Connie and Steve McTigue Redesign an Erskine Manor Treasure

By+Kathy Jonas, Photos by David Hubler

Downsizing, retrofitting and entertaining: all home trends that Connie and Steve McTigue experienced as they lovingly redesigned the villa that at one time was the chicken house and stables of the historic Erskine Estate on the south side of South Bend.

“It’s kind of ironic as I was raised on a farm in Kansas and I actually took care of the chickens,” Connie said. “And here I am!”

The Erskine Estate, once home to Albert Russel Erskine, the president of the Studebaker Corporation until his death in 1933, became St. Mary’s Academy. In the early 1980s, the school and property surrounding it were redeveloped by Joseph Hickey, and the stable/chicken house was divided into three different living quarters. 

Meanwhile, the McTigues raised their three children in a sprawling Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired house high in the hills above Dragoon Trail on the south side of Mishawaka. Steve is a well-known South Bend ear, nose and throat surgeon. 

Once the kids had grown up and moved out, the couple questioned staying in the old place for a myriad of reasons, including the long, steep drive that was treacherous in the winter; landscaping needs, and upkeep costs. In January of 2005, their son, Joey, was paralyzed in a car accident on the way to a skiing trip in Aspen and the family embarked on an unplanned, arduous journey. 

 

A SOUTHSIDE GEM

Little did they know that their uncertainty, along with Joey’s situation , would lead them a few miles south to the historic Erskine neighborhood. 

In the mean time, Joey finished college and got a job in Chicago. The McTigues started searching for another home. “We wanted an open floor plan and we wanted it on one level. We were thinking of ‘aging in place,’ “ Connie said. They found the Erskine Manor Villa and started to try and figure out exactly what to do with it.

Ironically, about this time, Joey was offered a local job and the McTigues began talking about the possibility of him living with them until he found his own place. Universal design ideas were paramount for Joey, but also served the idea of allowing the two of them to live and age there gracefully. Along with the open floor plan, Connie envisioned an eclectic mix of everything they loved, without adhering to any specific style.

In came two long-time south siders: Bruce Haupert of Haupert Construction and Betsy Stover of B. Mused Design. Connie admired Stover’s handiwork at a mutual friend’s house and Stover then suggested long-time friend, Haupert, to do the actual construction.

 

MAKING IT HAPPEN

The three now sit around the kitchen table and laugh about their adventures in remodeling. “Connie and Betsy came up with the idea of putting pennies on the floor in the kitchen. I said they could do it, but they would have to put one penny down at a time!” Haupert said. They ended up with a beautiful natural-colored Travertine after an exhaustive search of flooring. Connie originally wanted wood, but it turned out to be difficult to heat. 

Haupert said he probably used 80 to 100 bags of floor leveling to deal with the uneven surfaces throughout the space.

The McTigues opted to add an addition that would include a guest room and a bathroom with handicapped-accessibility features (not pictured).

Entertaining is a big part of their life, so that aspect was important to them. The kitchen became kind of a gathering point, although the enclosed courtyard with a swimming pool is pretty dramatic, too. Visual interest was added by putting in a small loft area in the addition that is a perfect playroom for their two grandchildren. 

A second floor was renovated on the other side of the now 3,000 square-foot villa and features a guest room, bath and exercise room.  

 

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS

The house contains a lot of custom features: a wall of bookshelves, reclaimed wood in various spots, and a kitchen island complete with a chopping block and sink at the proper height so that Joey can cook for the family. “It’s his spot, “ Connie said. “Even though Steve is a surgeon, Joey carves the family turkey at Thanksgiving.”

The reclaimed wood, used in newel posts, additional beams and the circular staircase treads, came from a circa 1880’s barn from Shiawassee, Michigan. Haupert, Stover and Connie made a three-hour trip to “2nd Chance Wood Company” in Corunna, Michigan to handpick the pieces that were used in the home.

So much of the villa was outdated and necessitated a major remodel. “The McTigues were great to work with,” Haupert said. “They focused on doing things right and had a lot of trust in me.” 

Stover said the décor of the house cannot be summed up: it’s more “Late McTigue” rather than anything else. The villa is home to a lot of regional and local artwork collected by the couple. Due to the art, rugs and sculpture,  Stover ended up incorporating neutral grays on the walls, with splashes of bright greens, blues and violets interspersed throughout to add warmth and whimsy to the family’s refuge. She said the artwork needed to become focal points of the decorating scheme. 

Steve loves sculpture and studied it in college and several pieces of his work are displayed in the home. 

Two large high-backed wing chairs in the living area are the perfect fit. Connie said she and Stover went to Restoration Hardware in Chicago and were determined to walk there. Upon arrival they realized they had walked three miles, and collapsed in two nearby chairs. After a few minutes and some persuasion from Stover, they just knew that the chairs would be perfect for the house.

Because Stover is also an artist, she hand-painted a favorite saying on the walls of the kitchen. It’s an Irish blessing that is on a cutting board given to the McTigues by Steve’s mother. It says: “Bless Us with Good Food, the Gift of Gab, and Hearty Laughter. May the Love and Joy We Share Be With Us Ever After.” 

That says it all.