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Making modern feel like home in southeast Cedar Rapids

Minimalism meets elegance

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The view from the kitchen and living room in Dr. Wes and Joanna Machnowski’s home on the far southeast side of Cedar Rapids is seasonally picturesque.

“We are in love with this development. It’s heaven,” Joanna said, while admiring the vista that span the south side of the home, overlooking the pond next door.

The couple moved into the home — which they designed and had built — some seven years ago. The construction took nearly a year thanks in part of special features, such as the passive solar windows that were imported from Germany that help bathe the home in natural light no matter the time of year.

“We love big windows,” said Joanna. “Rooms don’t have to be huge, but they have to be light. And I’m not afraid to have nothing on the windows,” she said of the minimalist design.

A professional interior designer, Joanna said her design style tends to push the envelope. “As a designer, I always want to use new things that my clients aren’t ready for. I go for out of the box design. I don’t want to do as you’d expect. Every client has something unique that is a reflection of them, as is this house for us. Your home is like a mirror of your soul.”

The kitchen highlights the Machnowski’s preference for minimalism. Joanna notes that it is not an especially large portion of the home’s 2,500 square feet. “Some people will do these really elaborate kitchens and spend $60,000 on cabinets, but for us I don’t see why we need that much space,” she said. “We have just the essentials — a coffee maker, a mini chopper. There are no gadgets on our counters. Less is truly more. I just need a place to chop and cook and then run away from it.”

While the kitchen space is compact it is still sleek and stunning. And it makes for great entertaining space, which Joanna said she and her husband truly enjoy.

When they aren’t hosting friends and other guests, the Machnowskis — whose children are grown — share the home with their sweet dog Pippa, a Chinese crested powder puff that seems yet another work of art in the home when perched lazily on the sofa.

The Machnowskis — immigrants from Poland — came to live in the Cedar Rapids area in 1995 from Chicago, having also lived in Rochester, Minn., and Ann Arbor, Mich. “I love it here,” said Joanna. “My friends all said I’d crawl back on my knees.”

But Joanna said that is not the case, but that they are happy to call Cedar Rapids home. Her husband has created a successful pediatric practice and when she’s not working on interior design projects, Joanna is playing the violin and serving as a board member for Orchestra Iowa.

Some of the home’s design was driven by the fact that Joanna’s mother often comes from Europe to stay with the couple for seven to ten months at a time. So the home features a private bedroom and bathroom that open to a lovely courtyard tucked behind the garage. “It gives all of us some privacy,” said Joanna.

It’s clear the Machnowskis love modern, stylized design, and as such you’ll find elements in various parts of the home. The half bath, just off the foyer for example, features a modern sink and a tankless toilet. All of their living room furniture “are useable pieces of art,” Joanna said.

But Joanna also loves a good bargain, especially when it comes to unique pieces. You’ll often find her shopping at TJ Maxx and Homegoods — she noted she likes Cedar Rapids even more since those stores opened. “I don’t shop, I go hunting,” she said. “You have to be prepared if you see something amazing, to go for it. I make quick decisions and I trust my instincts. And it isn’t about how much money you spend, but how you spend the money.”

Her wise spending tactics mean that several rooms in the house are also furnished with economical IKEA pieces. Joanna is a big fan of their storage systems, for example. “I don’t like any places to be not finished,” she said, noting the shelving in her tidy laundry room. “With organization, any room or space can look great.” She’s also not a fan of white wire shelving in closets. “If you finish the closets they can be gorgeous.” Setting one foot into the master bedroom closet, and you’ll see that Joanna knows what she is talking about. “I think it’s everybody’s dream to have an organized closet but the closet has to be pretty too. That’s important to me.”

As a designer, Joanna said almost every house she’s designed ends up with a stripe in it. And the Machnowski home is no different — utilizing stripes as a design element to unify the home. There’s a bold pink stripe in the master bathroom, and stripes in metallic paint (another favorite of Machnowski’s) in the master bedroom, which is more of a boudoir, Joanna said. “I don’t believe in big bedrooms. There’s romance in a smaller space.”

As you head down a stunning, industrial inspired staircase to the walk out basement, you’ll also find IKEA shelving prominent in the design to hold books and other family memorabilia, while a large sectional makes the space an inviting spot to sit down in front of the fireplace and watch TV. The concrete floors give the space a polished look. “Modern doesn’t mean cold,” Joanna said. “You can have a modern shell and make it a reflection of yourself.”

Also in the basement, there is another bedroom, another bathroom, a sauna and an office. It’s here in the office that features a large desk and many family photos. Joanna also points out a unique chair which just so happens to be the couple’s first piece of furniture they owned when they were married.

The Machnowskis love art as well, which is meticulously hung throughout the home. “We try to buy something new every year,” she said, pointing out that they add distinctive details to their home. “A house won’t have wow without the details.”

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