A Passion for Old World Details

This storybook cottage took a new route back to the Old World, using today's building products and reproductions to capture vintage spirit.
Looking for the Little Things
joe ahmen exterior front This stone-and-brick cottage rolls
out the welcome mat with a walled
courtyard full of flowers.

Somewhere among Joe and Donna Ahmann's vacation snapshots, there are always a few of the family, but they're outnumbered by a gallery of gables, stately stairways, coffered ceilings, and crown moldings.

They've clicked away on tours of century-old mansions in Newport, Rhode Island; new French country enclaves in Tulsa; and homes for sale in older parts of their hometown, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

joe ahmen fire place Olive-green walls antiqued with
a brown glaze set an old-world
stage for the limestone-look

Joe is a home designer who practices what he preaches: Details make all the difference between a new home and a new home with character. "People say you can't get today what you got in old homes, but we can do it. You have to research it and make the extra effort to find the product it takes to get the look," says Joe, who head Ahmann Design, Inc., in Hiawatha, Iowa.

The couple's 2,875-square-foot home -- a marriage of French country and cottage styles with a dash of farmhouse flavor -- proves his point. "We could have built bigger but we wouldn't have had as many nice details in it, so we decided to build smaller and trick it out," his wife Donna explains.

joe ahmen entry way Nothing stands in the way of
see-through views here thanks to
a broad arch and iron-railed stairway.

Instead of building a 4,000-square-foot home with a routine interior, they devoted 25 percent of their budget to upgrades such as distressed alder doors, European hardware, divided-light windows, wide-plant oak flooring, beefy millwork, and an ornate wrought-iron stairway.

"We wanted a more timeless, traditional look and a home that feels cozy and comfortable, not overbearing, when you walk in," Joe says. "My parents still live in the same house I grew up in. When we go home, that's home. That's the kind of feel we wanted to create for our kids."

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