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All About Elegant Comfort
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
HOME FEATURE October/November 2018
home :: home & garden :: featured homes

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A family finds its beautiful slice of Iowa in a rural development near Earlham.

When Erica and Chris Heck lived in West Des Moines, they made the decision to build their dream home. They looked and looked at lots and landed on one in a rural development near Earlham. “Chris and my dad love to fish and hunt, so the rural lot we found is perfect for them,” Erica says. They bought two three-acre lots, plus 18 other acres. They found the land about five years ago, started building in the spring of 2016, and have been in since April of 2017.

Through connections, they found Jeremy Thompson of J. Thompson Builders of Johnston. The couple and Thompson hit it off famously and had a great working relationship. “He was always available to deal with him personally,” Erica points out. “And that was worth so much.”

It’s a two-way appreciation, says Thompson. “Erica knew exactly what she wanted all the way through, which was so helpful.” Even the floor plan was worked out from her sketches.

The home’s easy access to Interstate 80 has worked out well. Chris has a straight shot to work in Waukee. Trips to the family’s activities in West Des Moines and Des Moines can be measured in half-hour increments.

And, going the other way to the west, the interstate takes them back to their piece of paradise. Huge, huge windows on the home’s west side frame bucolic settings of a large pond, rolling farm fields, and even a herd of cattle that seems to show up on cue.


Erica loves that when visitors walk in the front door, they see straight through the home to that lovely setting. The great-room’s huge wall of windows—made possible by a 20-foot ceiling—absolutely captures the view of privacy and serenity. It’s also the perfect place for their son, CJ, a first-grader, to enjoy the outdoors.

Erica, a consultant, calls the home’s style “elegant comfort.” She has had lots of fun putting it together. “It’s traditional but timeless, and it has been my passion,” she says. The two-story home with a walkout lower level has just over 6,000 square feet.

The family hangs out in the great-room, which features comfortable fabrics and textures. Banks of shelves that are open on the top and with doors on the bottom flank the focal fireplace. Yes, behind the doors are CJ’s toys.

Dark walnut hardwood is underfoot. Beams in the tall ceiling define the room’s height in the same tone.

Nearby, the open and sleek kitchen is a cook’s dream, complete with a huge island with swirled-quartz countertops that give the effect of marble. The deep farmhouse sink is in the island so that Erica can face the great-room’s activities. Seating around the island is perfect for breakfast and casual meals. For more-formal dinners and larger groups, they use a trestle table with chairs and a bench for seating. Up the sides and across the big window in the dining area stands Erica’s modern interpretation of a hutch for displaying collectibles. It’s small and narrow and takes up space around and across the top of the window. The hutch features leaded glass and interior lighting.

Kitchen cabinetry is a color called chai, a muted soft gray tone. The darker island is a color called espresso. An efficient walk-in pantry cuts the need for extra cabinets.

Outdoor space

An outdoor kitchen lies adjacent to the kitchen, complete with a covered deck that makes the area extra-handy for entertaining. Chris is quite proficient at grilling and enjoys experimenting. Erica also enjoys cooking. They enjoy working together in the convenient outdoor space. A corner fireplace takes away the chill on cold evenings and adds ambience. Wicker furniture for relaxing faces the view of the pond and fields.

The back hallway behind the kitchen contains a built-in desk for managing the household, a hall-tree cabinet for holding jackets and backpacks, and even a “grocery-getter” small door that opens into the pantry for transferring grocery bags from the car. The four-bay garage also has a dog shower for two canine family members, Hayden and Charlie.

At the other end of the main floor is the master suite, truly a sanctuary for busy parents. Features include a tufted headboard, soft gray palette, and an interesting corner fireplace, called a bed-and-breakfast gas fireplace, which is designed as a piece of furniture. The master bath has a soaking tub, walk-in shower, back-to-back vanities, and walk-in closets. The nearby laundry room includes a sink and a folding counter over the cabinetry.

Erica’s home office is in loft space overlooking the great-room. CJ’s room nearby has a sports theme and honors the Chicago Bears, the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the Chicago Cubs. A second-floor laundry stands close by. At the other end of the floor is a guest room.

The lower-level family room also has huge windows that frame the country view. A special focal point is a 1940s cherry and mahogany bar from Main Street in Manning, Erica’s hometown. Her father had tended bar there in his 20s. The bar had been tucked away in a warehouse since 1993, when the business closed.

Builder Thompson and Mark Grant, finish carpenter, spruced up the old treasure with reclaimed tile to back the bar. Original latches on the doors and other details make it a fun conversation piece. The front and back bars were resized to 14 feet long.

The lower level has another fireplace, a guest room, and a suite for Erica’s parents, Rick and Georgia Lohrmann. They helped with the entire home project and visit regularly.

Design tools

Thompson says the Hecks used all sorts of online sources to help design the home, including,, and Thompson also operates JT Unique, a specialized program that offers 3-D images for building various woodwork items in a home.

As for landscaping, the builder says he has never seen a property like this one before. “We didn’t have to bring in any stone to build a retaining wall. There was so much stone unearthed when the foundation was dug that we used all that for the wall.”

Besides their human neighbors, the family enjoys the company of the cows, a blue heron in the pond, turtles, tree frogs, and a neighborhood badger.

“This is so home for us,” Erica points out. “More and more every day.”

Builder J. Thompson Builders
Design Randy Milder, Ahmann Design
Site Michael Wahlert, Bishop Engineering
Materials Beisser Lumber
Electrical Custom Electric
Plumbing Schlievert Plumbing
Plumbing fixtures Ferguson
Flooring Royal Flooring
Cabinetry Moehl Millwork
Windows Integrity by Marvin Windows
Tile The Tile Shop
Stone Fireplace Stone & Patio
Fireplaces Chim Cherie’s House of Fireplaces
Countertops Bertini
Audio-visual, central vac Midwest Technologies
Finish carpentry Mark Grant
Painters John McCleary, Tony Allsup


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