A True Starter Home in Columbus, Indiana, Nods to Nearby Buildings by 20th-Century Masters

The goal for the roughly 1,000-square-foot residence was that people earning the national median income could easily handle the mortgage payments.

The idea for Columbus House No. 1, a modest, single-level home near downtown Columbus, Indiana, began when local resident Nick Slabaugh spotted a vacant lot for sale that he thought he could develop. He bought it, and—after an introduction by his friend Jonathan Nesci, a well-known designer also based there—called on Chicago architect Grant Gibson to, as the latter describes it, "introduce a new type of house" to the area.

Columbus, Indiana, resident Nick Slabaugh tasked Chicago architect Grant Gibson with creating a low-cost home on a small lot near the city’s downtown. Its design references local architectural landmarks. Gibson says the building’s "low profile with a bulging roof element" recalls Eero Saarinen’s Irwin Union Bank, while the half-buried volume "is similar to Gunnar Birkerts’s Lincoln Elementary School." 

Columbus, Indiana, resident Nick Slabaugh tasked Chicago architect Grant Gibson with creating a low-cost home on a small lot near the city’s downtown. Its design references local architectural landmarks. Gibson says the building’s "low profile with a bulging roof element" recalls Eero Saarinen’s Irwin Union Bank, while the half-buried volume "is similar to Gunnar Birkerts’s Lincoln Elementary School." 

While the midwestern city is home to a slew of civic buildings by modernist masters like Eero and Eliel Saarinen, "the residential building stock is typical of small American towns, a mixture of Victorian houses and workers’ cottages," Gibson says. "We wanted to build a house that’s tailored to how contemporary domestic life unfolds," he continues, adding that the main goal was "that people earning the national median income could easily handle the mortgage payments." To accomplish this, he and Slabaugh made the layout compact, with the private areas—two bedrooms and baths—situated at the home’s corners, and the living/dining room and kitchen at its core.

The central kitchen and living/dining room sit below a massive dome skylight, which Jamie Goldsborough and her partner, John Slater, call one of their favorite parts of the house.  

The central kitchen and living/dining room sit below a massive dome skylight, which Jamie Goldsborough and her partner, John Slater, call one of their favorite parts of the house.  

When Jamie Goldsborough, creative director at Landmark Columbus Foundation (and a former graduate student of Gibson’s at the University of Illinois Chicago), relocated to Columbus for her job in 2021, she jumped at the chance to buy the home. "I immediately asked Gibson to put me in touch with Slabaugh," Jamie says. "I was intrigued from the get-go."

Columbus designer Jonathan Nesci created the angled kitchen island with a single-mold Corian countertop.  

Columbus designer Jonathan Nesci created the angled kitchen island with a single-mold Corian countertop.  

At less than 1,000 square feet, the residence packs a number of references to the city’s modernist landmarks into its footprint. The recessed window at the south-facing facade is a nod to I. M. Pei’s Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, for example, while the below-grade interior with built-in window seating pays homage to the conversation pit of Eero Saarinen’s Miller House.

Jamie designed the cushions and pillows for the built-in bench, where the couple’s cat, Alfredo, often lounges. 

Jamie designed the cushions and pillows for the built-in bench, where the couple’s cat, Alfredo, often lounges. 

"I’d rather have a smaller home that’s designed thoughtfully and with reason than a larger one that’s inefficient and unimaginative."

—Jamie Goldsborough, resident

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One of Jamie’s favorite details is the frosted dome skylight above the lounge area, which "casts phenomenal floods of color throughout the house," she says. "The light inside responds to the hue and intensity of the sky. Dusk will drape the interior in indigo, while morning sunrise will glitter the space in peachy orange.

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"At night, the house turns into a spaceship with our color-changing light bulbs," Jamie continues. "When we approach from the outside, the dome glows with whatever color light is on. It’s a cheerful thing to come home to."

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Project Credits:

Architecture: CAMESgibson

Construction: Columbus Custom Builders

Cabinetry Design: Jonathan Nesci

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