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A Perfect Place to Party
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
GARDEN FEATURE February/March 2018
home :: home & garden :: featured gardens

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A couple from Lynnville loves to entertain for family and friends.

Think carefully. How many Iowans do you know who own an island? Not at an exotic location in the Caribbean, mind you, but in their backyard.

Meet Marlis and Jim Van Zante, who live between Lynnville and Sully. They built their home on 30 acres in 1995 and have been changing the details to suit their situation ever since. Jim started Sully Construction, an excavation business, in 1972. So it’s no surprise he dug a 5.6-acre pond that’s 18 feet deep. “There’s always someone who wants dirt,” he says. In the case of the pond, the recipient was the rest area between Lynnville and Grinnell on I-80.

And just for fun, he left an island in the middle of the pond. Jim built a walking bridge to provide access. Over the years, it has been a great place for a picnic or an overnight adventure for growing grandchildren and Grandma. The property even has a pioneer cemetery with six graves from the mid-1800s.

A fun center

The all-in-one fun center includes a sandy beach with colorful Adirondack chairs, a paddleboat, a stocked pond for fishing (catfish, bluegill, walleye, sunfish, and bass), a cabin with bunk beds on the island, a fire pit on the island, and a fire pit table under the pergola. The island, by the way, is known as Bear Island because Marlis has bear statues in, under, and around each tree.

“From early on, we had a small deck on the back of the house overlooking the pond, but it started to rot over time,” Marlis explains. She began a file of magazine photos of decks and talked to a local contractor, but he didn’t want to tackle all the curves she had in mind. Her plan was a deck that covered the entire back of the house and included a step-up area for dining and a step-down area for a seating area with a pergola. Plus, low maintenance was very imperative.

Archadeck of Central Iowa was a recommendation. After the Van Zantes met with Archadeck’s Harold Cross, the plan received a thumbs-up. The company created a curved deck, railing, and a pergola across the back of the home. Harold handles the business side; his brother, David Cross, handles the construction side.

The project was more, much more, than a straight-line deck. With angles and curves from the raised dining area and the pergola seating area set on an angle, the project covers nearly 900 square feet, Cross says. It was built over an existing patio below and large stone-edged flowerbeds. Also, the pergola area incorporates a birch tree for more shade. “It’s a messy tree,” Jim admits, “but it does provide good shade in the late afternoon.”

The Van Zante family includes two sons, Jason and Cory; Jason’s wife, Michelle; and three grandchildren, Tyler, 18; Megan, 14; and Mia, 7. The new space has provided a great location for family parties and gatherings for friends, including a 92nd birthday party for Marlis’s mother, morning coffee for friends, and the Lynnville Women’s Club meetings. A big square dining table, seating eight, overlooks the property and is a good spot for friendly conversation.

Biggest party

Marlis says the biggest party was last year for grandson Tyler’s football team, when 50 hungry boys descended for a meal, which she and Michelle cooked and served.

“Marlis knew exactly what she wanted in this space,” Cross says. “She came as prepared with ideas as anyone. It was great. She knew she wanted separate seating and dining areas set apart with interesting curves and details. It all fits beautifully into this spectacular setting.”

Ever planning ahead, Marlis, an inveterate shopper and decorator, had sectional furniture purchased for the pergola area and stored in the barn before the deck was even built. Cross was careful to measure it twice before confirming the radius of the curved deck area under the pergola. Marlis decorates the deck and the area around it for the seasons and holiday. She’s always scouring for details on shopping excursions to Dallas, Salt Lake City, and Kansas City.

Under the deck, Marlis embellishes, too, with colorful garden items and accents. A stone slab walkway leads to a “peacock garden” for the granddaughters, complete with bottle trees and bright details. Ferns and flowers—impatiens, hibiscus, hydrangeas—and pots of annuals add bright spots. In the evening, deck rail lighting, strands of lights on the pergola rafters, and light from the fire pit table add night glow.

“I just love it,” Marlis says. “Making memories. That’s what it’s all about.”

Archadeck Wins National Award

For this project, Archadeck of Central Iowa was named the company’s national Archadeck design excellence grand prize winner from the more than 2,500 projects designed and built by the 50 franchisees across the nation in 2016.

“We were judged by our counterparts, and that makes it very special,” Harold Cross says. The company is known for its custom design-build services focused on outdoor living spaces.

He explains that homeowners these days want covered spaces, such as a roof or pergola over a patio or deck. They want low-maintenance materials, fire features, lighting, and mixed textures to enhance their space.

All those were used in the Van Zante deck project. Low-maintenance products from Trex capped composite Transcend decking line and Trex Elevations steel framing system free Jim and Marlis to totally focus on enjoying their new deck space.

Archadeck provides “pro” support for Trex as well as CPG Building Products (Azek and TimberTech). “The low-maintenance technology has grown so much over the years in both aesthetic and performance areas,” Cross notes.


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