for his work as an artist.
The studio has a kiln for his ceramic sculptures, hand-made work tables and big windows that allow natural light to infuse his paintings.
“It’s where things happen and I go on adventures as an artist. I know some of my artist friends are a little jealous,” says Taves, 60, a former cartographer for the city of Fort Wayne.
Taves, who has exhibited throughout the Midwest and nationally, creates paintings that combine abstract shapes with landscape elements. And it’s not hard to imagine where inspiration for the palette of blues and greens in his most recent work might spring.
The house, built in the mid-1970s, has impressive views of woods and the lake from windows at the rear of both its first floor and lower level.
“It definitely has been an influence,” Taves says of the scenery.
Other features of the house helped sell them on the property, Taves and Jennings say.
The lower-level living area’s ceiling is trimmed with mortise-and-tenon beams that a previous owner had scavenged from a demolished barn, while both levels have fireplaces made from fieldstone that the owner had hauled to the site.
“When you’re downstairs, it’s like being in the loft area of a barn,” says Taves, who adds that the space reminds him of when he was a child visiting his grandparents’ dairy farm near Stillwater, Minn.
Both say the living areas are their favorite parts of the house.
“A lot of houses, people gravitate to the kitchen, but in our place, people gravitate to the living room. It has a great fireplace with a seating area,” Jennings, 58, says. “I’m sitting here right now being able to look at the lake. It’s pretty today with all the snow.”
One of the first things the couple did to remodel the home was paint the living area’s paneling white. They furnished the space with a contemporary, and somewhat minimalist, stainless-and-leather look.
It’s to better show off Taves’ art in what amounts to a home gallery.
“I’m always moving things around and taking things up and taking them down and sending some of them off to a show. To me, that’s fun, to rearrange things,” he says.
The two are now debating what their next project might be. They’re thinking about redoing the kitchen, which is serviceable if a bit dated.
But Taves says he likes the wood cupboards and thinks they could easily be recycled into something more contemporary.
“We also entertained adding on to the house,” Taves says.
But for now, they’re enjoying their home as it is. People never suspect the way the house looks on the inside from the outside, Jennings says.
“It was a house where you had to look past a lot of things – the dirt and the mirror tiles on the walls – and keep your eye on the structure and the space, and use your vision to see what it could be,” Taves adds.
“We just spent the last month working seven days a week at the shop for Christmas, and the one thing the house does for us is it really does become a sanctuary and a retreat.
“It’s a place where we can separate our business life from the rest of our lives,” he says. “We like to come home and get away.”