Sue Stuckemeyer walks easily through the hallways of her Arts-and-Crafts style home on Plaza Drive. Smiling brightly, she points to the copper collection of pitchers and tea pots in the kitchen, then to the tall wainscoting and Corian solid surface built to look like soapstone — just like her grandmother’s — in the laundry room. In the great room, she details how she designed the space to be big enough for her three children, their spouses, and her future grandchildren. Her dream, she says, is for her house to accommodate all her children all at once. She got that and more by building her home from the ground up.
Sue lives on one of the most popular strolling routes on the East Side of Evansville. Those who walk or run in the shade of this tree-lined drive know both sides of its boulevard, how it provides a short cut between the busy Newburgh Road and the more sun-exposed Lincoln Avenue. Yet they also know it as one of the most coveted and quiet streets in that area. Sue had previously resided in a two-story brick house in The Oaks subdivision off of Lincoln Avenue a bit more than a mile to the west. Yet when her husband, Randy, died after a long battle with cancer, she decided to build a new home that would meet all her needs — now and in the future.
“I looked for a year to buy a lot on this street,” she says, adding that she also was looking for pre-existing homes. That, it turns out, is what it took for her to purchase the roughly one-acre lot at 734 Plaza Drive. It came with a 1934 home that Sue tore down starting in early May 2011. Roughly six months later, construction on her new 4,500-square-foot home began. The year-long project was designed by architect Julie M. Conley of H.G. McCullough Designers Inc. It was orchestrated by custom builder — and soon-to-be friend — Robert Cook. Sue moved in in September 2012.
“When you get older, you like to remember things that you had when you were younger,” Sue says. She means the clean lines of her home’s interior, how it’s filled with wood, how it reminds her of the brick bungalow home she and Randy shared in Springfield, Ill., before they moved to Evansville.
But it took her a lot of time to decide on the home’s design. Sue flipped through an estimated 500 magazines and reference books on the Craftsman period to compile the look and feel of her house, which is much larger and more spacious than the typical small, economical bungalow. The structure has three bedrooms and three and one-half bathrooms, an open kitchen that blends into the great room, two walk-in closets, and wide hallways that easily can accommodate two to three people at a time. The house also has a safe room near the guest bedroom that Sue uses for storage but that was designed to protect her during storms and tornadoes. It is reinforced with concrete and rebar, and it also has a concrete ceiling.
Her bedroom, just off the wide, Mahogany front door, is just feet away from a sun-lit but just-as-easily shaded study near the front portion of the residence. The two rooms are neatly tucked away off of the great room, which contains couches and a television on a lift in one area, and a hardwood table that can comfortably accommodate 14 people for family dinners on the other side.
The kitchen is a sturdy mix of granite countertops, maple Fehrenbacher cabinets, and a mahogany island on top of quarter-sawn white oak flooring layered with three coats of polyurethane because, Sue chuckles, “if you have an overflow, that’s why you have insurance.”
Her electric double oven is on the opposite side of the recycled glass backsplash composed of tiles from Louisville Tile that were installed by Keith Madden. The dishwasher is hidden next to the sink, and the wide, spacious drawers pull out to allow her easy access to all of her pots and pans. And for all of those details, Sue was greatly helped by decorator and friend, Carol e. Smith. Wood Specialties by Fehrenbacher also designed portions of the interior.
Looking beyond pure aesthetic value, Sue has built a home that she hopes will allow her to age in place. This means she designed the structure to accommodate changes in her physical needs as she grows older. The hallways are wide enough for a wheelchair; so is the shower in the master bedroom, which has no threshold. Additionally, an upstairs area could accommodate what could be a private area for a live-in assistant.
These are details that Sue was forced to think about throughout her marriage, but especially toward the end of Randy’s life. Randy was a 26-year kidney transplant patient who had been in and out of hospitals since he was 32. Yet he became seriously ill in the last 15 months of his life before he died on March 16, 2009.
In the last stages of his life, Sue was Randy’s primary caretaker, helping him bathe, and making sure he took all of his medicines. When he died at age 61 in hospice care, it was in their house in The Oaks, which was not designed for someone fighting for survival, Sue says.
“We had a sunken family room, and it was very difficult once he became ill,” she says. “He could not get up and down those steps without help.”
The shower also had a threshold, and narrow doorways made it difficult for Randy to get in and out of the house.
“Whenever you are helping somebody walk, two people have to be able to get through the doorway at once,” she says. “It made me realize how little things can make a big difference in your quality of life.”
For her Plaza Drive home, Sue received a lot of guidance from Conley, her architect, on how to build a structure that would help her age in place.
“(Conley) made a lot of suggestions about where to put things,” Sue says. “She was really my resource for that.”
Sue’s son, Pat, also insisted that Sue not have any steps on the main floor of her home.
A visit to Sue’s home would not be complete without a thorough viewing of a painting in the great room. The piece, which Sue had commissioned by artist Curtis Wilson Cost, depicts a field scene of the Upcountry of Kula, on the island of Maui, Hawaii, with grass, trees, ocean, clouds, and a view of the West Maui Mountains. She and Randy vacationed there and often visited the island, where Randy loved to look at the water, but never wanted to wade in, Sue says.
The painting is even more emotionally tied to Sue’s new home because it depicts the field where Sue spread Randy’s ashes. Now, the painting is located in a room where Sue hopes her family will continue to gather in the future. For Thanksgiving 2012, all her children — Pat and his wife, Mary, Carrie and her husband, Jack, and Katie — visited her and had dinner at that long, hardwood table in the great room, an experience Sue describes as “wonderful.”
Sue also still visits Hawaii yearly with Randy’s cousin and wife, Paul and Diana McCoy of suburban Chicago.
“The first time (going back) was a little difficult,” Sue says. “But since that initial trip, it’s just comforting, especially now that his ashes are there. I feel that I am going back to see him.”
Now that her home is finally complete, Sue has remained friends with homebuilder Cook, who so very carefully listened to and implemented her design plans.
“We hit it off from the very beginning,” Cook says. “It was a big project, but we got along so well that we never even had a contract. Everything went so smooth. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime jobs, really, where you get along so great, and everything went so well.”
Sue adds that while her house is new, it was designed to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the process,” she says. “It went very smoothly with the help of (everyone she worked with), and I feel safe, I feel comfortable. It’s a very nice street to live on. Everybody’s friendly. It felt like home from the first night I slept here.”