LE MARS, Iowa | Seventeen years ago this December, Pat Winter came home after surgery that treated Stage 4 breast cancer. She knew chemotherapy loomed on the horizon.
A funny thing happened on the way to Winter's recovery: She and husband, Gil, built a home in Le Mars.
"When I came home from the hospital after surgery, I came across a home-building plan in the Sioux City Journal," said Winter, who, like Gil, is a lifelong resident of Plymouth County. "The plan looked perfect for us. I talked to Gil about it and he agreed.
"It was time," she said.
The Winters had resided on their farmstead, operating a cattle feedlot southwest of Le Mars for 35 years. They'd done little in the way of entertaining, something they figured they might do if and when they were able to realize the home of their dreams on a vacant lot on the popular Willow Creek Golf Course.
They decided to take the plunge. And not once have they regretted it.
"We sought a home, one in which would could continue our lifestyle while adding a chance for us to host and be more social," Pat said while leading a tour through the three-story, three-bedroom home, a stucco structures that utilizes 7,000 square feet and a number of architectural and design elements than offer more than a hint of a Frank Lloyd Wright influence.
"You can't have a bad day in this home," Pat Winter said. "I haven't yet."
It would be hard to, given the warm and varied color schemes, the creature comforts, the size, the view and much, much more.
The Winter home, after all, utilizes an elevator with a window, allowing one to look east up Willow Creek Boulevard as the elevator, made of cherry wood, scales and descends. The home also has an interior bridge that connects two portions of the second story atop a coral-colored family room whose ceiling towers at 20 feet.
There are 147 windows serving this home, offering unbeatable warmth through many of those windows which are located on the west and east sides of the home. Several of the family room windows have pewter inserts, a nod to Wright, one of the country's foremost architects and designers.
Pat Winter makes up for any lost time as a host by opening the doors to their home for various meetings or social events held by the Beta Sigma Phi organization, the Floyd Valley Hospital Auxiliary, Le Mars Public Library Committee, Dorcas Circle at St. John Lutheran Church, the Christian Women's Prayer Coffee and more.
"I'm also on-call for the Le Mars Chamber of Commerce," said Pat, noting how she teams up with Mary Reynolds, of the Chamber office, to assist with whatever events she can throughout the year.
The Winters ordered the home design plan in January 2001 and began making their modifications, working with contractor Bill Neubrand, of Le Mars, on what turned out being his last, big home-construction project. Neubrand died in 2015.
"We began earth-moving here in August 2001 and by December it was all framed in," Pat said, blessed that late summer and fall that year were largely dry.
The floor-plan has a living room, den, master bedroom and master bathroom on the main floor, along with a family room, kitchen, laundry room and more. The upstairs features two bedrooms and a large office. The basement has a large bar serving a family room, game room, smaller dining area and exercise room. The basement leads out to a massive patio and grill, while the upper floor has decks to look out onto the golf course.
A 17-foot fireplace, one of three fireplaces in the home, serves the living room and is, according to Pat, "the heart of the home."
Her favorite room, however, is likely the family room, located just off an open kitchen, a kitchen not cluttered with tools of the trade, as most are tucked away in a walk-in pantry that allows whomever is doing food prep to do so behind a closed door.
"The family room has a projection TV and screen and a fireplace," said Pat. "The drapes close electronically."
The room has the aura of a theater with a working fireplace, a kitchen not six feet away, as well as a wine rack and bar. Could one want anything else?
While building the home in December 2001, Gil came home and told Pat he'd seen an elevator in another home. Rather than start to work on three flights of stairs just inside the front entrance, Gil investigated the incorporation of an elevator. Soon, the couple was off to Denver, Iowa, home of the Schumacher Elevator Company.
"We drove to Denver, took our cherry-wood cabinets along and matched the wood of the elevator cab to our cabinets," Pat said. "Gilbert went with a window design to allow people to look down the boulevard as the elevator moves upstairs."
Another stairwell connects the floors on the other side of the home, near the kitchen and laundry room.
Speaking of laundry, there's quite a touch just off the Winters' master bathroom, a bathroom that has at its center a round wooden table, the table that served their home on the farm for more than three decades. Just inside the massive walk-in closet off the master bath is a dryer unit enclosed in a cabinet, a dryer that dries towels, towels which are then placed on heated towel racks.
Although the Winters didn't embark on this project until 17 years ago, Pat Winter had kept notes for years. The coral color scheme in the living room and throughout the house, for example, is the color employed at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Pat stayed several years ago while attending a conference as a member of the Plymouth County Soil & Water Conservation Commission.
"I made a book of all these things I'd want for our home," she said, adding that the cobblestone look to their walkways outside mimic those she saw in Germany.
"That's also where the towel warmers came from," she said with a laugh. "The old German hotels had towel warmers. And things like that aren't expensive to add, if you do them while you're in the building process. They're much tougher if you add them on after building."
The front entrance area makes a statement quickly with a river-rock granite piece in-laid into the hardwood floor. Coupled with a chandelier above the front entry, this welcoming area has a feel that water is flowing over rocks.
Hutches serving the dining area are both convex and concave in shape, again suggesting a flowing motion to facets of the home.
"The ceiling (in the dining room) is hand-carved wood molding," Pat said. "Getting the circle in there (above the dining room table) was something our builder preserved. We felt that with the chandelier, it needed that statement."
Neubrand met that request and many others, such as the crown moldings on the columns inside the home.
"We cannot say enough about the work Bill Neubrand did for us," Pat said. "The way it is built, in angles, posed challenges for him that he met at every turn. What he did made this so comfortable and enjoyable for us."
That book of ideas Pat kept? Well, it can even be traced back to her high school days at Le Mars Community. For if a visitor remembers just one characteristic of this amazing home, it might be the colors. The breakfast nook, as an example, radiates in a combination of parakeet, coral and a yellow called June day.
"As we were building our home, I ran into Mrs. Grau, my art teacher at Le Mars Community High School, and I asked her about the use of colors as I'd never built a home before," Pat said. "Mrs. Grau said, "Oh Pat, you can never go wrong with color. Don't be afraid to use them."
Pat Winter, in the throes of a battle against cancer, reached for her colored pencils and began "playing" on her floor-plan, tinkering, adding and refining, shaping a house -- a dream home -- she and her husband would open for hundreds of others.