Columbus Tour Spotlights Mid-Century Standouts

Indiana Landmarks’ annual Back to the Future tour features five residences in a Modernist Mecca.

Aton House, Columbus. (Photo by April Knox Photography)
Aton House, Columbus. (Photo by April Knox Photography)

Sleek and Stylish

It’s increasingly rare to find Modernist houses occupied by their original owners. Like time capsules, these homes offer a uniquely intimate and authentic glimpse of an era. The high-style ranch built for Benjamin and Esther Ranck in 1962 in Columbus, Indiana, is one such example. Dr. Ranck passed away in 2015, but Esther continues to live in the home, where virtually all living spaces retain their original finishes and period furnishings. It’s one of five exceptional residences that will be featured on Indiana Modern’s 2019 Back to the Future home tour in Columbus on May 18.

Benjamin and Esther met in Bloomington while attending Indiana University, choosing after graduation to establish Dr. Ranck’s family practice in Columbus—drawn by the community’s livability, thriving economy, and suitable schools. An education major, Esther wanted to study botany, and her lifelong passion for plants is reflected in the home’s unique interior planters and attached greenhouse.

Typical of its era, the house is strikingly horizontal. A band of floor-to-ceiling windows spans the street-facing wall of the living room, while a nearly windowless stone wall shields the bedroom wing from the street. A massive skylight illuminates the foyer, which includes a built-in stone fountain the Rancks’ daughter Melissa recalls her parents would turn on when they were entertaining guests. A nurse, Melissa grew up in the house with three siblings and now lives there as her mother’s caregiver.

Tall windows shed natural light on the living room, which features beamed vaulted ceilings and a stone corner fireplace. Nearby, the formal dining room includes three built-in interior planters along a wall of glass overlooking a freeform pool installed in 1975. The kitchen boasts original streamlined cabinetry by the Nappanee-based Mutschler Company, Formica countertops, and a peninsula with built-in cook-top, stainless-steel counter, and copper vent hood supported by legs resting on the counter. The sunken family room still features pecky cypress paneling, original pendant fixtures and built-in seating. Visitors on the May 18 tour will also see the cabana-like poolside laundry room with stand-in shower, original cabinetry, and tile.

Talivaldis “Ted” Meijers (1926-2012) shaped much of Columbus’s residential designs during the mid-twentieth century. His local company, Custom Built Homes, is responsible for the Ranck House’s distinctive design along with many others. A Latvian native, Meijers and his wife Ruta immigrated to the United States in 1949, arriving in Columbus in 1951, where he worked as a carpenter’s apprentice before establishing his construction firm.

Meijers constructed another home on this year’s tour in the Noblitt Falls subdivision, known as “The Lagoons” for its man-made lakes. Built in 1959 for orthopedic surgeon Dr. Floyd Mohler and his family, it is now home to local businesswoman Julie Aton. Passionate about Mid-Century Modern design, Aton shares her knowledge as a volunteer tour guide for the Columbus Area Visitors Center. “I knew I had to have this house on the very first day I toured it at the open house back in 2015,” Julie says. “I made an offer that same day, and have enjoyed furnishing it with period furniture and art.”

An architectural standout, the home’s post-and-beam construction supports a broad, central gabled roof with a window wall overlooking the lake behind the house. Coupled with the wide, screened-in back porch, the views give the home the feeling of a lakeside resort.

The house is filled with features considered state-of-the art in the late 1950s, including a built-in hamper that can be loaded in the master bathroom and unloaded in the adjacent laundry room. A Westinghouse electrical dock in the kitchen includes designated outlets for a coffee maker, popcorn machine, and electric griddle. The floor-plan illustrates progressive ideas in residential design, including a master bedroom separated from the other bedrooms, a finished walkout lower level with family room, and a single informal dining space

Aton and her fiancé, Chad Heimlich, reconnected during the last Back to the Future home tour in Columbus in 2011, both serving as docents at his mother’s house, another Meijers design.

Three additional houses will be open for the tour on Saturday, May 18, from 1-6 p.m. Advance tickets are $20 for non-members, $15 for Indiana Landmarks members, and $10 for Indiana Modern members. Day-of-tour tickets will be $25. For more on the tour’s headquarters and ticket outlets, call 317-639-4534 or visit the event page.

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