When you first set foot inside the Mealhows’ cozy home at the end of a quiet street in southeast Cedar Rapids, you notice a sign hanging in the living room that reads “enjoy the little things.”
This time of year, the Mealhows also clearly enjoy all the Christmas things, as each room of the home sparkles with strands of lights, evergreen swags and meticulously decorated Christmas trees.
“I really enjoy getting the Christmas decorations out little by little and moving things around until it’s just right,” said Ashley Mealhow, who shares the home with her husband, Nate, their three children, two cats and two dogs.
The house is sprinkled with vintage Christmas decor Mealhow has collected from family and friends, thrift stores and garage sales. “People have started to gift me things I collected,” she said, pointing to her lighted ceramic Christmas trees and the large decorative ornaments on the dining room table.
The living room at the front of the house is an especially cozy spot to relax during the holiday season, Mealhow said. “I love that there’s not a TV in this room. The wood-burning fireplace is wonderful, too.”
From all the family photos hanging on the walls, it’s clear the Mealhows value family and being surrounded by the ones they love. “We love entertaining and having friends and family over, especially for family birthdays,” she said. “I just love that this home is big enough that we can hold everyone and have so many people over.”
The Mealhows have lived in the home for three years, having stumbled upon it for sale and falling in love with the layout of the home and the property.
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“This house is a bit of a surprise when you step inside,” Mealhow said. “You can’t tell from the front that there’s this wonderful addition and a pool in the back.”
Just down a few steps from the kitchen and dining room, you’ll find that family room, a favorite spot of the whole family.
“This room sold the house for me,” Mealhow said.
One might assume the space earned its “great room” status thanks to the great views it provides of the surrounding wooded property. The soaring ceiling — roughly 20 feet at the peak — and the large picture windows make you feel like you are practically outdoors.
“We feed the deer right outside this window and so enjoy watching them,” Mealhow said, as three bucks stroll up to munch on feed. “We watch TV and nature here.” She added that she loves that it is spacious enough for a TV watching zone, a dining table, and a play zone with plenty of toys for the kids.
The 14-foot Christmas tree in the corner is the highlight of the holiday season.
“It’s filled with ornaments from when we were kids and ornaments our kids have made, even special ornaments from our travels like the new one we added from Sweden this year to remember our trip to visit friends there | this summer.”
There also are nods to the couple’s past homes in this home’s decor. A large window above the fireplace in the family room was salvaged from the Mealhows’ first apartment. “I just asked our landlord if I could keep it when they were replacing the windows,” Mealhow said. “Before we had kids, we used it as a headboard, but in this house it has found its perfect spot right there above the fireplace.”
The Mealhows have done a fair amount of renovating since moving in, made possible by the fact that Mealhow’s husband, Nate, owns Mealhow Construction and he spends his time building and remodeling homes for others.
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The family room received a face-lift when they moved in. The basement was overhauled to include office space and a cozy hangout zone. Upstairs, they renovated the master bedroom to make it more functional for their family. They redid the flooring, added a new banister around the stairs, installed new lighting, added beams to the ceiling for some architectural interest, and added built-in closets.
“We wanted to rearrange where the bed would go so we could look out that beautiful window,” she said.
But when you ask Mealhow what she loves most about where the family now lives, her answer is unexpected.
“It’s actually not the house. It’s the neighborhood,” she said. “The neighbors have all become wonderful friends of ours. It’s a close-knit community. The kids run together without prearranged play dates, the ladies down the street are always up for a drink and chat on the porch and the neighbors across the street will spend time with our kids and dog sit for us when we’re out of town. This neighborhood goes above and beyond being able to borrow a cup of sugar.”
Not surprisingly, the couple have big visions for further renovations to the home, including tackling the kitchen and a possible addition to make the home even more functional for their family.
“I just love that this house is a work in progress,” she said.