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Summer Eliason’s Cabin & Tipi

By: Lisa Hornung

Family photos By: Andrew Kung

Inerior Photo By: Jillian Ferrell Photography

Lots of people have cabins at the lake, where they spend their summer weekends with family, enjoying getting away from home. But not many people have their own tipi (tepee) to sleep under the stars like Native Americans once did.

Designer and entrepreneur Summer Eliason does. Well, sort of. Hers, while made by a company that creates traditional Native American tipis, also has air conditioning.

Eliason and her family often visit Patoka Lake, Ind. Eliason said her mother and stepfather, Susan and Lucky Vervilles, had two boats on the lake. They would stay at West Baden Springs in the past, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to buy a cabin.

First, they looked to build but decided against it. Eventually, they found one to buy and renovate in Birdseye, Ind., which is about 10 minutes from the lake, Eliason said. “We just had to do some updates, because it was built in like the late ’80s, early ’90s. And it kind of had been let go. And then it kind of grew into two lots just to not have neighbors.” The family bought a neighboring lot, and eventually another neighboring cabin.

But Eliason had always had a love for the West. As a child, she had Navajo print decorating her room, and she later studied at the University of Colorado. She named the cabin Buffalo Creek, a nod to her CU Buffs. While decorating the cabin with Western decor was fun, she found an even better idea -- a tipi.

She bought a 26-foot tipi from Nomadics Tipi Makers, a company based in Bend, Ore. The company makes tipis of multiple sizes and materials that reflect the use of the structure for the purchaser with respect to the land and culture of Native Americans. The company also created the tipis from the 1990 movie, “Dances with Wolves.”

The tipi, adorned with hand-painted bison and other Native American motifs, has beds, a game table and animal hydes for a western touch. When it arrived, Eliason said it hadn’t occurred to her that the tipi needed a floor, so they had to build a deck to put it on. It has a small air conditioner and a “critter-guard,” an extra feature from the tipi company. And it’s become kind of an attraction, she said. “People in the neighborhood are like, ‘What is this?’”

The cabin, which was renovated over time by two uncles who live in Evansville, has Pendelton blankets, taxidermy and deer-horn chandeliers. She also has several prints from one of her favorite Colorado artists, collage artist Dolan Geiman. The garage is the family’s game room, with ping pong, air hockey and ax throwing. Out by the tipi, there is archery.

Eliason bought some of the decor and furniture from her vendors for her Frankfort Avenue store, Summer Eliason Design, but she and her mom shopped other stuff at consignment stores and Eyedia Design It Again (now closed). They tried to keep the budget low for some items. They tried to keep both cabins and the tipi consistent with furniture and decor to make sense together.

The family, including Eliason’s husband and children -- Peter Thurman Jr., Halston Thurman, 11, and Hutton Thurman, 8, and sheepadoodle Oreo -- uses the tipi as an extra space for visitors to stay, glamping-style. Oreo is an especially big fan.


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