What It's Like to Live in This Indiana Midcentury Modern Residence
Owners Bob Coscarelli and Karen Valentine treasure their time in the Frost House
From our interview with Bob Coscarelli:
I moved to Chicago from Lansing, Michigan, when I was 20, and started working at Hedrich Blessing Photographers. From 1929 on, they documented the history of architecture—not just in Chicago, but nationally and even globally. A lot of the historic archival photos you see, especially in and around Chicago and the Frank Lloyd Wright stuff, are by photographers from Hedrich Blessing.
When I met Karen, we immediately realized we both had this passion for design, whether it was a beautifully designed pen or a beautifully designed house or interior. In fact, before I told her I loved her, I said, “I’d love to build a house with you someday.” For us, a house really was always a glass box in the woods. That’s what we wanted. We wanted our own Farnsworth House.
Our real estate agent sent us the link to this house in 2016, this incredibly Modernist house that was so striking. And we were just like, “What is that?” We started looking at the interior photographs and we recognized all the Knoll furniture that was original to the house. We did a FaceTime walkthrough and within a week had it under contract.
We found out many months later that the house was from the Alside Homes Corp. in Akron, Ohio, which made its name by pioneering enamel-baked aluminum siding in the late 1940s. Everybody was trying to figure out how to make prefab houses for middle-class homeowners, so the company brought on this man, Emil Tessin.
Tessin was both the architect and the engineer of its prefab houses. Alside also brought on furniture and industrial designer Paul McCobb to do the kitchens and the built-ins.
You could then buy these packages where furniture would be included.
Everyone has seen a glass box before, but this house has these bold colors mixed into that aesthetic. It was sort of International Style meets Midcentury Modernism and [artist Piet] Mondrian. What makes it even more special is that it was this beacon of Modernism and taste at an affordable level.
Robert J. Frost was a beloved pathologist in the area. The house had been built and staged in 1964. Frost and his wife, Amelia, came and looked at it and immediately fell in love. And they said, basically, “We love the house, we’ll take it.” Alside told them, “No, we’ll find you a lot and then you can order whatever model you want and then we’ll build it there.” Dr. Frost said, “No, we want this house. We want this furniture and we want the lot next door, so nobody builds an ugly traditional house next to us.”
The Frosts bought the house and didn’t really change anything. Their daughter said that when they moved in, it felt like the Jetsons’ house, with clean, modern lines and built-in furniture.
We really didn’t rehab much after we bought it from the Frosts. There’s been no major change to the aesthetic of the house.
We have found all these sales materials for the houses, and there’s tons of information as to what Alside was doing and what products and materials the company was using. So every decision that we’ve made is based on historical fact and what we see in the articles and the ads about the homes.
There was wool carpeting in the main living space. We knew that, even though the house was obviously very well cared for, you just don’t want to live on 50-year-old carpeting. They also had linoleum in the kitchen, and there were different colors of carpet in the other rooms. We pulled all that up and laid terrazzo tile everywhere, because we wanted to unify the flooring as much as possible. We saved remnants of the original carpeting and linoleum in case anyone ever wants to replicate them.
Karen, having grown up in Australia, wanted a swimming pool. We figured, it’s a prefab house, so let’s find a prefab fiberglass pool. The one we found is bright blue. Banksy, our dog, loves it.
We also wanted the garden to be as low maintenance or no maintenance as possible. So there are lots of evergreens and a butterfly garden in the side yard. Julie deLeon, a landscape designer in Chicago, worked with us on making the Midcentury Modern-inspired garden.
What’s so nice about the yard is that the topography around the dunes here is varied. So the pool yard is actually about 4 feet lower in elevation than the house. As you walk out toward the pool, you’re looking down at it, and the vistas are beautiful. The house sits perfectly along a north-south axis, so in the morning you get beautiful light coming in through the front. And then in the late afternoon you have a sunset filtered through all these 40-foot-tall arborvitae that are probably 50 years old now. Just being in a house and on a property that makes us feel one with nature—we pinch ourselves every day.
People seem interested in wanting to see the house and experience the house and come into the house. We’ve tried to tie any events we have here into some sort of charitable cause. We also hosted an event here last year with Eye Eaters, a series of site-specific dinner events.
We want people to be able to come in and walk through the house at their own pace. It’s fun for Karen and me to split off and take individual questions. We’ve kind of become accidental docents.
We just feel like we’re borrowing the house for a period of time. I still even have trouble saying it’s our house. I mean, really, the doctor and his wife lived here for 50 years and they’re the ones who set us up for success. That’s why the house is named after them. Their name is still on the mailbox.