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A Well-Planned Retreat
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
home :: home & garden :: featured remodels

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"When we finally decided we were ready, we knew exactly what we wanted." –Valerie Huyser

Flying by the seat of your pants can be fun if you’re trying out a new restaurant or taking a leisurely drive. But if you’re considering a remodeling project, acting on a whim is probably not the best approach. The more you plan, the easier the process—and the better the results.

Chad and Valerie Huyser of Pella proved this in fine fashion when they recently finished their home's lower level.

“We had been talking about it since we built the house in 2003,” Valerie says, “but we put it off for a while for a number of reasons.”

This turned out to be a wise plan. First, they discovered drainage issues with the grading in the backyard, which caused water problems in the walkout lower level. Second, they already had two very young children (followed about a year later by child number three), and the unfinished lower level was the perfect, indestructible play space. Finally, it gave Chad and Valerie plenty of time to dream.

“I started saving pictures from magazines and collecting business cards from people at home shows,” Valerie explains, “so I had quite a folder of ideas. When we finally decided we were ready, we knew exactly what we wanted.”

The couple was so confident in their vision—and in Chad’s skill—that they served as their own contractors on the job. The results are stunning.

The rustic, natural-stone walls, which Chad installed himself, contrast with the rich chocolate finish on the cabinetry throughout the space. This mix of textures and finishes gives the lower level an inviting but classy feel, the same impression that the Huysers themselves give to visitors.

“Chad and Valerie knew exactly what they wanted,” says Dave McGrath of Fine Line Woodworks in Bondurant, who created the extensive cabinetry and trimwork for the remodel. “They were so prepared, and Valerie has such an eye for color and design. I can’t think of one thing they picked that I don’t just love.”

The walls, which Valerie painted a soft taupe, accent the sandy tones of the stone and the carpet, and the deeper finish Fine Line achieved on the alder wood stands out against the ironwork in the stair rails and cabinet hardware.

“We knew the base wood had to be rich to achieve the finish the Huysers wanted,” McGrath explains. “We ended up with a five-step color process to get there, and we were able to do the whole project prefinished, which is really unusual.” The complex wood joints and numerous pieces involved, along with the depth of color they wanted, meant on-site finish wasn’t an option.

“Thanks to a great install crew and the fact that we have a full-capacity paint booth at Fine Line, we were able to get the finish exactly right in the shop. This also made it easier for Chad and Valerie; their lives really weren’t disrupted at all.”

Valerie agrees. “I’d had Dave’s business card since I saw his work at a home show several years ago. Nearly every time I saw another house or picture of something I loved, it was Dave’s work. And they were just great to work with.”

Looking at the finished project, it’s the little things that are the most significant to Valerie, such as the column caps on the railing and the detailing on the fireplace mantel.

“The day they put the railing in and I saw those caps on the columns, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I had hardware in mind that was exactly that shape. It was perfect.”

And after instructing the trim specialist that she wanted the mantel to look like it came from an old barn, Valerie was delighted to see the finished piece. The crew distressed it with chains, hammers, and multiple paint and stain treatments. Then they added the final touch: accent pieces that mirror the column caps—and Valerie’s door hardware.

“They waited until they were ready,” McGrath says, “and they had a very clear vision, which made it easy for us to create the right look. The whole project just came together smoothly.”

So smoothly, in fact, the Huysers can proudly say they stayed on budget. Maybe it helped that they served as their own contractor and subcontractor in so many areas. Or maybe it was because they had a plan. But now that the work is done, the Huysers have a new plan—enjoying their long-awaited retreat.


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