Family uses unique ingenuity and personality to remodel their home

Pam Adams

Take an engineer husband, a home-schooling wife, a "structurally sound but aesthetically atrocious" house and what do you get?

As far as the house goes, you get "the perfect platform to try out a whole bunch of decorating ideas," says the engineer husband of the Amstutz family, the man behind the "aesthetically atrocious" line.

A kitchen color scheme of deep red and olive green, stainless steel countertops and a black and white marble tile floor? Check.

Block wood panels, dyed with melted crayons, to fill in and match the rest of the paneling left when they took out the old fireplace mantle - then a whitewash over the entire wall? Check.

A fabric headboard, framed in wood, and attached to a wall of the master bedroom, with light switch placed conveniently next to it? Check.

Aaron and Mycah Amstutz moved their four children to this Peoria, Ill., home four years ago. They were looking for something spacious but more affordable than their big, old farm-ish house.

Home-schooling, which they were already doing, loosened concerns about buying a house based on school district or school boundaries. Their decision to remodel and redecorate without resale value in mind freed them to experiment.

"We wanted it to be our house," Aaron says.

"With the colors and designs we like," Mycah adds.

But they also had to tackle a couple of practical matters, such as where to conduct school. A foyer-like hallway on the second floor became the ideal place for desks, bulletin boards and classes. A closed breezeway on the first floor became the library. Thanks to Ikea, a spare bedroom on the first floor became the walk-in closet/storage room for the master bedroom.

Otherwise, Mycah, the planning/decorating half of the Amstutz team, wanted to merge sleek, modern style with warm, comfortable aura. Check.

They have made it their house, down to room names and other parts.

What might be called a breakfast counter or island between the kitchen and dining room is the peninsula in the Amstutz household. What might be called a dining room is the meeting room. A dark kitchen pantry is the trash closet because it's home to the trash can.

Aaron and Mycah suspect the second floor and breezeway-turned-library were added on in the 1960s. They also think the meeting room was probably a family room addition.

The couple gave the meeting room the Amstutz touch by opening the ceiling to the rafters and adding marmoleum floors, a durable, warm-to-the-touch, easily-installed, environmentally-friendly linoleum. Aaron re-purposed extra marmoleum pieces for the peninsula countertop by applying a two-part epoxy coating. He turned vertical cabinet doors on their side to make horizontal cabinet doors beneath the peninsula counter.

No doubt, Aaron's engineering background led to unusual problem-solving solutions in unusual locations throughout the house. The dark trash closet/pantry, for instance, is equipped with rope lighting connected to a refrigerator switch which makes the lights come on automatically when the door is opened. For the basement bathroom, he glued pine paneling to a standard door to create a custom look. He found a toilet with pump connections that go up, instead of down, to the main drain line.

"Engineering people love this bathroom," he says. "It's a lot cheaper and a lot less mess than tearing up the floor."

Their children, particularly 13-year-old Isaiah, came up with their own problem-solving decorating ideas. The mattresses are on the floor of the bedroom Isaiah shares with his brother, Levi, 11.

"That way, you don't have to climb into bed," says Isaiah, who describes himself as a younger version of his father. It was also Isaiah's idea to use a simple mechanical solution to increase storage space in the bedroom. He attached his plastic storage container to a pulley, allowing him to raise it to the unused airspace near the ceiling. When he needs something from it, he lowers it to the floor.

Mycah, a quilter, has a sewing room on the second floor. The family room in the basement is also the location of the family stage. Behind the curtain, there's a microphone, music stand, Aaron's organ and recording equipment, and a hard floor where sisters Abi, 16, and Magda, almost 8, practice Irish dance.

The basement stage is a platform for family imagination, but so is the house.

Pam Adams can be reached at