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Season for a Saltbox
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
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A rural Adel couple, forced to move from their home near Grimes, downsizes back into history.

When people who have lived in an old house for years move, you might expect their next spot to be a slightly newer home. Then there’s the tale of Gerry and Mel Bauman. For years they had lived in a classic farmhouse built by Mel’s grandfather in 1900. It was between Johnston and Grimes.

Through eminent domain, Johnston took their farmhouse to put in a roundabout at the corner of NW 70th Avenue and 100th Street to create better access to the new Johnston High School from the north.

“We lost our house on a Wednesday, drove to rural Adel to check out this house on Thursday, and we made an offer on Friday,” Gerry explains. While their new house was indeed much newer—built in 1989—it re-created a style that harkens much further back in time. It’s a New England saltbox, popular from the 1600s to the early 1800s. They moved into the home in June of 2015.

Shaker influence

Gerry says the couple who built the home was fascinated by the lifestyle of the Shakers. It features open beams and peg racks for hanging clothing and other items.

The classic style is compact in its structure, so the couple had to downsize to 1,600 square feet. The saltbox features a slanted back roof; the front of the house is two stories, but the back is only one story. Settlers felt that a deep-pitched roof was better for sloughing off snow and rain.

Gerry, who ran The Farmhouse gift shop for 23 years at the Grimes location, is all about old things, from primitive to antique to vintage. “I have changed styles over time,” she says. “Victorian to shabby chic, you name it. I have collected it all. These days I often buy stuff that my grandma had. It’s a fun passion.” Mel, a CPA and farmer, has gotten used to it, she says.

Saltbox style

A saltbox is built around a center chimney; there’s a fireplace in the living-dining area and another in one of two bedrooms on the second floor. To accommodate gatherings of their three children’s families with seven grandchildren, the Baumans have finished off the basement area to add another bedroom and more living space.

The living-dining room, across the back of the house, features three primitive hutches for storage, an old church pew to warm up in front of the fireplace, and upholstered wing chairs and a leather sofa. For more display space, Gerry fashioned a mantel from old corbels.

Because of limited width of the rooms, Gerry searched for a long and skinny table to use in the dining area and found one at last fall’s Junk Jubilee in Des Moines. Then she collected a variety of Windsor chairs to paint.

For the holidays, Gerry’s layering of vintage accessories gives a warm and cozy feel. The table and open shelves in the kitchen are set with old Johnson Brothers of England china in the Merry Christmas pattern. A cardboard Santa on the wall is from Gerry’s grandmother, Sadie Bullington, and a mitten-drying hanger holds old wool ones. The Christmas tree is trimmed with vintage ornaments and Gerry’s special finds from several trips to England.

Find the appliances

In the kitchen’s dark red simple cabinets, open shelves showcase little holiday surprises, such as an old syrup or cream pitcher with a red lid and handle (yes, many of us grew up with those), now with a tiny green tree inside. Baskets hang from open beams. Look carefully for modern appliances; primitive wooden cabinet doors hide the dishwasher and refrigerator. A soapstone sink and curly maple counters add to the time-honored look.

In the small office, powder room, and sunroom, vintage family photos cause smiles. How about the one with Gerry and her sister Jan in an early Christmas setting? Gerry, aka Tiny Tim, is sporting a broken leg and is on crutches.

The sunroom is a natural gathering spot for Gerry and Mel. It takes on a garden theme with a watering can lamp base on top of an upside-down flower pot. Flower frogs and a mini hoe carry out the theme. In a glassed bookcase are a nativity set from Germany and an It’s a Wonderful Life photo with Iowa’s own Donna Reed. Gerry and her daughter used to operate a vintage barn shop called Zuzu’s Petals in honor of that special movie. There’s a special group of Santas she collected over time.

Vintage photos

Upstairs are two bedrooms and a full bath, complete with a stone vessel sink, a modern touch with the look and feel of the home. The bed in one room is a rope bed from Gerry’s great-grandparents, the Brownells from Perry. The photo over the fireplace in the bedroom is Eliza Lee, her Bullington grandfather’s mother. Stacked old suitcases and a hat box display lighted village cottages and old bottle-brush trees. A little tree with retro ornaments and an eggnog bowl and cup set are also among Gerry’s holiday treasures. In both rooms old-time photos of family ancestors are right at home.

Even though Gerry’s always on the lookout for vintage items for her home, she has another mission, too. The couple’s daughter, Jerusha Thomas, and her friend, Marcy Cooley, opened a shop last year on the square in Osceola. It’s called The Grassroots Home and features vintage treasures. With Gerry’s own business experience, she has a natural eye for looking for items for the shop.

On a stairway wall to the bedrooms, artist Rebecca Schlueter of Grimes painted a Shaker scene with this saying that fits Gerry and Mel’s home beautifully all year round:

Plenty and Grace
Be To This Place.


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