Grand Design

mitzi martin and jeff atwood approach their home with creativity

By Jon Shoulders

»Look to the right immediately after walking through the front door of Mitzi Martin and Jeff Atwood’s Franklin home and you’ll find a dining area with a surprisingly varied array of furniture and decorative touches, including an early Victorian floor lamp, a 1970s dining table, an early-Eastlake buffet and a Murano chandelier. The space is a microcosm not only of the home’s generally diverse aesthetic, but also of the couple’s wide range of interests, hobbies and stylistic inclinations.

Mitzi acquired the three-bedroom, two-and-one-half-bathroom home, which borders Hillview Country Club’s golf course and spans approximately 2,800 square feet, in October 2001. She and Jeff struck up a relationship that same month, and the following year they embarked on the first of several renovations to customize the home, which was constructed in the early 1990s. “Some people build a house and it appeals to everybody,” Jeff says. “Some of our choices made the contractors remind us about reselling, but we always said, ‘Who cares about selling?’ There was nothing in our plan that ever worried about making anybody happy but us.”

In 2002 the couple decided to knock down an exterior wall to extend the space in one of the extra bedrooms and create a suite that would accommodate visits through the years from Jeff’s two sons, Derek, 27, and Jake, 20. The extended portion now serves as a guest bedroom suite with abundant natural light and replete with Italian décor inspired by the couple’s 2011 honeymoon in Rome and Florence. “We’ll have what we call mini vacations where we’ll come down and stay in that end of the house for two months and not even go back to our bedroom,” Jeff says. “When you crack the windows and hear our fountain outside and the birds, it’s like you’re on vacation.”

Further renovations commenced in 2009 when Jeff, 58, and Mitzi, 69, retained Jon Guy, founder and president of Avon-based The Guy Corp., to extend the master bedroom and reconfigure the master bath for additional space in both areas. Much like the rest of the home, a few contemporary accents in the master suite blend seamlessly with a selection of antiques and family heirlooms, including a kitchen cabinet made by Mitzi’s grandfather, a Victorian hall tree and a 1940s cooking stove she spotted at Salvage Sisters’ Antique Market in Franklin. Also adorning the master suite is the couple’s most treasured object — a globe ceiling light Mitzi salvaged in 1976 from the classroom at Franklin Junior High School, where she taught seventh-grade English for seven years starting in 1971. Upon unboxing the light in the home’s attic space while they began decorating the newly extended master suite, Jeff, who sat in the front row of Mitzi’s first English class, named it the Love Light in honor of its history.

“When we were doing the expansion of the master bedroom, the important thing was to make it look like you can’t tell anything had been added on and that it looks natural,” Guy says. “Getting things to match as perfectly as possible is a challenge with any renovation. Mitzi knows how to articulate what she wants, and that helped a lot throughout the process.”

Mitzi and Jeff also collaborated with Guy to add several distinct touches to the backyard space — which can be accessed by the guest suite, the master suite and the kitchen — including a new deck with accent lights on its steps, a sizable patio and a fire pit. Even the outdoor space is graced with a bit of family history in the form of a steel rebar chair swing constructed by Mitzi’s father when she was just 3 years old.

“We love having all the windows to look out onto the flower gardens and the pond,” says Mitzi, an Alabama native who first came to Franklin at age 23 to teach junior high school and who retired last December after practicing labor and employment law for 30 years at the downtown Indianapolis office of Faegre Baker Daniels.

Born and raised in Franklin, Jeff studied history at Franklin College and worked for 23 years in production management and human resources at Ford Motor Co. in Indianapolis, followed by a stint as human resources director at ERMCO Inc., an electrical contractor.

“If you can believe it, we are a mile off the interstate and two miles from downtown,” Mitzi adds. “We have red foxes and coyotes, and squirrels play out there in the winter. It’s a nature haven 0.9 miles from the interstate.”

Mitzi and Jeff spend most of their downtime in the central living space, often relaxing in 1940s easy chairs that she says have been reupholstered at least six times, listening to music via a wireless home stereo system and enjoying the elevated gas fireplace that, along with the Italian marble wall in which it sits, was completed during the 2009 renovation period. Strategically placed lamps of all sizes complement the area’s abundant natural sunlight and highlight impromptu dance performances by their 3-year-old grandson, Krishna, during family visits. Krishna is the son of Mitzi’s daughter, Mandy Martin, 41.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that lighting makes a home,” Mitzi says. “If you count the lamps just in the dining room, there are 13 sources of light just in that little area. It tends to make it feel bigger, and I think give it an elegance that you often don’t find in a modern house. Jeff and I both love old homes. He used to own one in Shelbyville, and I owned one in Franklin.”

Many of the couple’s Saturdays consist of visits to the Franklin Farmers Market followed by afternoon meal preparations in the kitchen, which houses several family treasures, including Mitzi’s own highchair — now used by Krishna — as well as her childhood Cracker Jack toy collection and a few specimens from her extensive Fire King jadite glassware collection. “No one in the United States probably, besides Jeff and Mitzi, has more of that green Fire King than Martha Stewart,” Mitzi says with a laugh. “She made it popular years after I had it so it went from being $3 a piece to $45 a piece overnight. It had been given to me by my housekeeper and my secretary over 25 years every Christmas and every birthday. They would collect it all year from junk stores.”

The kitchen and dining room have been gathering spots for several multicourse, Southern-style dinners they have donated for the Johnson County Community Foundation’s annual gala, during which Mitzi lets her Southern heritage shine. Guests seated at the kitchen barstools might notice the acronym “GRITS” — which spells out “Girls Raised in the South” — painted underneath the countertop in playful homage to her early days growing up in rural Alabama.

A small laundry room designed by Todd Bemis of the Johnson County-based construction and development firm Bemis Group represents Jeff and Mitzi’s creative use of limited space, with painted cabinetry and a low-profile washer and dryer that sit underneath lime green quartz countertops used both for folding clothes and for serving drinks during gatherings. “We wanted it to be a multiuse room,” Mitzi says. “We’ll serve meals in here and set up a bar while we’re having a party and use the sink for ice.”

Much of the art that hangs on the home’s walls — and many of the textures and patterns on the walls themselves — are the work of local artists they feel passionate about, including Patti Paris Owens, one of Mitzi’s former students. Paris Owens completed a wall mural in the front hallway with a flower theme and exposed vintage wallpaper for a distressed appearance, as well as hand-painted yellow and lime stripes in the kitchen and what they refer to as the rainfall wall in the library. “We call it that because it never seems to be the same color,” she says. “When the sun comes in, it’s in constant flow. Everything throughout the house has the Patti touch.”

The home’s back hallway has become a de facto gallery devoted to the work of Tom Peters, a Franklin-based artist and co-owner of Peters Radiator Shop who specializes in paintings of past and present Johnson County locales, such as the former Alva Neal High School on Jefferson Street (now a multiuse office building) and the Artcraft Theatre. “Tom is such a treasure, and his work really tells the history of this area,” Mitzi says.

Whether accommodating newly acquired pieces from their ever-expanding antique and art collection, hosting family and friends, or simply reorganizing furniture when inspiration strikes, they feel that continuing to find new ways to use space in the home, which they have named Marwood through an affectionate combination of their last names, always presents a fun challenge. “We just use the space creatively,” Mitzi says. “You don’t have to have a huge house; you just have to use your brain.”