When Julie Stow walked into the house she would end up buying on Cedar Rapids’ southeast side six months ago, the first thing she did was call her friend Aaron Murphy.
As the owner of Aaron Murphy Interiors, an interior design company in Cedar Rapids, she trusted his opinion on whether she should keep looking or if this house had the potential she sensed it did.
“When I walked in, it felt right,” she said.
But she could see she would want to make a lot of updates for it to truly be the house of her dreams.
“I was standing here in the entryway, and I immediately called him and said, ‘I can see the potential, but if you can’t, it’s not possible,’” she said.
Murphy came over a few minutes later and delivered a verdict: We can make this work. And they got to planning how they would turn the house into her home.
Stow bought the house, just off Mount Vernon Road, in June but didn’t fully move in for several months. For a portion of that time she lived with Murphy and his husband while the remodel was underway. They’ve been friends for about six years, which he said made an important part of the design process — figuring out what his clients want and need from their spaces — easy.
“I love getting to know people and learning what makes them tick and what’s important to them,” he said.
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He and Stow started by addressing the floors and ceilings, smoothing out popcorn ceiling paint, along with addressing concerns with the electrical and plumbing systems. In the kitchen, they removed five layers of flooring and had to rebuild the subfloor before doing further work.
The 1,500-square-foot house was built in 1935. With built-in cupboards in the hallway and a brick fireplace in the living room, it has character Stow adores.
“I love old houses. I love the wood floors and the molding,” she said. “I love the bones. I love the curves of the arched doors.”
She had lived in Cedar Rapids before, but two years ago sold her house and moved to Napa, California, to pursue a lifelong dream of working at a vineyard. After a year there, she returned to Cedar Rapids — she now works at GO Cedar Rapids — and started looking for the next place she would call home. She had a few pieces of furniture and other things saved, but coming from an 800-square-foot apartment in California, she had room to pick out a lot of new pieces for the house, many with Murphy’s help.
Much of her shopping was done at NewBo vintage store Mad Modern, which specializes in midcentury furniture and accessories.
To complement that mod-style, Murphy suggested a wallpaper accent wall for the dining room. At first Stow was reluctant, but then she decided to go for it. Now she loves the patterned wall, surrounded by walls painted navy blue, a contrast to most of the house’s shades of gray.
The gray paint in the living room and many of the other rooms offers a neutral backdrop that lets Stow’s boldly colored furniture and accessories pop, Murphy said.
“Julie has such an eclectic style,” he said. “So a gray backdrop, something that’s neutral, really, really works.”
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That eclectic style includes both new and vintage furniture, unique art and things inherited from her grandparents. Many of the items come with a story. Classic records have a place of prominence on shelves in the living room, while in the kitchen, framed menus from favored meals are displayed on one wall.
The kitchen also boasts wood cupboards, original to the house, that have been newly scrubbed and painted, new countertops, an oversized sink and the addition of a gas stove. A metallic backsplash completes the room.
In the finished attic, skylights in the slanted ceiling keep the master bedroom cheery and bright. But Stow’s favorite room is the enclosed back porch, which is fully insulated and acts more as an extra living room, opening onto the backyard.
“When I have friends over, this tends to be where people gravitate,” Stow said.
Her work on the house isn’t quite finished. She still wants to add a wine cellar in the basement. It would tie her love of Napa, and her California childhood, back into her Iowa home, a way to make the house uniquely hers.
Doing that is exactly what she’s loved about this renovation.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to do the whole house from scratch and make it my own,” she said. “I want this to be the last house I ever buy.”
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