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A Family's Search for Avriel Shull

Kansky home
The Kansky home in the Avalon Hills neighborhood in Indianapolis was built in 1960.

John Kansky and his wife, Martina, didn’t realize when they bought their “quirky” home as a newly married couple 15 years ago that they were buying a piece of Indiana history. “We didn’t know it at the time, but we like mid-century modern architecture,” Mr. Kansky says. “We fell in love with it.” In fact, it wasn’t until last year that they realized what they had.

The selling real estate agent had told the Kanskys the house was an “Averil Contemporary” but couldn’t tell them what that meant. What they had was a home designed by Avriel Christie Shull from Carmel, an architectural designer, builder and interior decorator. A woman of high energy and imagination, Shull designed and built homes and apartment buildings mainly in Marion and Hamilton counties from the 1950s until her death in 1976. She also decorated the interiors of many of these homes. Shull’s home design plans were sold across the United States and in Canada.

“We made several attempts to find out who ‘Averil’ was but found nothing,” says Mr. Kansky.

“A few years later, a mysterious stranger pulled up in our driveway while we were unloading groceries,” he says. “He told us he was considering buying a house in Carmel nearly identical to ours. He explained that there was a neighborhood there where many of the homes were designed by the same architect as ours, but he didn’t know the name.”

Blueprint - Shull
The Avriel Shull Architectural Records Collection at IHS includes drawings, tracings and blueprints as well as contracts, permits, correspondence, bills and invoices.

The neighborhood the man was talking about is Thornhurst, Avriel Shull’s first large-scale project built on property owned by her parents. “Some time later, based on the stranger’s directions, we drove to Carmel and found Thornhurst,” says Mr. Kansky. “It was kind of freaky to see a whole bunch of houses in the same style including one that is very similar to ours.”

Finally, in 2008, Mrs. Kansky was at a neighborhood party, and someone mentioned having gone on an architectural tour that included a home designed by Avriel Shull. She recognized the name and inquired. A neighbor who was at the party and had also been on the tour gave the Kanskys the brochure, which included the correct spelling of Avriel Shull’s name. “From there, we found lots of information online and also found out the Indiana Historical Society had a large archive of her papers and works,” says Mr. Kansky. Soon, the family was fascinated by Avriel Shull’s life. “She was a bold and outgoing free spirit,” Mr. Kansky says. “Imagine a 23-year-old ‘girl’ in the 1950s telling a bunch of men how to build a house.

“Our fourth-grade daughter needed to do a class project, and we convinced her to research Avriel Shull,” Mr. Kansky says. “On our first visit to the IHS library, we found lots of great stuff. We were able to find the original blueprints for our house in the archive. For us, this was pretty cool.” The Kanskys have made quite a few updates to their home, including expanding the kitchen. “We were careful to preserve what we believe was her architectural intent and repeated some themes found in the older part of the home,” Mr. Kansky says.