For years, she’d walked past the 1879 Victorian house and admired the decorative brackets, overhanging eaves and other elements of Italianate architecture. When it came on the market, she could hardly wait to walk through the home.
Stepping inside the front doors with their leaded glass transom, she was stopped in her tracks.
“I was totally awestruck. I’d never seen anything like it. Right there and then, I fell in love with the parquet floor,” the homeowner says.
The home’s luxurious, original butternut and walnut parquet is laid in an elaborate pattern that juxtaposes angles and geometric patterns. It’s taken 137 years of shoes, boots and socked feet walking across it to achieve the fine, mellow patina. The main staircase built by U.S. Civil War veterans.
She also discovered the home has a deep history, such as serving as the home of author John Leggett when he served as director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop from 1970 to 1987. “Many famous authors came through that front door, and many stayed overnight in an upstairs guest room,” she says, including Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller.
After purchasing the home in 2012, the homeowners set about renovating the historic residence, beginning with the interiors. They enlisted the services of Lammers Construction, Mark Russo Kitchen and Bath Design and Rhonda Staley, IIDA, an interior designer with the Mansion, all in Iowa City.
“It’s challenging to find people who are willing to work on an old house like this, who respect the history and really understand the architecture and character involved. I wanted to maintain the legacy. The quality of the craftsmanship and workmanship in an older home like this is worth maintaining,” the homeowner asserts.
The kitchen and dining rooms underwent dramatic transformations. In the kitchen, dark cabinets, a ruined floor and an old breakfast bar were removed. In their place, softly colored, painted and glazed cabinetry – some with glass fronts -- and ornate gold and apricot faceted crystal pulls were installed. A gold-infused granite tops the island that runs the length of the kitchen. The stone also appears on the backsplash and countertops.
Underfoot, the large porcelain tiles are highly polished, reflecting the elaborate gold tin ceiling and crown molding overhead. Space was reconfigured based on the original floor plan, and the ceiling was raised to its original height.
A large copper relief wall hanging, Italian figurative painting and original scones draw attention to the fireplace, which has been converted to gas. It is one of four fireplaces original to the home. Shelves in the cooking center and a shelf beneath a broad window are supported by corbels and brackets to match adornments on home’s exterior.
Staley designed balloon shades in sheer wool with gold thread for the kitchen and library. The library, at the front of the home, doubles as the homeowner’s office and a home for her piano.
In the sumptuous dining room, the story is all about grace, beauty and comfort. “When I’m helping the client choose colors and style, I want them to look beautiful in the setting and to feel totally at home. She loves gold, which is such an uplifting, warm color, and ascanthus leaves. As a designer, you take all those things into consideration,” Staley explains.
Crown molding is adorned with ascanthus leaves, and wallpaper with its toile design of foliage, birds and flowers is so extremely fine and fragile, it is nearly translucent. It’s called “Arlington,” and is from York Wallcoverings. The original fireplace is fronted with decoratively carved soapstone with a mountain marble hearth.
An antique chandelier hangs above the Theodore Alexander table of African mahogany and satin wood with intricate inlays, which handcrafted in the Phillipines. The homeowner found the genuine onyx-topped Napolean III table in a Chicago antique store.
The home was purchased in 2012, and they moved in when renovations were basically complete in 2014. There have been a few surprises along the way, too, the homeowner says, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed – including the discovery and removal of eight dead squirrels in the wall of an upstairs bedroom. That required the removal of exterior siding and insulation – along with the homeowners.
Text | Melody Parker
Photography | Brandon Pollock