‘A Little Bit Like Heaven’

Written by Judi Russell
Photos by Duane Tinkey
Styled by Kelli Schulz

For Julie Ross, fashioning a new life after the death of her husband, Frank, presented a challenge: embracing the future while maintaining treasured memories of the past. The process included a home renovation and a monthly blog detailing not only the redesign of her house, but the steps she took as she worked through her grief.

Julie and Frank, who were married for 17 years, built a home in Clive in 2000. They subsequently built a larger house in Waukee, retaining and renting out the smaller one. When Frank, an executive with DuPont Pioneer, died in 2010, Ross found herself with two houses. She sold the larger house and renovated the smaller, making it into a home for herself and daughter Sydney, now 17. A partner in home furnishings store K. Renee Home, Ross chose the pieces for her redecorated house from those she loved at the shop. She made the rooms cozy but injected enough glamour to provide the “wow” factor.

Ross credits interior designer Kelli Schulz with directing the project and its vision. Schulz and her husband, Jeff, are partners with Ross in K. Renee Home. The general contractor was Clay Aronson of Aronson Woodworks, with help from Oakwood Builders Group.

Julie and Sydney moved into the finished home last August. The house is now a bright, comforting haven with plenty of extra space for visits from Ross’ adult stepchildren, Brandon and Jenni. A color palette of soothing white, silver, gray and taupe is enriched with touches of gold and lots of texture. “I wanted it to feel a little bit like heaven,” she says.

Pictured above: Julie Ross and her daughter, Sydney, in the home’s weloming foyer. The dramatic staircase sets the tone for the décor, which Ross calls “French country with a modern twist.” The cherry banister was painted black (yes, she acknowledges, painters don’t like to cover wood), and white carpet replaced the patterned treads. An arched opening provides a glimpse into the living room, a comfortable spot to read or watch TV. Soft-scraped sterling oak floors run throughout the first floor, occasionally accented with area rugs.

Light and Bright

One of the most dramatic makeovers is that of Frank’s former home office, originally a masculine space with cherry bookcases and a solid desk. Ross lightened and brightened the room by painting the woodwork white and furnishing it with a daybed and chairs. Long windows let in plenty of sunshine. Ross calls the space a “room of memories” because it holds family memorabilia, such as her husband’s awards for his charitable work with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Iowa, and photo albums. A shot of color comes from a pair of red high heels, shoes Ross says she retired after her husband’s death.

Ross deliberately chose not to make the room her home office, preferring instead to create a spot where she and her family could relax, read and reflect on happy times.

Cocktail Room

As part of her renovation, Ross opted for one large dining area, which she made part of an extended kitchen. She answered the question of what to do with the original formal dining room by turning it into what she calls “a cocktail room.” A concrete table that resembles a skirted round centers the room; the tabletop is stone. Four cream-colored wing chairs provide seating for before-dinner drinks or after-dinner coffee. A drum light fixture and an area rug help define the space, while a brown sideboard (not shown) provides storage. Ross deliberately kept her colors muted and looked to texture, as in the table “skirt,” to provide interest.

In this room, as in the foyer, mercury glass pieces lend shine. Ross also used mirrored furniture and sequined pillows to provide reflection. Mirrors and reflective surfaces give the illusion of doubling your space, she says, and also help create drama.

Ross’ former dining room furniture joined the stack of stuff she no longer needed. A major part of her move was sorting through years of accumulation, keeping some pieces and giving away or selling others. It’s a step she advises other homeowners to take. Ross believes that everybody’s life changes and that your home should reflect the life you are living now.

Opening Up

The heart of Ross’ home is now one spacious area composed of the kitchen, dining space and living room. A 117-inch-long reclaimed kitchen table, which can seat 14, forms the room’s centerpiece. The traditional cherry cabinets were removed; now, custom white cabinets with a pewter glaze extend to the ceiling. Glass cabinet knobs and a luminous Vitra Platino glass tile backsplash give shots of sparkle. Quartz countertops, stainless steel appliances and a flat-topped oven complete the transformation.

The former kitchen had a substantial island, which ate up a lot of floor space. For the new kitchen, Ross asked Boonie (who goes by just one name) at Factor II Fabrication to make a rolling cart, which she can use for prep work or as a buffet or bar table while entertaining.

To light the space, Ross chose both a crystal-trimmed chandelier and a lantern fixture of seeded glass trimmed with wrought iron, again a nod to her mixture of chic and country. The new kitchen already has hosted its share of gatherings, Ross says, and she looks forward to many more.

Cozy Elegance

Walking into Ross’ master bedroom is like experiencing a hug. The furniture and accessories were specifically chosen to bring warmth and coziness to the large, open space. Floor-length sheers cover the wall behind the bed headboard (not pictured), and the bed is covered with pillows in a variety of shapes and textures, as well as a washable, pet-friendly velvet bedspread. Opposite the bed is a wall covered in white quartz, layered vertically instead of horizontally. The wall is softened by a linear fireplace, and it holds a flat-screen television easily viewed from the bed. Layering elements, such as pillows on the bench at the foot of the bed, bring the warmth needed in a large space, Ross says.

Originally, the space adjacent to the master bedroom was a sitting room. Now it serves as Ross’ home office. The same sheers used in the bedroom cover the window behind Ross’ feminine desk, and a hide rug sets off the working area.

Throughout the house, the floors, carpets and upholstery are all pet friendly to accommodate the family’s English pointers, Becker and Jack, and cat, Louie.

What does Ross like best about her renovated home? “All my rooms are finished. I used to do one (room) at a time,” she says, referring to her prior decorating stints. This time, she moved into a totally transformed house, a good place to begin her new life’s journey.

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