When Houses Are Homes

I never knew Orrie before Grandpa and I never knew him before Norma either. When I was introduced to him GrandmaNormaandGrandpaOrrie was already one name. He the steady to her worry and she the party animal to his, well, steady. Together, they created a home that is the place I go to in my head if I need a reminder that there is a place that exists made of unlimited love, enthusiasm, and acceptance. I had an invitation to experience that, and so did everyone else–all the other family members, all their friends and ours, and all strangers they came into contact with. In their world an open invitation was more valuable than an exclusive one. Of all the accomplishments, this may be the greatest, creating a place that this world, too often, convinces us is impossible.

–Jeff Houghton, courtesy of The Unresolved Mystery

Every house has a story. Sometimes that story remains a mystery to us and all we ever know is what we uncover as we work our way through the renovation process- a penciled in growth chart or small holes in the wall around a long-gone dart board. But when we are fortunate, we meet family, friends and neighbors who fill in the gaps and help us understand the place each house has in a neighborhood and in a family.

This spring we had the honor of renovating the home of Orrie and Norma Rew. I didn’t know the Rew’s personally, but am friends with their family and have grown up knowing the role they played as advocates for education, caring individuals and part of large, loving family in Iowa City. I went to High School with their grandson Jeff and 20 years later we still joke about being MORP dates.


I was honored when Jeff’s mom asked us to take on the renovation. To be honest, it can be a little intimidating to work on a home where you know the family that celebrated Thanksgivings around the dining room table and played catch in the front yard. But it’s an honor nonetheless and our hope is to create a space that doesn’t disappoint. We want the house to feel like it’s been remodeled perfectly for its particular style and genre. Our goal is to breathe life back into the house.


I was asked recently if it felt different to know the story of the home we are renovating as opposed to a home where we know nothing of its past. To be honest, I don’t know that it changes the outcome much, and I think that affirms the way we work to maintain the integrity of a house.  I generally have a vision for the house from the first time I walk through it. But what is effected is how I process changes as they occur during the remodel. For example, when the wallpaper in one of the bedrooms at Orrie and Norma’s house started coming off it was like uncovering a long lost treasure! The first thing I wanted to do was share it with the family who knew the home much more intimately. These are the times I’m especially grateful for Social Media.


We are not afraid to make dramatic changes to homes. The before/after pictures of our houses attest to this. With that said, we spend a lot of time planning for and thinking about the “big picture” of the house. Through a series of what I like to call gut-checks we determine what feels integral to the character of a home. Those are the pieces we keep. If pieces of the home seem like an oddity that even the previous owners could have lived without, we consider removing or remodeling. Functional character is always best.


Everyone has different opinions and tastes, and as strange as it might sound that offers us creative freedom. We know that not everyone is going to love the same thing, and that is okay. Heck, in this business that is a good thing. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to flipping houses… but there are some choices that turn out better than others! We are proud of the work we do and hope that is reflected in our work. It is an honor to be chosen as the accepted offer on a home–whether it’s a single seller or an entire family selling as a group. There is a level of trust and an understanding that we will treat the house as we would want others to treat our family home. That, and I don’t want my MORP date regretting going to MORP with me because of my design decisions.

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