Artists use their talents to rehab home

Pam Adams

It's not just the coffee table fashioned from tree roots found on the side of the road. It's the entire house.

She gets an idea, he figures out how to make it work.

"I married MacGyver," Nikole Cooney jokes.

Nikole and Eric Cooney are artists. She is a sculptor and painter who also makes jewelry. Eric had always thought of himself as a factory worker. As their friendship blossomed into marriage, she helped him see his artistic side, first in photography, later in sculpture.

"It was easy to see he was an artist," says Nikole, 37. "I knew before he did."

"She's always been expressive," says Eric, 43. "I'm learning how."

The house expresses who they are.

Just as they like transforming found objects into works of art, elderly ladies of their church subtly suggested if these two single parents - he was divorced, she was widowed - found each other, it would turn into romance.

It did, which meant they'd be blending his teenage daughter and her teenage son and daughter, which, of course, meant they'd need a larger house.

The first time they looked at this particular house, it was way out of their price range. They looked for months, trying to find an affordable house large enough for their new family. They happened to be at an open house for a different house, describing the size of house they needed. The Realtor told them of a house just that size. It was in foreclosure and the price kept dropping.

"It turned out to be this house," Eric says, "Had to be a God thing."

The house was in rough shape; it had been vacant for a while. But with four levels, four bedrooms and two living rooms, it had plenty of space to suit their lifestyle: three teens, ages 13,14, and 15, and three cats.

They painted, repaired the plumbing and brought the house back to life (not to mention tax rolls.) Then they had to figure out how to furnish it.

"You have to shop smart to fill a house this size," Nikole says.

They found the dining room set and lighting fixtures, among other items, at ReStore, the Peoria resale shop operated by Habitat for Humanity. They bought the maroon, Victorian-style sofa, loveseat and chairs at a yard sale. But they kept the space sparse deliberately, the better to show off his art, her art, plus an ever-changing gallery of work by 25 different area artists.

"You have to like change to live in this house," Nikole says, "It's always mutating."

The one piece that won't move is the heavy, concrete-based fountain that covers most of one wall in the dining room.

Once familiar in the decor of Panache, a restaurant in Sheridan Village, the fountain was broken and dilapidated when they bought it at a fundraiser for Contemporary Art Center. Eric revived it by replacing copper tubing lines and several of the fountain's decorative petal-shaped glass parts.

"Another perk to marrying MacGyver," Nikole says.

The artwork displayed throughout their home is comfortably eclectic. Upstairs, the hallway is covered with two large portraits Nikole painted of their daughters. Currently, the stairway wall is devoted to her one-and-so-far-only quilted piece, a kaleidoscope of color in fabric.

Eric's photographs - unexpected, close-up views of everyday factory parts and discarded materials - line one wall of the main-floor living room, while Nikole's conceptual sculpture, "Deficiencies in Humanity," illustrating the hunger she witnessed on her first trip to Haiti, serves as a focal point next to the sofa.

There's also the skirt Nikole designed. Displayed on a mannequin, the free-form pattern in white felt on denim mimics the rock salt pattern in one of Eric's factory photographs. After 1 1/2 years of marriage, they enjoy talking about how one's work influences the other's. A combination of the whimsical and the serious, the colorful and painful, their art is as basic to the decor as the furniture.

Nikole once organized displays at the Peoria Art Guild. That may have influenced how she decorated her home, she says.

Mention that the house feels a little bit like a gallery and she replies, "Well, it feels like home."

Pam Adams can be reached at (309) 686-3245