“It’s a disorder,” says Melanie DiBernardo, laughing.
She’s referring to the black and white color scheme that dominates her and husband Joe’s 3,050 square-foot condominium on Beaver Ridge Court SE. Indeed, it’s not often one walks into a home where walls, rugs, carpet, furnishings and accessories are in pure black and white or a variation thereof.
But striking it is, a visual experience that is highly appealing. It may sound as if it would make for a stark interior design, but the three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath very contemporary condo captures a sense of intrigue immediately and carries one along to a brazen color suddenly accenting a wall or bed. The end result is neither cold nor chilly, but a scheme that lures one on to the next room and the next treat. It could easily belong on the pages of “Architectural Digest.”
“(My style) evolved probably from when we built our first home in 1974,” says Melanie DiBernardo. “I’m just totally drawn to black and white, it’s like a magnet for me. I like color, but just splashes of it.” Her own coloring even seems to carry out the black and white theme, what with her dark eyes, black hair and fair complexion — all logical with her Italian ancestry.
What does husband Joe think of their home’s black/white color scheme? “We like things different,” he says. “We try to make (a place) our own, and usually different from anyone else’s. … I definitely have input. It’s my home, too!”
Says his wife: “We’re pretty compatible with our choices. We like to think outside the box.”
The couple are fairly new Cedar Rapidians. They moved here from Bettendorf about two years ago in order to be near two of their three adult children and their five grandchildren. Melanie DiBernardo, 72, retired after 26 years in human resources with John Deere & Co. in Moline, Ill., and Joe DiBernardo, 77, retired as district sales manager for Oakton distributors Inc., a wholesaler for high-end kitchen appliances, in Elk Grove, Ill.
Now they live close to their two daughters, Melanie (Doug) Olson, and Tiffany (Michael) O’Donnell. Daughter Melanie has Melanie by Design, an interior design business, and Tiffany is a TV anchor at CBS2/FOX 28. The DiBernardos’ son, Joe Jr., is a regional senior sales manager for Allstate Insurance Co. in Chicago.
Extraneous to the color scheme, the most arresting feature is the 18-foot vaulted ceiling showcasing a wall of extraordinarily shaped windows. The windows comprise the rear of the living room and look out onto a veritable forest. Standing inside, one gets the feeling of being in the midst of a tree house.
On the wall flanking the windows are stacked columns of large black-and white photographs of grandchildren, creating a spectacular effect.
The huge windows follow the angled shape of the wall and while the top one appears to be headed toward a destiny of an isosceles triangle, it –- whoops! — changes its mind and goes to a blunted-end conclusion. The large bottom windows and sliding glass doors are conventionally rectangular.
Those doors open out onto a great summertime retreat: A 25-by-8-foot deck, embellished with black (of course) outdoor furniture and white flowers, a place where the couple often dine a deux or entertain family and friends.
Back in the living room, the couple removed the old fireplace and had a handsome new one custom made, with a shaped white wood mantel that overhangs a black granite hearth and surround.
Another eye-catcher in the room is the cylinder-like wall at one side that holds the white-spindled staircase going up to the bedrooms. It’s another unusual architectural feature in the near $300,000 condominium. A second stairway leads to the lower level, where a spacious family room, office and half-bath are located.
Walls in the condo are charcoal gray, off white, dove gray or taupe, all nuances of the original color scheme. The living room angled windows spring from a deep charcoal gray wall, which makes them stand out even more.
A nubby oatmeal-colored carpet runs throughout the living quarters, providing a comfort level for the feet. An exception is ceramic tile in the entry and runs through the kitchen, powder room and laundry room. An oyster shade, it’s a dead ringer for marble.
DiBernardo has no design training, just an innate sense of style. It has served the couple well in the three houses they’ve built and the two homes that they’ve redone, including this condo. Daughter Melanie has inherited her mother’s skills and gone on to build her own business.
Melanie DiBernardo — the mother — loves to cook and has taught Italian cooking classes, “La Cucina di Melanie” since 1999. She has two classes coming up at Kirkwood Community College and their church, First Lutheran. With this background, her kitchen has to be something special.
The couple wants to put their stamp on any home they’re in, and hence they “tweaked” numerous features in this condo.
So in the 19-by-11 1/2-foot kitchen, they had a custom black granite island built to complement the handsome brown/black granite counter tops. They took out the flooring and installed the ceramic tile, and bought a 19-cubic foot stainless steel Sub-Zero refrigerator with French doors and a four-burner gas stove by Wolf. The microwave is an over-the-stove GE Advantium. Cabinetry is maple in a warm sand color.
It’s an eat-in kitchen, too, with a round beveled glass table atop a black rug. Above the door to the garage off the kitchen is a sign cheerily sprouting the traditional Italian greeting, “Ciao”!
What is Melanie’s pride and joy in the kitchen is “My new stove,” she says, “because cooking is my thing. I’m a little Italian grandmother in the kitchen. That’s where you find me most of the time.”
Says Joe DiBernardo: “I don’t cook. Why should I? I’m spoiled.”
The couple says their daughters are “excellent cooks.”
The family has a charming tradition: They all get together every Sunday night for dinner at one of their three houses: This includes grandchildren, ages 10 to 25. It’s rare anyone misses.
“It’s typically Italian,” says Melanie DiBernardo of the food. “Usually pasta is involved, somehow, some way.” Says Joe: “We don’t have any bad meals.”
The master bedroom is truly a retreat. It yawns before you as you enter, a spacious 20-by-13 1/2 feet. A white bedspread is atop a black custom-made metal bed designed along Spartan lines. With two large red pillows punctuating the white spread and highlighting the black frame, the king bed dominates the room.
Here also is a black-and-white patterned chaise lounge, to which Joe DiBernardo frequently heads to read. A 37-inch wall TV faces the bed; French doors lead to a view overlooking the living room.
One of the most impressive areas in the home is the lower level family room, presided over by a massive random stone fireplace. Its 17-inch raised hearth is 12 feet long and a generous 31 inches deep, nice for sitting and warming oneself by the wood-burning fire in the winter.
A black sectional provides plenty of seating room. Packing a lot of visual power are two prints of palm trees on a far wall, each over 6 feet long. Joe DiBernardo’s office/library and a half-bath are down here, too.
A small screened-in porch with black wicker furniture gives summery comfort at the back of the house on the main level.
Is this the home they envisioned?
“The first time we saw this, we said, ‘This is it,’ ” Joe DiBernardo says.