Nestled among upscale homes on one of southeast Cedar Rapids' loveliest streets sat a diamond in the rough.
Vacant for seven years, it was home only to a growing colony of mold, a dead bird, broken pipes and some empty liquor bottles.
Matt and Amy Stoner saw past all that.
They rolled up their sleeves, enlisted the aid of skilled family members and specialty subcontractors -- and now that diamond gleams again at 312 Nassau St. SE.
Guests at Amy's recent 30th birthday party oohed and aahed over the chic, cool main floor rooms, bathed in shades of teal, cream and white. By day, the entire house is bathed in sunlight from beautiful new windows, spotlighting a mix of classic and contemporary furnishings, accented with a breezy whimsy that reflects the young couple's artistic style.
A varied palette greets visitors upstairs, where baby Weston's room is swaddled in a darker beige, accented with varying shades of white and off-white. A guest room sports more beachy blues, a nod to their grandparents' East Coast homes.
Amy, a hairstylist and a leading lady at Theatre Cedar Rapids, turned a smaller bedroom into a vibrant green dressing room, featuring an antique vanity and a walk-in closet. This room opens to the master suite, painted a soothing "Lingering Lavender" around three walls of windows. It's the room that surprised Amy the most.
"In the morning, when you wake up, it's pretty much surrounded by trees. Especially in the summer when all the leaves are out, it's really private and it's kind of like we're living up in a tree-house."
So many aspects of this new-old-home journey have been surprising.
The couple, now married five years, were ready to start a family, and felt their previous home on Ridgeway Drive SE would be too small. They spent about a year house-hunting, making offers on two other homes before they found the vacant Nassau Street structure in late 2011.
With 2,900 square feet, it was made for them. Better yet, they were made for it.
Matt, 28, the controller at Shive-Hattery architecture and engineering firm in Cedar Rapids, spent his college summers doing construction work with his father, Dan Stoner of Mount Vernon. Amy's father, Bernie Friedl of Cedar Rapids, is a carpenter by trade and previously owned the family business, Kitchens by Friedl.† He still installs residential kitchens and bathrooms, as well as commercial appliance labs.
"The bones of the house were really great," Amy says. "What would be big things for other people to redo, like the kitchen," were not daunting to them.
"Not that it was a piece of cake, but we felt a lot more confident doing more and knowing that we would have help with it," she says.
The house, built in 1918, sold for $308,000 in 2005. Because it now needed so much work, Matt says they were able get it for $170,000. He declines to say how much they invested in what became a nearly total remodel, but family labor on everything from demolition to painting saved them a considerable amount of money.
The couple made their offer in late October 2011, closed on Jan. 5, 2012, started the renovation right away and moved in last May. Son Weston was born July 9.
The first order of business was getting rid of the mold in the basement that had started creeping up toward the kitchen. Trained professionals handled that task.
Next came all the tear-downs, from old radiators and a boiler to virtually everything in the kitchen. About 4 tons ended up on the scrap heap.
They worked all last winter with no heat in the house. Luckily, the winter was mild, and they were able to replace the windows in March. The house now has two furnaces and two air conditioners. Large units service the first two floors, with smaller units heating and cooling the third-floor music room, outfitted with Matt's two drum sets and Amy's keyboard. (Matt plays in the rock band Nothing's Real, but it's on hiatus, since three of the guys have new baby boys.)
"Matt's dad did a lot of the grunt work," Amy says, "and even ripped out the dead shrubs."
"We joked that Dad was the demolition crew so Bernie could come in and make it look good," Matt says. His mother, Cathy Stoner, did nearly all the painting.
Amy, pregnant throughout the process, was in charge of the decorating, working with a pro for color schemes, paint and the gorgeous teal-on-white textured wallpaper that adds a touch of shimmer to the formal dining room.
"It almost looks painted on top of it," Amy says of the floral vining wallpaper. "It cost more than Weston's first year of college, so I got in big trouble for that one," she adds with a laugh.
Most of the floors have been restored to their original wood warmth, but in the kitchen, tile was ripped up and new wood was laid down.
The biggest flooring surprise came in the master bedroom, where tearing up old carpet revealed wood that Amy describes as "black and really gross," not matching the rest of the house.
What the refinishing pros saw, however, was highly prized fir boards that command big prices in new-home construction. After careful sanding and clear-coat varnish, the couple now have "pristine" floors that add warmth and character to their bedroom.
Another surprise came from a resale store in Spirit Lake, where Amy's dad found vintage French doors that fit on the door jamb leading from the living room to the sunroom. He hauled them back to Cedar Rapids, refinished them and installed them. They actually were an inch short on the bottom, so he fixed that, as well.
His woodworking skills also turned all of the old radiator nooks into storage spaces. In the living room, the new storage has created an entertainment center around the fireplace focal point.
Not surprisingly, the couple's favorite room is the kitchen, completely stripped to the studs and renovated into a modern marvel that retains historic charm. Amy had fallen in love with a steely-blue beadboard ceiling she saw in a housing magazine, so her dad indulged her whim and added that to her kitchen ceiling, under the island and along the walls. A computer center allows the couple to gather and work in the kitchen when they get home from their day jobs.
Outdoors, the formerly white brick and stucco finishes have been painted two shades of beige.
"We looked at sandblasting it, but the mortar was too old, so it would have destroyed that, and maybe the brick, too," Amy says.
A long porch spanning the front was added at some point after the house was built, and a second front door opens into the sunroom.
The backyard features a patio and a detached 2 1/2-stall garage. And another surprise.
When Matt was raking the backyard, he uncovered a "huge" flagstone patio that had been covered up by years of leaves.
Amy calls the house "a work in progress," with indoor draperies and outdoor landscaping being the next projects on their "to-do" list.
All of the hard work -- including extra inspections before the water, gas and electric could be turned on -- has been worth it.
"When I look back at the pictures, I canít believe we bought it," Amy says. "And also because I was pregnant, we must have been crazy, but we just fell in love with it for some reason. It was just really, really dark and depressing in here, because it was October when we came to look at it. Every time we came, it was dark and dingy and it reeked of mold.
"Now when I look back at the pictures, it doesnít seem like same house at all, thank God."
The diamond in the rough is now their beautiful home.
"We donít plan on moving anytime soon," Amy says. "This is our third house, and we're staying here a long time."