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WM: Reimaging Home

When you’re 30 and have lived in 50 different houses, defining home is “complicated.”

“It’s what we do,” says Ian Starnes ’11, a second-generation artist and home renovator.

Ian Starnes ’11 in front of one of his childhood homes on Meridian Street in Indianapolis.

“My parents would buy a house and renovate it while living in it,” he says. “My mom is a saint, because we would always be living through a renovation.

“My dad started renovating homes in Mooresville, on the southwest side of Indianapolis, and he renovated an old farmhouse. Then he bought the house next door, and he renovated that. Then, he bought the one next door to that. Before he knew it, he had done five houses on that street. And then, you know, he started buying homes and other neighborhoods in Indianapolis. In the 80s and 90s, he was buying those mansions on Meridian Street and renovating them. They were in disrepair.”

When Starnes was in first grade, his family moved to Naples where his mother had grown up, and they started the renovation process all over again.

STARNES DID NOT INTEND to follow in his father’s footsteps. He planned to study international law.

“I love pirates and I do a lot of sailing,” he says. “I grew up on the water in Florida. And the open ocean is really interesting to me.”

He credits two classes for helping him see otherwise—an art class his freshman year and constitutional law.

“Professor Huebner was so instrumental for me,” he says. “Then I took constitutional law with Professor Himsel. I remember all of the guys in that class were really fired up. Himsel would say, ‘Ian, what do you think about it?’ And I didn't care at all. The guys in the class would say, ‘What side do you stand on?’ I don't care. I didn't find it interesting at all. I would be a horrible attorney.”

A newly renovated Starnes home in southwest Florida.

After the art major graduated from Wabash, he did graduate work in business for artists, and a few chance meetings led him to a stint as a world traveler and even as a cowboy out west.

“Walking down the street in Chicago, I met this guy who complimented my style. We talked and I ended up working for Ralph Lauren in their marketing department,” he says.

He also worked for the fashion brand Bird Dog Bay and met a guy who convinced him to work on a ranch in Wyoming.

“Then I said, ‘I’ve got to pump the brakes.”

Starnes married Caroline and moved to Bloomington where she was enrolled in graduate school.

“I basically put all my money in on this gross little condo outside of Bloomington,” he says. “We rehabbed it and it ended up being perfect. It allowed us to save enough to be able to move to Florida and do it again.

“We've renovated six properties,” he continues. “Now, Caroline is living through the renovations. It's an awesome way to work, but it's very high risk.”

Starnes considers himself more of a minimalist which proved beneficial when Hurricane Ian tore through southwest Florida in September near where he grew up in Naples and also lives now near Sarasota.

“My mom is a very successful furniture dealer here. She loves furniture, but she's also really quick to let it go,” he says. “I was down at the store and three people came in looking for receipts for prior purchases. They said, ‘My insurance needs it. All of our stuff is gone.’ The hurricane puts into perspective that it’s just stuff in the house.”

Starnes, his wife, Caroline, and daughter, Mary Louise

The house I considered my home as a kid—where I lived the longest—they had nine feet of water and everything on the inside was gone,” he says. “The water was so heavy, it sunk in the foundation. They might have to tear the house down.”

As Starnes and his wife raise their one-year-old, Mary Louise, they recognize home isn’t necessarily a “physical dwelling” or even a particular place but some that helps you build identity.

“It’s a place that allows you to learn and grow,” he says. “There's no way I would be doing what I'm doing if I didn't go to Wabash. Here I am doing design and home renovations. There's not a class on that at Wabash but it taught me how to think—whether working in the fashion industry, as a cowboy out west, or putting on an asbestos suit, gas mask, and going in to house and just sweating, beating down the walls for three days. Wabash gave me confidence and it became a part of who I am.

“I have been to 100 countries, but nothing compares to going to Dari-Licious. Nowhere is like the Naples pier or my grandparents’ trailer south of Crawfordsville or Wabash. Those places are home in the sense that there are so many memories. The perspective I gained from traveling helped me identify what home is and allows me to really appreciate it even more.”