116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As a young boy delivering newspapers, Mark Weems had been curious about the unusual modern-style house tucked off East Post Road SE, but he had never been there.
Now he lives there.
More or less. He remembers seeing it under construction in 1967, but only the footprint of that structure remains. After sitting vacant for a while, architect Dan Thies and his wife, Carolyn, bought the property in 2005, razed the house to the foundation, excavated to create a lower level, and designed a dramatic, contemporary 4,800-square-foot white home with soaring walls of windows that let the sunlight stream through.
That's what you might see from the road, if you look quickly between the towering trees lining the long drive. They wrap around much of the property's wooded 10 acres, up and down a ravine with a creek on the far edge. It's a magical ride on an all-terrain vehicle, where if you're lucky, you'll see deer, who also share the forest preserve with foxes, turkeys, woodchucks, owls and at least one pileated woodpecker.
When you drive up the lane to the home on a hot summer day, however, you zero in on the aqua blue saltwater swimming pool that shimmers in the front yard. It's an original feature that has stood the test of time, giving the first home the weekend-retreat feel the late Howard Cherry Jr. and his wife were seeking in the country, away from their home in the city.
Moving from a traditional-style, two-story home on nearby Andover Lane was more of a shock for Mark Weems than for his wife, Mary.
She's come full circle now, in a home reminiscent of the one in which she grew up, designed by her late father, Leo Peiffer.
An architect known for his midcentury modern homes, he also designed many fixtures on the Cedar Rapids scene, including the Five Seasons Center and Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel (now the U.S. Cellular Center and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel downtown), the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Memorial Funeral Home, All Saints and St. Pius X Catholic churches and Veterans Memorial Stadium, to name a few.
'I knew personally, for me, it would be a big adjustment,' Mark said of the huge contrast in styles between their new home and the one in which they lived for 21 years, raising their three sons and one daughter. 'I kept thinking about her father, and seeing quality, quality, quality.'
Mary was the one dragging her feet, however, worried that the adjustment would be too big for her husband. They walked through the home three times, and still, Mary said, 'I just need a sign.' And just like that, one came down like a bolt from the blue.
Mark had begun contacting bankers they use personally and professionally for Legacy Manufacturing in Marion, the family firm where Mark is president and Mary serves as business development manager. One of the bankers said, 'Have you put your house on the market yet?' He and his wife had been looking for more than a year, and wanted it.
'I said, 'Mary, I think we just got our sign,' '
Mark said. 'We bought this house and sold ours in two days,' without even listing it.
'It was meant to be,' Mary added. 'This is exactly where we're supposed to be. It's amazing how it came together really quickly. It's like coming back home again, in a way, for me.'
Their traditional furniture didn't fit the style of their new home, so they gave some pieces to their kids, family and friends, kept some and sold some from their 3,800-square-foot home.
The fun part was choosing pieces that would be at home in their new house, and incorporating pieces that belonged to Mary's father, from sleek black-and-chrome office chairs to a low coffee table he built in high school.
While many walls are white, the interior is far from stark. Various tones of taupe, from beige to an almost green cast to one that leans toward a rich purple, help warm up spaces, especially in the lower level, where a red sofa adds a pop of color in the open area at the foot of the stairs.
Light wood also adds warmth throughout, from flooring to kitchen cabinets and trim. Neutral carpet in the bedrooms and tile in the bathrooms add color and comfort. Artwork adds a splash of drama to walls and nooks, and the couple plan to add more pieces as they travel.
Open spaces, perfect for entertaining, greet visitors on the main floor. At one end is a chef's dream kitchen, with a huge gas stove and granite-topped island and vast, uncluttered stretches of granite countertops. The island contains a beverage cooler and wine rack, microwave and a long, narrow sink ideal for prepping vegetables or filling with ice, bottles and cans for thirsty party guests. Instead of a backsplash, the counter on the outside wall has windows, keeping the space bright and airy. And there's no shortage of storage, as a long pantry lined with shelving leads to the first-floor laundry room.
The kitchen opens to a large, contemporary dining room table and chairs, a living room grouping to the side facing the pool, and a double-sided wood-clad gas fireplace between the dining room and another seating area with a large TV in the center and a niche just the right size for the family's grand piano.
Down the hall are a powder room, a guest suite with private bath and sauna (which may or may not stay there), and the master bedroom with a gas fireplace, his and hers closets, and a master bath with walk-in shower. It's a layout that will allow the couple, both 58, ease of living as they age.
Downstairs lies the gathering space with a wet bar and all the amenities, an office tucked around one corner, and a hallway leading to another bedroom and bath, as well as a media room with a gas fireplace. The walkout lower level has a large patio on the long side, and a small patio around the corner, just right for the couple's hot tub, which like most of the house, looks out over the serene woodlands.
Some of the most stunning views are in the backyard. Take a short walk to the fire pit, turn around, and see two stories of giant windows and strips of glass bricks from the upper and lower showers. Some of the stone lion heads Mary's father collected have been placed in the backyard.
Then go back around front, past the four-car garage (which also has a mounted lion's head), and around the front entry, to that glorious pool — 9 feet deep at the diving end. It's such a hit with the couple's eight grandchildren, ages 10 years to 7 months, that they soon will be taking swimming lessons there. The adjacent pool room also has a half bath.
The couple had a hot tub at their other house, but never a pool.
'A pool was not high on our list. It might not have even been on the list,' Mark said.
'But we're really enjoying it,' Mary added.
Mark worked at a pool in high school, so he jumped right in with taking care of this one. Converting to a salt system makes maintenance much easier than trying to go the full-chemical route. He just has to 'shock' it once a week, skim it, and remember to set afloat the robotic dolphin that scrubs the hard surfaces.
The couple's other project has been fixing up a kid-friendly 'clubhouse' just a short hop from the pool, where the grandkids will be able to relax, shower, play games, watch TV and have snacks in the kitchenette. Grown-ups can use it, too.
Both the house and clubhouse are 'smart homes,' with blinds, temperatures and lights adjustable from phones and remotes.
'It's smarter than we are,' Mary said with a laugh.
Buying the house, however, was a smart move for them.
'(Leo) would have loved it,' Mark said.
'But he knows where we are,' Mary added.
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