An 1850s Farmhouse in Iowa City Gets a Modern Makeover

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By Anna Squier
A modest 1850s farmhouse gets an addition and renovation that respect the vernacular of rural Iowa while modernizing the residence.

Set near the Iowa River Corridor Trail in Iowa City, Iowa, this private retreat for an urban developer, designed by Neumann Monson Architects, is a clean, balanced composition of old and new. Layers of ornament, inconsistent additions, and a large porch which had cloaked the original structure were removed to reveal a simple framework. Modestly scaled alterations and renovations resonate with the setting while providing functionality for modern-day use. 

The two volumes of the garage and the residence are connected via a screened and covered walkway. Gabled roof forms mirror one another while respectfully acknowledging the built typology of the place. A weathered-steel fence surrounds the property, while shade trees and stone pathways decorate the lawn. The junction of the walkway seamlessly blends into the interior through a glazed entry. 

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Minimalism and restraint allow remnants of the original interiors to remain alongside elements of quiet modernity. Exposed masonry and timber are balanced by white walls and interventions of dark steel. On the spacious main level, the original fireplace stands as a warm backdrop to a new, suspended steel stair.  A bedroom suite is located atop the spiral stair, formed within the existing roof geometries. The addition of sleek, fully-glazed dormers provide adequate headroom, while flooding the upper floor with daylight. Views of surrounding vegetation and sky are framed by the architectural punctuations. 

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In addition to stylish upgrades, the revived home is equipped with energy-efficient systems that promote sustainability. Increased thermal comfort is provided through closed cell foam insulation in the roof and walls, in addition to a horizontally-bored geothermal system. Electrical and mechanical systems are powered by a 8.4Kw photovoltaic array, LED Lighting, and Energy Star Appliances. Overall, the renovations and additions create a modern farmhouse with quiet references to its rural past.

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