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Golden Unicorn: One Story & Many Fables

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Come Saturday, Aug. 2nd a couple dozen devotees of modern architecture in Indiana have a hot date with a fiery redhead. Well, to be more exact, it's a date with a house designed by the gifted copper-topped firebrand designer/builder, Avriel Shull. And to be precise, the house is Avriel Shull's first design, the Golden Unicorn.

Avriel Shull (think: Nicole Kidman with lots more red hair, arched 1950s eyebrows and a cigarette) designed and helped construct the Golden Unicorn at age 23 in 1953. The untrained designer with no education in architecture or experience in construction first built a scale model of the house. And then, she spent many months of work along with contractors and her husband, newspaper columnist, R. K. Shull on the construction.

Avriel named the house the Golden Unicorn after the 4-foot-tall figure of that mythological creature, which she crafted in concrete and placed near the entry. For those who know about Avriel Shull, the Golden Unicorn house has taken on an almost mythological status of its own. Most are aware of it, but few have seen it.

Discover more about Shull in the locally produced Commercial Article 03, which focuses on her life and is also written by Connie Ziegler. - COURTESY COMMERCIAL ARTICLE
  • Courtesy Commercial Article
  • Discover more about Shull in the locally produced Commercial Article 03, which focuses on her life and is also written by Connie Ziegler.

It sits on quiet Beechwood Drive, just off of 111th Street in Carmel. Over the years, owners have added on to it discretely and enclosed what had been an open breezeway between the living space and garage, diminishing somewhat the geometry of the original design, but it's still an eye-catcher.

Sadly, the house no longer sports Avriel's handmade unicorn. R. K. explained in a letter to current owners Josh and Tami Scism that a year or two after Avriel's death from complications of diabetes in 1976, he received word that new owners were renovating the house and would give him the unicorn sculpture if he wanted it. Still mourning the loss of the woman he adored, that memento was important to him. He sent their daughter, Bambi, to fetch it, but according to his letter: "Some yo-yo had attempted to remove the relief figure and succeeded in shattering it into a pile of glitzy concrete. Unsalvageable."

Luckily for the Scisms what remains -- a house with great bones and some truly fine details -- is more important than what was lost. Josh Scism has known this house, and of Avriel Shull, since he was a teenager in Carmel. Avriel's flashy persona and prodigious amount of work made her locally famous in her hometown. And, as it happened, Josh grew up just one neighborhood away from the Lady Hamilton Addition and delivered newspapers to the Golden Unicorn. He caught the modernism bug early on and recalls thinking the house had "really cool lines." Apparently, so did the "tall beautiful woman ... [think: Ingrid Bergman-type] with a sweet collie" who lived in the house at the time. He never forgot either and considers it a great stroke of luck that he now owns the home.

Josh and Tami find lots to love in their modern house. According to Josh, there's "incredible space planning ... enormous closets, repetition of "three" in many of the design elements, [and] gorgeous blonde mahogany from the Philippines (now extinct)."

The namesake of Shull's Golden Unicorn, a horned sculpture created by Avriel herself, met an unfortunate demise during a renovation project. - CONNIE ZIEGLER
  • Connie Ziegler
  • The namesake of Shull's Golden Unicorn, a horned sculpture created by Avriel herself, met an unfortunate demise during a renovation project.

Members of Indiana Modern, an affinity group of Indiana Landmarks, will be checking out the Golden Unicorn's blonde mahogany on Aug. 2nd. It's a date, and no one stands up Avriel.

Click here to join the Indiana Modern affinity group.

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