Karen Valentine has mid century architecture in her blood. Melbourne born and raised, her grandfather was a builder in Bendigo, who built over 750 (!!) mid century homes over his career, the majority of which are still standing today. After studying at Deakin University, Karen moved to Canada many years ago, later settling in Chicago. It was here, in 2003, that she met her husband Bob Coscarelli – an American photographer. The pair were married in 2004, and honeymooned in a Frank Lloyd Wright cottage.
With a shared passion for modernist design, it seems inevitable that Karen and Bob would eventually become custodians of their own mid century home. That’s exactly what happened, after the pair purchased this truly remarkable house in Indiana last year.
In fact, the move to Indiana wasn’t exactly planned. ‘We were looking close to Lake Michigan for a mid-century house that we could do some modest renovations to and have a weekend shack’ Karen explained. When a real estate agent sent them the listing for the The Frost House, everything changed!
‘Although it was not in the area we were looking at – we fell off our chairs!’ recalls Karen. The pair immediately put in an offer on the home, and within days they had purchased it – sight unseen! ‘You can pick the MCM home but you can’t pick the location’ Karen says.
The Frost House is named after the original owners and occupants of this house for over 50 years, Dr. Robert Frost and Mrs. Amelia Frost. It was designed and engineered by Emil Tessin (son of the Legal Guardian for Florence Knoll), and manufactured by Alside Homes Corporation (Akron Ohio), who invented and patented the pre-fabricated aluminium panelling used to construct the house. In fact, the home was the sales model for this particular pre-fab system, and was purchased by its original owners with all the display furniture included! Naturally, Karen and Bob have retained each and every piece of furniture from the original collection – nothing has been removed or even reupholstered.
‘When we walked in the doors for the first time, it was like stepping back in the time’ Karen recalls. ‘We had to pinch ourselves – everything was like the plastic covers had just been peeled off, freshly delivered new furniture’. All the furniture Karen and Bob found here were original production pieces from Knoll Inc, in pristine condition – ‘It’s insane. It is ‘knoll for days’ around here’ Karen says.
The interiors of the home were designed by Paul McCobb & Knoll Inc – and very little has changed since Karen and Bob moved in. The kitchen is 100% original and every appliance still in working order (they don’t make them like they used to!). Likewise, the bathrooms still have all the original fittings and fixtures.
Some elements, though, have needed careful restoring. Bob and Karen have sympathetically replaced the flooring – which was previously an ad-hoc collection of nine styles of carpet and linoleum. In keeping with the home’s distinctive aesthetic, Karen and Bob selected carpet for the bedrooms and terrazzo tiles everywhere else. Plumbing, heating and cooling was updated throughout, and interior rooms were re-painted in the same colours. The pair also have plans to add a swimming pool to the side lot later this year.
Karen and Bob are passionate custodians of this very special home. ’We feel incredibly fortunate for this home to have come into our lives’ Karen explains. The pair very much feel that their role is to preserve and restore, and are campaigning for National Historic Place Designation, to have the home recognised as an iconic example of American MCM history. ‘It truly is a great untold American story in the architectural world , we don’t know why these homes have never been celebrated. and we are out to make sure that this one gets recognised!’
Though not officially open to the public, Bob and Karen occasionally hear from design enthusiasts interested in the house, and welcome them to come visit. ‘Most people, like us, can’t believe that these homes have never been shared or talked about in the MCM history within America.’ We have a feeling that anonymity may not last long!
Find out more about The Frost House on Karen and Bob’s website, here.