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When Joel Makowski was growing up in Bluffton in the 1970s, he never imagined he would someday own one of the homes he had played in as a child.
But that was part of what drew him and his wife, Patty, to their rambling midcentury modern home overlooking the Wabash River.
At first, he says, the couple wasn’t sure about the place, which had seven bedrooms and four baths. It had been built by an area doctor with eight children, including two sets of twins and one of Joel’s childhood playmates.
The house was really modern, and Patty was more the traditional type who liked to decorate with antiques.
“But Joel said he could see our furniture in here,” she says. “He could see the potential, and eventually I came around.”
Now, the house, built in 1967, has served them well for more than 20 years. And Patty says the home, one of a handful designed by a noted Fort Wayne architect, the late Kenneth D. Cole, “was a house built ahead of its time.”
Joel, 51, says that’s because Cole, known for designing a handful of Fort Wayne schools – Whitney Young Early Childhood Center; Lindley, Waynedale and Weisser Park elementary schools; and Lane Middle School – took much of his inspiration from the ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright.
“This is a Frank Lloyd Wright-style of house. (Cole) brings the outside elements inside the house,” he says, noting the structure is snugged around a terrace overlooked by large windows and doors from the main living areas. In turn, the terrace has an unencumbered view of the river.
Sided in natural cedar, the home has an unusual brick floor in the foyer that extends to the terrace through the dining room.
But, “The wow factor would probably be the fireplace,” Joel says. “I honestly think the house was designed around the fireplace. It’s a big, round, free-standing fireplace right in the center of the family room. It’s massive.”
Another innovation for its day: The home’s interior is more or less laid out in a circle, with what Joel calls “pods” for living areas.
From the front door, if you look to the left, there’s an office that attaches to the master bath, which attaches to the master bedroom. To the right, there’s the formal living room, which has a high ceiling and a row of overhead windows.
In the center of the house is a galley-style kitchen open to the dining and dine-in family rooms. Bedrooms – two of them oversized to accommodate the sets of twins – lie beyond that.
Patty, 51, says she especially appreciates the home’s kitchen, which allows her to share family time while she cooks.
“It’s kind of like the great room you see in houses now. It’s kind of open-concept,” she says, adding that the couple updated the kitchen with new appliances and painted the cabinetry white a few years ago to make the food prep seem more airy.
Below the main living area is a full finished basement that includes two more bedrooms – Patty, a veterinarian with Honegger Animal Hospital in Ossian, uses one of them as a sewing room for her quilting hobby. Quilts are prominently displayed throughout the home.
There’s also a movie/recreation room that has gotten a lot of use from the couple’s two children, Nick, 19, a freshman at Purdue University, and Rachel, 17, a junior at Bluffton High School.
“It was a fun house to grow up in. This was always the hangout spot,” Rachel says.
“We love that as a parent,” Joel says. “Over Christmas break, I think there was probably only one night, when we didn’t have kids here.”
The couple also has replaced all the windows in the house – more than 60 of them, in a process that took 10 years – and converted the fireplace to gas to make the home more energy-efficient. The bathrooms also have been updated.
“When we redid stuff, we wanted to make sure not to do anything drastic. We wanted to maintain the integrity of the house,” says Joel, who works from home as a sales manager for a Wisconsin-based cheese company.
He jokes that he often directs people to the house by telling them to look for “the Pizza Hut roof,” which actually houses the family room fireplace chimney.
“People, when you look at the outside, they think it’s neat, but 100 percent, when they walk in say ‘Wow,’ he says. “They say they can’t imagine what it looks like on the inside.”
Cole, who died in 2010, also designed an addition for Emmanuel Lutheran Church and the meetinghouse for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, both in Fort Wayne.
One obituary noted that while he had designed many public buildings, he “took the most pleasure in the joy in the eyes of his clients on his residential projects.”
Makowski says that’s fitting.
“It’s obvious,” he says, “that a lot of care went into this house.”