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Coming Home
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
home :: home & garden :: featured remodels

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It took an unusual wish list to create this Des Moines home.

Sunday drives. Afternoons on the front porch sipping lemonade or sweet tea. Family gatherings. A moose head on the wall.

These are the things that make you think of home. They do if you’re Travis and Stacey Etchison.

When the Des Moines couple finally decided it was time to move from the East Village into a house of their own, they had an unusual wish list.

“We definitely wanted a front porch,” Stacey says. “We wanted elements from the South, where Travis grew up—a place where charming character meets polished culture.”

“We wanted a place where family could come and stay and wake up and come downstairs and have pancakes. That certainly doesn’t happen with a condo,” Travis says. “And I wanted the basement to stay unfinished. I needed a place to create sawdust.”

Because both Travis and Stacey work downtown, they focused their search in neighborhoods they knew.

“We work opposite shifts, so dinner hour is important,” Travis says. “We didn’t want a place in West Des Moines where we couldn’t have dinner together—we’d never get to see each other.”

They lived in the East Village for eight years after moving to Iowa from North Carolina. They loved the downtown area and the south side amenities.

“When we found this house, the location was perfect,” Travis says.

The house, however, was not.

Built in the ’70s, the original structure was a small 3-bedroom ranch. But it had great potential, and the Etchisons knew the perfect builder to partner with.

“We’re friends with Ben and Terry Harrington’s daughter and son-in-law,” Stacey says. “So we knew it would be a great relationship with them. We tell people that if everyone worked with the Harringtons, there wouldn’t be any of those horror stories you always hear.”

After purchasing the property in April 2013, Travis and Stacey spent some time with the Harringtons to plan and design a two-story home that would sit on the existing foundation. Once the overall design was settled, Travis took care of the demolition.

“That was a wonderful weight loss project,” he laughs. “I spent probably three months coming out after work and smashing things up. I lost 25 pounds.”

The professionals took over in September 2013. The entire project was complete by the following February. Of the original structure, the foundation and exterior walls are the only things remaining.

That cramped 3-bedroom ranch transformed to a 4-bedroom two-story that looks like it belongs in the neighborhood. From the Southern-style front porch and standout red door to the open kitchen and elegant but welcoming decor, everything about the Etchisons’ new house says “home” to them.

“We wanted an open space for entertaining,” Stacey says. “In our condo, we couldn’t have more than two couples at a time or you started to feel pretty closed in.”

Their new, light-filled kitchen with a large island, dining space, and fireplace serves as the ideal setting for gathering with friends and family. Although the living room is separated from the kitchen by a barrel-ceiling hall, open sight lines from each room on the main level give the sense of spaciousness the Etchisons were looking for.

And every room is evidence of the thought process that went into the design, whether it’s features that enhance the home’s comfort and beauty or elements that pay tribute to the Etchisons’ love of history and family.

Travis says, “Ben’s the sticks and bricks; Terry’s the design and finishes. Ben is so proud, as are we, of all the stuff you don’t see in the house, the stuff no one else will know is there. But you’ll know if it’s not. And Terry was the one who helped us see the importance of the little details in the finished design.”

For example, opting for storage drawers instead of lower cupboards in the kitchen, placing the microwave below the counter in the island, and adding a flared edge to the front stairs—all are features the Etchisons say they never would have considered without Terry’s recommendation.

“I got to the point where I wondered if they ever got tired of being right,” Stacey says with a smile.

But it is the personal touches that add the most meaning for the Etchisons. Like the fireplace bricks, salvaged from Forest Avenue in the Drake neighborhood and stamped with “IOWA” on the surface. Or the custom niche in the living room for Stacey’s family piano, restored and given a place of honor. Or the claw-foot tub in the master bath that once stood in her great-grandparents’ home and where her grandfather was bathed as a child. Travis even got to make sawdust in the basement when he created the custom shelving and work station for the pantry.

And then there’s the moose.

“Every place we have lived, Stacey has said, ‘Do you think a moose can go there?’ But it’s never worked,” Travis says. “So that was why we designed the house for a two-story entry. We needed a place for the moose. Doing the demolition really connected me to the house, but the finished product connected Stacey. We finally hung that moose.”

To Travis and Stacey, the home is still a work in progress. The second floor, including guest apartment, master suite, laundry, and additional bedrooms, is “curtains away” from being finished, Travis says. And the landscaping continues to take shape; the public areas are being finished this summer.

“We wanted to be really respectful of our neighbors,” he explains. “I don’t know if that’s a Southern or an Iowa thing. This in here is our space, but out there we want our neighbors to see something nice.”

So they’re taking their time on the backyard landscaping and the finishing touches in the master suite.

“We’re not in a hurry,” Travis says. “We got our dream home. We’re not going anywhere.”

And neither is that moose.


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