Akwi Nji aims to live each day with intention. So it’s no surprise her Cedar Rapids home — which she shares with husband Chris Buesing and two tween-age daughters — is a space filled with intention as well.
“I try to focus on creating spaces that encourage us to learn, play and gather,” she said. “This is a home that celebrates and honors creativity by our family and our friends.”
Both Chris and Akwi work for the Cedar Rapids Community School District and Akwi also is a writer and spoken word performance artist. Together, the couple has found striking art work to fill the walls in every room, with a strong focus on supporting local artists like Mary Zeran, Dori Patrick and Melissa Marie Collins. Even the small bathroom upstairs has touches of custom artwork.
These proud parents also showcase their children’s’ artwork. “There are little bits of the girls’ artwork everywhere,” Akwi said.
And in one corner of the dining room hangs a blank white canvas. “It’s a little whimsy and curiosity when I walk through my house. I amuse myself with it.”
Akwi decided to paint the main floor’s walls a brilliant white to highlight the stunning blond Craftsman woodwork and to create gallery-like walls to highlight the pops of color.
“I also intentionally went with a higher shine on the paint to reflect light in here,” she said. “I love standing on the landing and looking from here to there and seeing all the woodwork and colors.”
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Located in the Wellington Heights neighborhood — which Akwi said they love being a part of — in southeast Cedar Rapids, the Nji/Buesing home was built in 1912. They moved in the year the house turned 100 — Akwi still laments they weren’t settled enough to throw a 100th birthday party for the house — and have spent the past five years making the historic house their home.
And the house, it seems, has found the perfect owners.
“My husband and I love older homes,” Akwi said. “We love this house because of the woodwork, the curve of the mantel, the fireplace grate, the built-ins in the living room, lead-paned glass in the dining room. It has all the things we love about classic architecture. Oh, and the pine floors — I love that they are raw and have tons of character.”
They have filled the home with eye-catching antiques — like an old card catalog in the dining room — and also have used art and décor to modernize the space.
“I want it to feel crisp and clean and contemporary, but we want to be sure to keep the traditional elements pure,” Akwi said. “I like working with the bones of this home to combine my desire for a modern feel with my husband’s love of all things antique.”
Case in point, Akwi said, comes in the dressers in the master bedroom — his antique, hers modern.
“Our challenge is creating a sense of this being our home, blending his taste and mine,” Akwi said. “I want the things in our home to matter.”
For instance, Chris and Akwi got engaged in San Francisco so you’ll see nods to that city throughout the living room.
Succulents — plants that Akwi said she discovered before they were popular home accents — are scattered about, including one Chris wore as a boutonniere at their wedding, which has now blossomed into two plants.
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The quilt in the master bedroom was handcrafted from fabric the couple used as napkins at their wedding reception. “It’s a very traditional thing, but it’s done in a non-traditional pattern of vertical lines,” Akwi said. “I love it.”
While the home is a gallery for art and sentiment, it’s not formal or stuffy.
“I try to figure out how to have a sense of playfulness,” Akwi said. “I don’t want the girls to feel like kids can’t live here.” Both girls, she said, were allowed to decorate their bedrooms to reflect their blossoming personalities — one artsy, one athletic.
And right as you walk in the front door, you’ll find a nook with a table that serves as a hub for doing homework, puzzles and art projects or just sitting with a cup of tea or glass of wine with a friend.
“Play, learn and gather,” Akwi said. “That’s what I try to create space for in this house. Celebrating those times when we are together.”