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Friday, April 12, 2024

Living in Color

Emily Yeiser’s East Side home is a wonderland of bold design choices

Emily Yeiser knows how to find a hidden gem. That’s how she ended up on the far East Side in a mid-century home bursting with personality.

The house dates to 1970 and, in many ways, looks the part. The floor plan includes a sunken living room, and sliding glass doors connect four rooms with the private courtyard. The architectural style is a curious question. Perhaps the original intent was a ranch, given its one-story construction and elongated L-shaped layout. Still, the original flat roof and the way the sliding doors allow the indoor and outdoor areas to merge depict a California influence.

Photo by Zach Straw

After decades of renovations, what has emerged is a space that transcends architectural and design norms and paints its own canvas.

Yeiser, a Newburgh, Indiana, native and Reitz Memorial High School graduate, bought the home in 2020 from Eric and Martha Reek, who themselves purchased it in 1983. Under each ownership, the home has lived a unique life, starting off as a flat-roofed, plastic window-laden abode. The current pitched roof and loft are thanks to the Reeks’ hiring of Evansville architect Bill Gaisser in 1992.

The two-year remodeling project completely changed the interior look and feel. Gone were the flat, eight-foot ceilings in the kitchen and front hall, replaced by pitched ceilings framed with windows and skylights and supported by exposed beams. Walking inside feels like exhaling.

If the Reeks’ renovations provided the residence breathing space, Yeiser’s ownership has given it life. That’s because Yeiser’s house isn’t just a home. After a harrowing few years, it’s a refuge.

Photo by Zach Straw

To the Edge and Back
In March 2017, Yeiser was 32, working as a cosmetologist, and living nearby on the East Side. One evening in the backyard, an ember from a fire that had died contacted a nearby gas canister and caused it to explode. Standing nearby, Yeiser was severely burned. In shock, one clear thought stuck out: “This is how I’m going to die.”

Yeiser, in fact, remembers everything about that night: the moment the gas can burst into flames, strangely feeling nothing due to a surge of adrenaline; then being strapped onto a stretcher by paramedics and watching the fence pass by as she was carried to an ambulance. Once she was flown to a hospital in Indianapolis, she stayed in a medically induced coma for four months.

The extent of her injuries was appalling. Third-degree burns covered 35 percent of her body, including her lower face, chest, torso, and arms. A trachea helps support her damaged windpipe during surgeries. Yeiser had to relearn to walk, talk, and use her arms and hands. In the seven years since her accident, she’s been through more than 50 operations and still is undergoing reconstructive surgeries.

Awaking from the coma and seeing the challenges lying in wait, “I got really depressed in the hospital,” she says.

Photo by Zach Straw

A Fresh Start
After a seven-month recovery in Indianapolis, Yeiser returned to Evansville, but her home now harbored too many negative memories. Looking for a fresh start, she began scouring real estate listings. In autumn 2020, this house popped up. Yeiser knew that if she was going to pull up her stakes and start over, this was the home for her.

Indeed, it is. Yeiser has made every inch of her 2,000-square-foot home a celebration of life, love, energy, color, and laughter. When she’s shopping, no one design principle guides her decor selections. Instead, she selects items she finds appealing. “I just see things I like, and somehow it works,” she says. “I’m not attracted to anything in particular, just unique things that I feel will fit.”

Yeiser’s design style could be called modern bohemian or surrealistic vintage. Mining a deep well of natural creativity, Yeiser put up boldly patterned art prints and bespectacled metal animal heads. Antique figurines and trinkets like a gumball machine and miniature Lite Brite dot tabletops. Every rug, curtain, and bedspread bursts with color. Every light fixture winks with entrancing detail.

Photo by Zach Straw

Yeiser turned the loft into an airy retreat with houseplants and oversize chairs. Meanwhile, the sunken living room is packed with energy, from the tight spiral staircase and giant traffic lights to the old newspaper press catalog that once stored letters of the alphabet. And that life-size phone booth in the corner? It works.

The primary bedroom is where Yeiser’s personal style truly shines through. She doesn’t buy many decorative items new — a testament to her parents’ love of antiques — and instead shops at thrift stores, art shows, and festivals like Funk in the City. A heavy favorite for the family is Tim Polen’s Antique Shak in Gentryville, Indiana. Antique armoires and vanities display brass baubles and vintage table lamps. Tiered mosaic lights are suspended from the ceiling. Vividly colored dreamcatchers hang over the bed’s headboard. Yeiser most recently renovated her primary bathroom with a claw-foot tub, psychedelic-meets-geometric tile flooring, and Egyptian handblown light fixtures.

Photo by Zach Straw

Plenty of elbow grease accompanied the decorative touches. Yeiser and her parents removed every stitch of wallpaper, pulled up the blue shag carpet and black slate in the halls, and sanded the kitchen floor.

Yeiser proves to be a crafty homeowner, adding carnival lights to a “cotton candy” sign purchased at Riverside Antique Mall.

Remodeling and decorating keep her busy; because of the injuries to her hands, she can’t work in cosmetology anymore.

“It’s frustrating to try to put your life back together,” she says. “I’ve had to learn to do things differently. But I don’t want anything to stop me.”

Photo of Oscar and Susie in the courtyard provided by Emily Yeiser

Yeiser shares her home with Susie, a 4-year-old Aussiedoodle, and Oscar, a 12-year-old Labradoodle. Both have been crucial to her recovery. Her bond with Oscar is particularly strong; he was at home that March 2017 evening and witnessed the explosion. The two were separated for six months during Yeiser’s coma and recovery. Upon their reunion, Oscar understood her fragility and moved gently around her. Susie came along later as an additional companion. The trio spends their days listening to music in the loft, playing in the living room, and catching the breeze in the courtyard. One day at a time, they are building positive memories in their new home that is, to every extent, an expression of Yeiser’s soul.

“This is my safe space,” she says.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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