Solon couple builds dream home on the perfect Peace of Land

Written by Kathy Weiss

Photos by Reggie Morrow

Imagine buying land on which to build a home and then learning that the site has been immortalized in a famous painting.

To art lovers or history buffs, such a scenario might be like finding a treasure, a dream come true. Suddenly your home would have an intrinsic value beyond its appraisal that would become part of your story, like a precious heirloom to be handed down through generations.

For Lance and Leslie Bohlen, it's not a dream. The couple recently built a home for their family on Mehaffey Bridge Road near the Macbride Recreation Area between North Liberty and Solon. Before construction, they found out that the site is believed to be featured in a painting by Iowa artist Grant Wood.

"It gave me goose bumps," Leslie said when she was told that the artist is thought to have sat across the road from their property in 1939 painting his pastoral landscape scene, "New Road." The original work of art, owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., depicts a rural road through rolling hills with a sign in the foreground that reads: “Solon five miles."

Several years ago, the Solon Public Library sold reproduction prints of the painting as part of a fund raising effort. Later, the librarian's husband, Jim Schmidt, completed an extensive investigation and concluded that the site on Mehaffey Bridge Road is probably the spot, although the expansion of Lake Macbride in 1954 had since altered the terrain.

Pointing to a majestic pine tree behind their house that is thought to be the one in the foreground of the painting, Leslie said that with construction already underway, "I was really concerned that the one large tree that had to be removed could possibly be this famous tree."

Today, a print of Wood's painting hangs in the couple's sunroom near oversized windows that glorify the view. In fact, the peaceful, natural landscape is visible from every window in the house. Lance and Leslie, who own Lighthouse Homes & Design, say they feel lucky to have purchased the four acres, surrounded by scenic vistas that are private and protected. No one can build on adjacent land, thus destroying their tranquil scenic paradise.

"We just knew that it was the ideal balance of country for him and city for me," Leslie said, noting that it's close to Solon, North Liberty and the Iowa City/Coralville area. "At night, in the morning and at different times of the day, we hear the sounds of birds and wildlife - it's such a wonderful place to live."

With 3,600 square feet of living space, the two-story home has a light-filled, open floor plan Leslie designed herself, featuring such state-of-the-art amenities as heated tile floors, a whole house sound system, geo-thermal zone heating and cooling, and Icynene foam insulation that Lance says is healthier, quieter and more energy efficient.

"It also keeps bugs out," he says, a concern especially when living near woodlands. There is no carpet in the house; the floors are primarily stained hardwood of distressed maple and creamy vanilla-colored Italian porcelain tile dressed in beautiful area rugs that add warmth, color and texture.

A gracious front entry opens to a magnificent great room with a soaring 20-foot ceiling and fireplace that Leslie said is unique to the home. "There is no other like it."

The gourmet kitchen is outfitted in dark knotty alder wood cabinetry with white painted maple forming a center island and the cooking area, surrounded by shiny granite surfaces in golden caramel and a back splash of tumbled travertine tile. An adjoining sunroom and screened porch, main level office, dining area, powder room, master suite and a luxurious laundry room with granite-surfaced workspace and built-in craft center make up the main level, with an additional unfinished 2,600 square feet in the lower level walkout basement.

The couple’s two daughters, Kathryn and Abigail, share the entire second floor, which has expansive windows overlooking the very scene that appears to be captured in Wood’s “New Road.” The girls have identical bedroom suites, each with its own bath, a design feature Leslie was adamant about.

"I'm one of three girls and we still argue," she remarked candidly, "so I wanted to make sure everything was equal here."

The master suite on the main level is positioned so that Lance and Leslie can wake to a breathtaking sunrise without leaving their bed. "The first night we stayed here, I could hardly sleep," Leslie said. "When the sun began to rise, it was so beautiful. That was the biggest surprise of living here - how beautiful it is to watch the sun rise."

"And when the steam rises off the lake," Lance chimed in excitedly.

To harmonize with the natural views, nearly all rooms are painted fresh white like an artist's canvas, finished with gleaming white trim and heavy crown moulding.

"We didn't realize it at first, but there's so much nature here that the home doesn't take color well," Leslie explained. Deep brown and gold tones in the furnishings and accessories tie in with the earthy views framed by the massive windows. Heavy gilded mirrors, ornate light fixtures and artwork of nature scenes follow a theme that Leslie says fits their lifestyle. "I call it rustic-elegant," she says.

Restfully curled up near their masters as if listening to the conversation, it appears that even the family pooch, a Chihuahua named Coco Chanel, and a more aloof sidekick, Sophia Loren, a purebred Himalayan feline, seem very much at home in their gorgeous new digs.