Home & Garden

Buyers had to 'keep an open mind' with Mount Vernon fixer-upper

Newlyweds create open floor plan with renovation

Stairs lead to the second story from the entryway and seating area at the home of Anna and Dale Handley in Mount Vernon on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. The Handleys have renovated an 1871 home from top to bottom, completing much of the work themselves. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Stairs lead to the second story from the entryway and seating area at the home of Anna and Dale Handley in Mount Vernon on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. The Handleys have renovated an 1871 home from top to bottom, completing much of the work themselves. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Anna and Dale Handley’s home is so open, light and spacious, you’d never know they had to take down multiple walls to make it so.

The couple bought their home in Mount Vernon in March 2017. But they weren’t able to move in right away. There were endless renovation projects to take on, and even a raccoon to kick out.

Friends and family watched — and sometimes pitched in — as the Handleys transformed a home that just needed a little TLC and some serious DIY dedication.

Anna said she couldn’t have imagined the transformation after first seeing the house.

“He kept telling me ‘just keep an open mind’ when he took me to see it,” she said.

“I’m overly optimistic,” Dale admitted.

The home sits on three lots, and when Dale saw the size of the property along with the square footage of the home, he knew it was a great opportunity. Anna trusted his instincts.

But as with many renovation projects, things at the Handley home took a bit longer than they expected. In fact, the Handleys actually lived in an RV in the driveway of their home for a couple of months until there was a functioning bathroom in the house. That was about September, when the couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

The Handleys aren’t the first to make renovations to the home.

“The home was originally built in 1871, but it has very much changed,” Dale said. “It’s been added to three or four times.”

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One might argue the Handleys are the most thorough. Tearing down walls. Building new ones. Restoring the deck. Reconfiguring bathrooms. Pulling up carpet and putting down new flooring. Redoing electrical and rerouting plumbing.

“We filled four 30-yard dumpsters,” Anna recalled. “Every floor is new and every wall is painted. And Dale is not doing a job just to get it done. He does it right.”

Dale, who had done construction through high school and college and helped manage rental properties for his family and himself for many years, led the charge on demolition and rebuilding their home according to their vision.

“I learned much more than I ever thought I would, but we definitely know when to hire out.”

“And we only had one trip to the ER,” Anna said, joking.

On the main floor, several walls were removed and plumbing was rerouted and contained within columns to open up the space.

“We knew we wanted an open concept,” Dale said. He added that it was cool during the demolition process to find original exterior walls with rough boards with square nails.

“I just love seeing the before and afters,” Anna said. “You work on it every day and you can feel like you aren’t getting anywhere. It’s amazing to think about the amount of work we did to this house.”

Other functional changes were made to the floor plan, such as flip-flopping the pantry and the bathroom off the kitchen.

“It just made more sense, even though it was a lot of work,” Dale said.

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The kitchen, once small and dark, now is a wide-open gathering space at the back of the home. While it was tricky to confirm, they settled on a modern farmhouse look that is simple and functional. The large island is a stunning focal point of the room along with the stove and hood above.

Believe it or not, in the living room at the front of the home the Handleys actually added a wall to leave some open entertainment space and create a first-floor bedroom that they use as a home office.

Upstairs there’s another gathering space for relaxing and spending time with family.

“I love that space in the morning,” Dale said. “It’s like a finished basement but upstairs and it’s nice to have that secondary living space.”

The spacious master bedroom got new carpeting, fresh paint and a face-lift for the fireplace. But the master bathroom is the crown jewel.

“The bathroom is our favorite part,” she said, noting that they totally rearranged the layout. “It’s been the biggest transformation.”

As in the kitchen, they added new cabinetry and quartz countertops.

There is a huge, spalike walk in shower along with a stunning soaking tub.

Having previously lived in a condo in North Liberty before moving to their Mount Vernon property, the Handleys slowly are filling it with the furniture and decor they need. Pieces contributed from family members now are paired with furniture from their old home and new pieces they’ve purchased. A custom bar cart in the kitchen is particularly meaningful as Anna’s uncle created it for them.

“It’s fun to put the house all together and see how it all works together,” Anna said.

While the Handleys have finished more projects that most homeowners finish is a lifetime, they know there’s more work to do.

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They are working on repairing the deck so they have outdoor space to enjoy this summer. Other projects on their list include putting up window treatments, fixing up the stairs and landscaping the yard.

But for now, the Handleys are very much looking forward to a more relaxing summer and getting to know their new community.

“We’re excited to just enjoy the house because last summer we felt guilty if we weren’t working on it. But this house just needed some love. And the neighbors were really excited and it was fun for them to see it.”

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