HOME TOUR: 20-acre modern prairie home in Zionsville

After their family of four took a six-month country tour in their 28’ Airstream, Kevin and Rachelle Swan were looking to simplify their lives and extend the feeling of camping they had so enjoyed on their trip.

They purchased a 20-acre wooded lot about 30 minutes outside of downtown Indianapolis, sold their neighborhood-surrounded house and reached out to Chris Short of HAUS Architects to start talking about building their dream home. Kevin had photographed Chris’s wedding back in 2005, and designed the logos for his companies.

The Swans have been fans of Dwell and modern architecture for years. They sent Chris and Derek, the other HAUS architect on the project, a crude floorpan drawing and many Dwell photographs, highlighting features they loved. HAUS was able to capture the essence of their ideas after the first meeting; the final house isn’t far from the first sketches Chris presented.

Design in hand, they were ready to build. The Swans turned to the architect’s construction management company, WERK | Building Modern. 

They broke ground in October 2015, accounting for a nearby abandoned pipeline, sloping ground and wetlands. 

They had to raise the house up with concrete to keep the walk-out basement, which nearly blew their entire contingency budget before they even broke ground.

The 11 months of building was an extremely challenging time. They spent time interviewing and hiring contractors, overseeing contractor work, reporting errors and concerns, solving problems, questioning experts, and doubting their decisions.

Meanwhile, they were choosing interior materials based on samples coming in the mail and bargain shopping for fixtures on sites like Wayfair and YLighting. Lowes became their second home choosing appliances and designing the kitchen with Kraft Maid cabinets and Colorquartz countertops.

And five-hour round-trips to IKEA for pantries and closets became old hat. There was a point when it felt like the house knew what it wanted to be, and the Swans were just along for the ride.

By The Numbers

Structure: Wood-Framed on Concrete Foundation – New Construction
Completed: 2016
Square Feet: 4,200 sqf (finished living space)
Lot Size: 20 acres
Bedrooms: 4
Full Bathrooms: 3
Half Bathrooms: 1
Smart Home Tech: Nest

 Here’s what mattered and how it was achieved:

1.) Built to include their Airstream: Annie, their Airstream, is hugged by one continuous, sloped, metal roof that protects her from weather and allows them to have a living space for both personal and Airbnb guests. They have a full-hook up for her and for a second RV on the other side, in case someone wants to party with them.

2.) Natural light and connection with outdoors: They love to be in the Airstream when there are storms because the sound of rain on her aluminum shell and skylights is mesmerizing. They chose a metal roof to mimic the Airstream shell, and added skylights above the master bed to watch the rain fall and see the stars above.

The home has tremendous natural light. On the main level, floor to ceiling windows flank both sides of the home for a see-through effect. Even more windows are piled on top of these on the south side where the ceiling is taller for a passive-solar design. The master bed is covered with windows on three sides and skylights above. There was no need for curtains on this private lot, so the master bath’s exterior wall is one long window. Natural light in the basement was achieved by adding an exterior retaining wall to allow a wall of tall windows in the main basement room.  You feel like you are outdoors all of the time.

3.) Modern home with a warm, homey feeling: The shape and materials of a modern home can sometimes come off as cold and unwelcoming. They decided to warm up the boxy space by using natural materials inside like cork and wood. The same wood that wraps the exterior of the home is used to cover interior walls as well.

In the main room, there is the appearance that the interior wood wall is just an extension of the exterior wood walls on either side. A cast-iron wood stove and pipe against this wood wall brings the feeling of warmth to a literal level. Also, they dropped the ceiling in the kitchen to make it more cozy.

4.) Blend in with the prairie, wetland, and forest surroundings: The home is tucked away on a prairie that is a half-mile off the nearest road. You cannot see it until you get right up to it because the driveway is thickly lined with trees. When you turn that corner, the peace you would naturally feel with encountering a five-acre prairie covered with Queen Anne’s Lace and clover is only accentuated by the home. You can see the prairie and wetland through the home, and the home itself is covered with naturally greyed-out wood, vertically placed to mimic the surrounding trees.

5.) Flexible hosting space: An open floor-plan with “floating walls” was essential for flexible space. Both the main room and the basement are huge, open spaces. The kitchen table seats four and can extend to seat 10. The couch can be moved and we can add another 10-person table for special dinners. Just outside of the main room they have a 1,200 square foot deck that can seat a whole party. They have a guest bedroom in the basement that is also used as a workout room, feasible with a Murphy bed.

6.) Efficient layout: They spent a lot of time thinking about how their daily lives could be more efficient with design. You will find no doors where there is no need for doors. This includes the kitchen pantry, office, and the master bathroom. The bedrooms are purposefully small for relaxing. There is no need for clothes storage in the bedroom because the connected closets are designed to store and wash clothes; the master bedroom closet and the kid-quarters’ closet each have their own stacked washer and dyer so clothes can be placed on the shelf/hanger straight from the dryer.

7.) Low utility costs: They took advantage of the wetland and chose to install a geothermal system to heat and cool our home. They do not have access to natural gas, so keeping electric costs low was important. The loop runs under the wetland which helps keep the system efficient. They designed the main roof to be slanted at the degree to maximize passive solar energy; they are amazed at how well this has worked both in the winter and the summer. Despite all the windows, the home is surprisingly cheap to heat and cool. Everything is electric, and the electric bills have been about $275/month.

8.) Low exterior maintenance: The exterior of the home includes thermally modified Ash and cement boards, neither of which require paint, sealer, or stain. The decking is plastic composite, the slanted roof is metal, and the flat roofs are covered with industrial membrane.

9.) Dwell home for less than $850K: They put much time and effort into making this dream home affordable. They used giant Pella sliding glass doors instead of the desired Nanawall. They painted the wood interior of doors (and windows) a dark grey to mimic expensive metal windows. They bought high-end, but floor-model appliances. They pieced together plumbing and lighting fixtures on Wayfair and YLighting. They hired a friend to install flooring, install all the trim, and design & build custom vanities. Kevin and friends did all the painting.

Their home was recently featured on the Architects' Home Tour on Sept. 16-17.

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