Home & Garden

Timeless treasures

A Christmas tree in a living room at the house of Bill and Kristie Yoder in Middle Amana, Iowa, on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A Christmas tree in a living room at the house of Bill and Kristie Yoder in Middle Amana, Iowa, on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Every home is a reflection of its owners. As you enter Bill and Kristie Yoder’s historic home in Middle Amana, it’s easy to see that she was an art teacher and he is a master woodworker.

Together, the couple have returned the home to its former glory, while adding their own modern spin. Built in the 1860s, the house had been divided and subdivided over the years, serving as a boardinghouse for a number of years. “When we bought it, it was a duplex,” Kristie said.

Kristie actually grew up in the same block and her mom and her brother and his family still live just a stone’s throw away. “I never knew this house as a single-family home,” she said.

Over the past eight years, Bill and Kristie have worked to slowly peel back the layers that had divided the house, including parallel staircases, front doors and basement steps. “As we started tearing it out, we could tell which were the original steps,” she said. The beautiful, hand-hewn wooden beams had been covered up.

“As we ripped walls down and the ceiling down, the beams were clean as a whistle. Bill said, ‘We’re not covering those up again.’”

Bill Yoder, who co-owns Ramsey Creek Woodworks in Kalona, appreciates the aesthetic beauty of time-worn wood.

Remodeling the 3,000-square-foot home did come with some challenges. “It’s post-and-beam construction all the way through, so if you level the floor in one place, it can mess it up. So we’re going to live with crooked floors,” Kristie said.

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“There’s no such thing as a square corner in this house, no rooms are squared, nothing’s parallel,” she said.

The home is the perfect blend of historic wood construction and newer, more exotic wood finishes. The oversized kitchen has room for two islands and a baby grand piano and a seating area. Fearing that one big kitchen island would have seemed too large, the couple decided to build two.

One functions as a prep island, the other is more of a serving and dining island. And the islands have proven to be highly functional, offering loads of storage space and outlets on each corner. “It’s just very handy,” Kristie said.

The kitchen is full of little details that add up to be very visually appealing. The kitchen cabinets are made from bubinga wood, “responsibly resourced from Central America,” Bill said. He chose to use a bubinga veneer on the flat panels of the cabinet doors, “so you don’t see all this variation. It’s the same color and grain pattern, but it gives it a cleaner look.”

The backsplash is a piece of ceiling tin. The island countertops are padauk wood, “which is a really nice, hard surface,” Bill said. “We can cut right on it.”

Bill said that the wood countertops are easy to maintain with just a little Murphy’s Oil Soap. “People are afraid of them, but it can be easy with the finishes we have now, and it’s all food safe.” The padauk countertops are like cherry, in that they will develop a darker patina over time. “I like the warmth of it,” he said.

The kitchen’s crown molding echoes the angles of the windows. The home has thick walls, which create deep window openings that slightly flare out. “It makes the windows look bigger than they are,” Bill said.

During renovation, the couple felt lucky to uncover a kitchen wall that still had the original beadboard covered in a green milk paint that they were able to keep. They painted the islands and the pantry to match that original green beadboard.

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“There were a lot of trunks and things that people brought over from Germany to New York, and then New York to Iowa that had this milk paint on it,” Kristie said. “It’s a common color.”

Because the home is located in a historic district, the couple were somewhat limited on how they could remodel the home. “We couldn’t move windows so that’s why a section of the kitchen counter is shorter,” Kristie said, to fit under the existing window, adding that the shorter counter is the perfect height when baking.

The couple came up with an interesting way to showcase the wood beam ceiling. Instead of exposing the kitchen beams all the way across the room, they added drywall only above the food prep area, to avoid any dust or debris from falling to the countertops below.

The dining room features beautiful, wide-plank pine floors that are original to the house, but not to that room. The boards had actually been up in the attic. “But the boards had not been nailed down. They were just laid on the beams, so they turned out really, really nice,” Bill said.

Kristie’s dad also was a woodworker and worked as a master craftsman for the Amana Furniture Shop. He built the dining room table. And during the holidays, Kristie and Bill proudly display a large Christmas pyramid in the dining room that her dad built.

“Christmas pyramids are really an Amana thing,” Kristie said. “They come in all different shapes and sizes.” She decorates hers with small trinkets that she collected on a trip to Europe and with inherited family pieces.

“I did learn the hard way you can’t light all of the candles because when it goes too fast, the paddles will burn,” she joked.

In the front family room, the carpets were made by Kristie’s uncle, a weaver. The walls are painted a traditional Amana blue. “All the walls in early Amana houses were this light blue,” she said. “Amana used to have a calico factory, so when they would dye the deep blue indigo, they would mix it with the plaster.”

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Upstairs, a guest bedroom still has the original soft pine flooring. A cubby outside the bedrooms serves as Kristie’s art space.

Each bathroom is masterfully designed with a mix of exotic wood and tile, with Bill’s company, Ramsey Creek Woodworks, designing the cupboards and the cabinetry.

In the master bedroom, much of the ceiling was removed, exposing the original beams. And the pine boards that were removed to build the dining room floor were replaced with spalted maple.

“They harvest it in the spring, when the sap is flowing,” Bill said. “At the Amana sawmill, they have it in big bundles that are wrapped in plastic. The heat from inside the plastic starts the process. It’s like the wood almost starts to rot, but doesn’t go that far.”

The finished product is highly nuanced with an artistic wood grain.

Bill and Kristie also incorporated the spalted maple into charming wood shutters on the bedroom windows.

The master bathroom features sycamore wood. “It has a whole different look,” Bill

said. “The neat thing about this house is it has a lot of different woods.”

With the holidays just around the corner, the couple looks forward to again decorating for Christmas.

One decorating mainstay are wooden sleds. “There are sleds all around the house,” Kristie said. “One was my grandfather’s, one was my grandmother’s, one my brother built for my kids when they were first born.”

Another family heirloom is a needlepoint Lord’s Prayer made by Kristie’s “oma,” or grandmother. It hangs in the dining room.

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During the holidays, the couple take down the curtain swags and hang pine boughs over the windows, much like the church does for Christmas Eve services. “My mom has often done the decorating for that,” Kristie said. “I remember when I was little going to the pine grove forest with her and getting those pines.”

For a woodworker who had always wanted to remodel an older home and an artist who loves to surround herself with beauty, Bill and Kristie Yoder have done just that, building a home to enjoy during the holidays and all year round.

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