Don Steininger always wanted a property on the water. When he found one on Black Lake outside Columbia City, he says, “I initially thought I’d build a cabin by the lake.”
Flash forward past a lot of heavy lifting and Amish craftsmanship, and what you get is Black Lake Lodge, Don and Kathy Steininger’s vacation home.
Don, a longtime Fort Wayne developer, says when he saw the view from the top of a hill overlooking the 30-acre lake, he made a snap decision.
The spot was the site of a huge barn that the previous owner, a nonprofit children’s home, had outfitted with a basketball court and used for recreation. But instead of building new, he decided to redo the nearly century-old structure into living quarters.
That, he says, meant taking the structure apart, piece by piece, and reconstructing it after adding the requisite heat, electricity and plumbing – plus a few frills.
After all, what would a lake house be without custom-made arched windows overlooking the water, and a big fireplace in a fieldstone wall running floor to ceiling in the great room?
Still, the aspect of the redo of which Steininger, 71, is most proud is the barn’s arched roof trusses. They were engineered and framed on site by Amish craftsmen, he says – a design that used three long pieces of wood recycled from an Auburn factory placed together to form curves that make the place’s exterior look a little like an ark turned upside down.
“I had Amish out of Shipshewana that helped me every day for two summers,” Steininger says. “I really liked working with them. … They’re so cooperative and so happy, and they love their trade. I think they enjoyed the job because it was unique for them.”
The barn now contains three living levels plus a loft area reachable by a rustic ladder. The area serves as a playroom/bedroom for visiting children, Steininger says.
Front and back living rooms accommodate lounging and dining, and a lower level contains a fireplace, bar, media and game space and bedroom.
The first floor also houses bedrooms and the upper level, also a loft, contains two suites with enough sleeping space for parents and children. Altogether, there are five bathrooms and a half bath.
“We use it (the house) as a retreat,” says Steininger, who has done commercial developments in the Chapel Ridge area and is in the process of completing one near Parkview Health’s north campus.
“We entertain here and have family gatherings, and sometimes corporate events,” Steininger says, adding that he designed the place mostly himself, without the use of blueprints.
When it comes to interiors, they have been the bailiwick of Kathy, who has used a mix of antiques and contemporary furnishings.
Some have a nautical touch, especially in the sunroom. Overlooking the lake, the room features blue wicker chairs, a wicker sofa upholstered in off-white and touches of red.
Two searchlights from a German World War I battleship, which were salvaged by a friend from a scrap yard in Turkey, have been repurposed into chandeliers in the back living area and game room.
The kitchen, with country-style red cabinets, has a center mini island fashioned from a dough box, and a great-room coffee table is made from an old sled. The home’s front door was repurposed from a stable.
Hung throughout the house are mirrors framed by mosaics that Kathy fashioned from pieces of old china. That craft, and collecting quilts placed on beds and hung over ledges throughout the house, are her hobbies.
“I guess I’m the frustrated architect, and she’s the frustrated interior designer,” says Don Steininger, adding that he started learning about the construction trades as a teen from a brick mason uncle who was willing to sign him on as a tender, a mason’s helper.
All these years later, he says, it gives him a charge to see something he sketched out come to life – especially when a structural engineer gives it a clean bill of health.
And it’s kind of neat, he adds, “When somebody says, ‘Your place ought to be in a magazine.’ ”