by ELISABETH ANDREWS
photography by KENDALL REEVES
This home was featured in Bloom’s June/July 2016 Homes Issue.
Michelle Martin Colman doesn’t think of herself as owning the home she shares with her husband, David, on East 1st Street. Nor are they merely caretakers for the striking Spanish Colonial Revival house. A more precise term for the relationship she has to the 1920s’ limestone dwelling is that of confidant.
“The house talks about what it likes and dislikes,” says Michelle, a former shop owner and etiquette expert who describes herself as a “social entrepreneur.” She asserts that the structure welcomes handmade things and shuns mass-produced goods. “I’m careful not to bring in anything too processed,” she says.
Accordingly, she and David, a retired attorney, fill the house they have lived in for 35 years with antiques and one-of-a-kind objects. In addition to the home’s original rugs and complete set of Harvard Classics (for which the built-in dining room bookcase was designed), Michelle has added touches such as a 19th-century mirror her relatives brought over from Hungary and heirloom baby buntings she repurposed as pillow shams. Her kitchen island started life as an obstetric table—she removed the stirrups and added the marble slab that the home’s original Italian matriarch, Christina Donato, used for rolling out pasta dough.
The Colmans are only the third owners of the house, which limestone carver Harry Donato designed for his family in 1928. The home features wrought iron–framed arched windows, a hand-carved limestone fireplace, and a vaulted belfry entrance that indeed attracts bats. In between the Donatos and the Colmans, the home belonged to Otto and Alma Henthorn, who ran the eponymous Henthorn Bar in the 1940s and ’50s.
Michelle and David have taken great care to maintain the home’s historic character, crediting Nashville, Indiana, woodworker Randall O’Donnell, Nasir Jallal of Bloomington’s Kashan Rugs, and the experts at Kleindorfer’s Hardware and Variety Store with ensuring the home’s preservation. The light fixtures are original, aside from the hallway ceiling lights that once hung in a movie theater. Features the Colmans added were chosen to reinforce the sense of history, such as a bathroom sink from the early years of the West Baden Springs Hotel and art deco–style sandblast etchings on the sunroom windows by Nashville artist Timothy Fannin.
Having raised three children in the house (the eldest, Gabriel, runs The Venue Fine Art & Gifts), the Colmans intend to remain in their home as long as possible. In order to make this plan viable in light of the expense and time required to maintain the nearly century-old structure, they have become advocates for changing the zoning laws regarding single- family occupancy.
“I think it would be a great solution for our neighborhood to enable owner- occupiers like us to share their homes with more than one other person,” says David. “To age well in place, we’re going to need some help.”
As a boy I did yard work for Alma and her daughter Helen. Mrs. Henthorn had a 56 or 57 pink Cadillac. She would pick me up in it and bring me to work at the house or their building on Kirkwood. I would help clean the apartments upstairs. Every now and again Mrs. Henthorn would let me back the car out of the garage. I remember how narrow and unforgiving the driveway could be. Anyway, so nice to see the inside of the house again. Mrs. Henthorn (Alma) would be so pleased.