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Thursday, May 30, 2024

The House of Hues

Mary Beth and Michael Guard transform their New Harmony loft using a rainbow of color.

Photo of Michael and Mary Beth Guard by Zach Straw

In New Harmony, Indiana, Capers Emporium sells gifts, kitchen and gourmet food items, and anything you might want to make “pretty food,” as their motto goes. Mary Beth Guard, co-owner with her husband Michael, says she’s always loved “pretty kitchen things.” The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, residents fell in love with New Harmony after Michael’s mother moved to town about a decade ago. In 2018, they opted to create this kitchen-oriented store, a long-held dream of Mary Beth’s.

The shop is in the former Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge, a historic building erected in 1915. The business resides on the ground floor, with a glass fusion studio and kilns in the basement, while the couple’s residence sits above the shop. Back in 2016, the couple bought the historic building, but they had zero intention of ever making a loft apartment above it.

Photo by Zach Straw

“We actually planned to do an event center upstairs, and we spent a year working with a code consultant and an architect. But the way the building was constructed, it just wasn’t going to work,” Michael explains. “We would have had to add a second staircase, which would have taken space from the store. It took us a year to figure that out. And that’s when we decided to go with a loft up here.”

Jump to the present, and the loft apartment, which the couple has occupied full time since 2022, is a dazzling extension of the pretty food choices and style of Capers Emporium. Case in point, guests to the residence’s teal-hued kitchen draw a clear connection between it and Mary Beth’s unique style.

Splashes from across the spectrum color the Guards’ loft, from the fabric on furnishings and rugs on the floor to paintings on the walls and flowers on tabletops. The space, on the second floor of a historic building erected in 1915, needed a complete overhaul but offered ample opportunity for creativity. “There was so much to love,” Mary Beth says. Photo by Zach Straw

“The color of the glass tile in the kitchen is the same color we used for our wedding nearly 46 years ago,” Mary Beth reveals. “We wanted a color we wouldn’t get tired of looking at, and we didn’t want to choose whatever happened to be trendy because you can end up feeling date stamped.”

She says the unique color choice goes well with a wide range of other hues, too – hence this main living space’s large quantity of colors. Glass treasures are prominent. This includes colorful wine and drinking glasses on a wall near the kitchen.

“It provides a visual reminder of many sets of colored glassware by featuring a few pieces from each, and it also helps combat the storage issues engendered by a large collection,” Mary Beth says. A few of the pieces have been handed down through family members, while others have been collected from when she attended grade school and onward. “It’s the tip of a beautiful iceberg,” she says.

The brilliant color choices continue. The space boasts many of Evansville artist Gary Hobdy’s works, adding to the overall splashes of color. On the main room ceiling is a multi-toned decorative detail that originally had been a gothic-like dark wood feature with small light bulbs around the perimeter and a giant disco ball. Michael was determined to save the decorative feature, despite Mary Beth’s skepticism.

Photo by Zach Straw

“Away went the tiny bulbs and disco fever,” she says. “A box was built inside with a reflective surface in its interior, housing smart bulbs controlled by an app that allow us to change the light colors to solid or any mixture on a whim.” The dark wood was given coats of white paint, and a covering was added to hide the bulbs and hardware, while still allowing soft light to shine through.

What a difference some color makes. When the couple first stepped into the loft, it was one wide-open room. It was flat and beige, and it certainly didn’t represent the couple’s flair for style.

“The old wooden floor in the big room was worn thin, and it tended to crack as it was walked upon,” Mary Beth says. “The plaster and lath ceiling was giving way, making the room a hard hat zone. But the bones were good, really good. The high ceilings, the magnificent windows, the great views — there was so much to love.”

The Guards’ multi-hued loft apartment frequently welcomes guests, and the airy space can accommodate a crowd. Around 70 guests mingled throughout the residence at a house concert last autumn, and the spacious home offers plenty of room for a grand piano for entertaining. Photo by Zach Straw

The couple added a mezzanine level to gain more usable space. “That allowed us to have another multi-functional living area that provides comfortable seating, indispensable bookshelves, room for our musical equipment, and another desk,” Mary Beth says. They also placed a second guest room on the mezzanine level, plus a full bathroom, spa room, and butler’s pantry. “We created a den, a laundry room, a full bath, and a half bath under the mezzanine level, so part of the main floor is cozy, as opposed to the parts that have the ceilings that are over 16 feet tall.”

Renovations didn’t stop there. The plumbing, electrical, HVAC, flooring, framing and finishing the rooms, not to mention building the kitchen and bathrooms — everything needed to be done from scratch, Mary Beth says.

“We also built a raised area on the west end of the great room so that we could more easily enjoy the view from the windows, since the bottom of the windows are about four feet off the ground,” she says.

Exposed brick walls ground the liveliness of the Guards’ home’s interior design while also offering a reminder of the building’s early 20th century origins. Built in 1915 as a lodge for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows lodge, it functioned as a dance hall, deli, and grocery store over the years. Photo by Zach Straw

The primary bedroom had exposed brick, but the couple wanted more because they liked the character it added. Then, they peppered the ceiling with painted clouds. “One of the guys who works for us painted the sky and clouds, lying on his back on scaffolding,” Mary Beth says. “The morning sun comes in through the east window. To awaken to the soft morning light and look up from bed to see that magical sky starts the day off in the best possible way.”

Converting the building into a chic business and now loft apartment “just shows that New Harmony can be whatever you want it to be,” Mary Beth says.

Plus, living above their business has been a game changer in terms of convenience, too, by eliminating a commute to work.

In terms of color choices, Mary Beth and Michael are beyond pleased.

“Color makes us happy,” Mary Beth says. “God gave us flowers and rainbows. Let’s bring some of that inside.”

Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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