The exterior of Madonna and Norb Niemeier’s house located north of Evansville near Darmstadt does not immediately allude to an overly unique home. One step inside, however, pulls guests into a quaint cottage that feels as if it has been lifted from the French countryside.
Madonna and Norb have built many houses together during their 49 years of marriage. The property in northwest Vanderburgh County where many of their homes have been located was first purchased by Madonna’s father Butch Raben in the early 1970s; the Niemeiers would start building their first home later that decade.
“We’ve built several houses and we’d just thought we’d do one last one to retire in,” says Norb. “Hopefully this will be our last.”
“We’ve built seven houses back here and five more not in this area,” adds Madonna. “We’ve always enjoyed construction.”
The decision to build a home reminiscent of a French Country cottage would come about when the couple decided it was time to downsize their living space. With their two children Matt and Erin raising families of their own, the Niemeiers looked for something smaller to fit their lifestyle.
“We thought about moving either into a condo or something Downtown, and we just couldn’t get there,” says Madonna. “We couldn’t get our heads wrapped around it.”
So Madonna — who’s worked as an interior designer for 30 years at her store Gallagher Niemeier Interiors — did what she does best; she started researching.
“I’m a designer; I love all kinds of construction and different styles,” she says. “But I always wanted to build a French Country cottage. I just started working on my perception of one after researching.”
Madonna says she drew much of her inspiration from French Country designer Charles Faudree. Many of Faudree’s books are displayed on tables in her living area. It was through these books she studied Faudree’s design details and constructed her own ideas.
“This is just what’s comfortable for us,” says Madonna.
Construction on the 4,800-square-foot cottage began in 2014 with Joe Elpers, Joe Elpers Building and Remodeling, and his crew taking lead on the project. Work would last a year, with the Niemeiers moving in two weeks before Thanksgiving in 2015. Entering the home through a wooden door that sets a rustic, French Country scene, guests are greeted with a cozy foyer with an arched entryway leading into the great room and kitchen. The ceiling is accented with beams, and various paintings dot the spaces on the walls along with an occasional decorative oyster plate. The room also features cabinets displaying many of the unique oyster plates Madonna owns.
“I’ve collected them for years,” she says of the serving pieces. “When we would travel and be in antique stores, I would see them and be intrigued by all the different details.”
The living space is open and inviting, perfect for the gatherings of friends and family the Niemeiers host. It features many comfortable chairs for sitting, ornate rugs on the wood floors, a grand piano, and two dining tables — one large rectangle Karges piece in the living area and a round table that sits off of the kitchen.
“This is definitely a home to accommodate a lot of people without having a lot of people living here,” says Madonna.
The furnishings of the home are not new, but have been a part of the Niemeiers’ homes for many years; according to Madonna, much of her design for the cottage was centered around her furniture.
“Through the years I’ve bought a lot of furniture,” she says. “I don’t get tired of my furniture. I know you need to add fresh things, but I like age on them.”
A dark leather chair that sits in the great room in a circle of other comfortable seats and couches is a testament to the Niemeiers’ love of their pieces. The chair is 30 years old, says Madonna, and has been one of the constants in their homes along with being Norb’s favorite chair.
“I can get by with a lot as long as I keep him comfortable in his chair,” Madonna says with a chuckle.
Her choice for the walls of the bedroom of the cottage, for example, raised a few eyebrows on the construction crew. Madonna’s plans included knotty pine for the walls, a unique, light-colored wood.
“I thought she was nuts putting knotty pine on the wall,” says Norb, “but I really like it.”
The bedroom also features a large, beautifully painted armoire, which once belonged to Madonna’s mother and fits in perfectly with the French Country aesthetic. The bathroom off of the bedroom includes a large vanity, a separate shower and bath, and a fireplace. Madonna’s love of Karges Furniture slips into this area as well, with the “window” between the shower room and bathtub made from a Karges cabinet.
But one of the aspects that lends to the home’s uniqueness is the kitchen and pantry, says Madonna, which also are her favorite areas of the cottage. The kitchen is furnished with all new appliances, including a six-burner gas stove and a steam oven.
“We do a lot of baking and cooking in here,” says Madonna.
The white cabinets, made by Fehrenbacher Cabinets, Inc. of Evansville, blend well with the grey and white granite countertops. Large windows over the sink look out at the lake behind the couple’s home. The pantry lends to a traditional French Country cottage pantry, says Madonna, with plates and cups, and pots and pans stacked on two sides, and a collection of cookbooks at the back.
“Really, I love the whole home,” she says. “It isn’t the largest house we have ever built, but to me it’s the coziest and most comfortable.”