Family, Wine & Wood: Local Builder Makes This Dream House His Home

By+Kathy Jonas

Photography by David Hubler

The “Hearth Room” in the new Elkhart home of Zack and Kara Nickell is appropriately the “heart” of the family. 

Five buttery leather chairs face each other; there’s a nearby stone fireplace and TV, and a repurposed wine barrel serves as a coffee table. Above, an octagon walnut ceiling warms and defines the space. 

It’s not hard to imagine the couple and their three children – Camm, 17, Hayden, 13 and Susanne, 11 – gathered around it on a wintry February night sipping hot chocolate and talking about the day gone by, with their cat, Blue, stretched out by the fire. The homeowner said the room was built to “lend itself to conversation.”

“We wanted it all to look very natural,” says Nickell of the home, which was completed in September of 2014, with the family moving in on the couple’s 18th wedding anniversary. Nickell and his wife wanted to make sure that the wood elements did not overpower the home. 

“We love visiting log cabins, but we didn’t want to live in one,” he says with a quick smile. With that in mind, the couple showcased cherry, painted maple and walnut throughout. Different shades of gray wall colors lighten the space and add to the overall comfortable ambiance.


The Flow

Built by K.W. Yoder Construction and designed by Interface Architecture & Design, the Nickells opted for a modified open concept with one room flowing naturally into the other, without the design restrictions of the traditional “one big room.” Rather, they wanted the living room to flow naturally into the kitchen, the dining room, and the hearth room. “The living room (with its 20-foot ceilings) is designed so that it is actually used,” he adds. 

The Hearth Room takes the place of the breakfast nook that some opt for when building a new home. Nickells said the kitchen was designed specifically to have space for seating at the bar but was located far enough from the cook so everyone was not on top of each other. “It is roomy enough that people can walk through the kitchen and not interfere with the cooking and is designed to have lots of activities in the kitchen.”

The kitchen features custom cherry and maple cabinets, Z-Stone granite countertops, and a pantry right off the kitchen that leads to a hallway to the mudroom and laundry room. Hoosier House Furnishings built the cabinetry throughout the house. 

The mudroom is a bit of a misnomer as mud will never get as far as this room. The lockers for each family member are cherry with plenty of room for backpacks, coats and books. They’re a far cry from elementary school lockers but serve the same storage need. The room has become a handy place for Kara to put groceries after bringing them in from the car.

The master bedroom and bath on the first floor is roomy and natural looking, with a wood wall behind the bed. He said it was made by CHaSE and is an option for people who want to do something a little bit different with their walls. He estimated that the materials cost only about $500.


A Vintage Lower Level

Zack and Kara debated about a “theme” for the house while watching HGTV and scouring the popular home website Houzz for ideas. “We love traveling, love the Caribbean, but didn’t want one theme so we went with more of having wine accents throughout the house,” Zack says. Having visited Napa and Sonoma, he said it was a natural to give a nod to vino.

He describes the lower level wine cellar as the centerpiece to the area. They bought several used wine barrels from California wineries and used them in the wine cellar, at the ends of the bar, in the sink in the lower-level bathroom and in the hearth room table. He joked that the price tag on the used barrels came to only about only $50, but the shipping cost for each was $150. 

Eventually, the room will have a pool table and shuffle board, but Nickells quickly adds that it is not ever going to be a traditional “man cave.”

“Unlike most man caves, the preferred drink here is wine,” he says. What are some of his favorites? “We are partial to wine from Nickel & Nickel in Napa because of the similarity of our names. We also like Altamura, Dunn Vineyards and Penfolds.” 


Not a 2014 Home

Designing a home that did not date itself to 2014 was another goal of the Nickells, who wanted something traditional, yet contemporary. 

But more important than that, they wanted a place that their children could bring friends and eventually, bring their families here. “The house is designed so that someday the kids will want to come back.” Some of those features include a pool built between the lower level and the upper level so that swimmers are visible from either level, bathrooms and closets roomy enough to handle a young family, lots of privacy on the lower level and plenty of seating throughout the house.

“We thought about this carefully,” he says. “We often go to gatherings and there isn’t enough room for everybody to sit.” He adds that last Christmas – their first in the home – was much less stressful than usual because there was plenty of room for everyone to relax and enjoy each other.