Home & Garden

A Life Aquatic: Cedar Rapids swim coach decorated her colorful cottage with swimming and fun in mind

There are no gizmos, whatzits, or thingamabobs lining the walls of this mermaid’s retreat. But it has as many treasures just about everywhere you look.

A bison skull painted to look like a Mexican sugar skull, a rotating display of art that changes with the season, mid-century modern pieces such as Heywood Wakefield’s Whalebone Table and Stingray chairs, pink antlers, a painted robin’s egg blue colored refrigerator, and lots of tails — of mermaid and four-legged friend varieties.

The extensive display of memories and whimsy tells the story of Melissa Winey Chapman and, let’s not forget, her French bulldogs Gidget and Suzette and Norwegian Forest cats Marvin and Penny.

Nothing could be better for Chapman than living in a neighborhood reminiscent of storybook cottages. What is her story? It’s not an easy question to answer - maybe because it’s not one people have seen before. Chapman lives in a storybook of her creation and her rules. Her story is full of color, whimsy, and personality.

Those colors include Hot Lips greeting guests at the front door, Turkish Tile creating a night sky in the living room, and Composer’s Magic painting a symphony around her bed.

“I’m the person who buys the oops paint,” Chapman says referring to colors paint staff mistakenly mix. She is someone who will find a color she loves, buy it, and figure out where it will go later.

After fixing up a series of homes as a single parent, she has learned a few things. “Don’t be afraid to try things, and keep at something until it feels right,” Chapman says. “There’s no right or wrong way to do something. You know if it works when you walk in.”

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Chapman, who strongly believes women should own property, tries to impart these lessons to friends. Referring to friends who were afraid to buy a house, she says, “you can teach yourself to do a lot of things. You learn quickly when to bring a professional in.”

Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Chapman loved the northeast side pocket by Franklin Middle School. Many of the homes resemble petite cottages, have stone chimneys, sharply pitched and sloping rooflines, dormers popping up, and castle-like doors. She knew she wanted to call that neighborhood home.

In addition to the cottage look, Chapman loves mid-century modern design. Her dad, Dick Winey, who taught shop at several Cedar Rapids junior high schools, made mid-century pieces in his free time, including her coffee table and bookshelves. Chapman seeks out the simple, clean lines at garage sales, which is where she found the Wakefield pieces. They were filthy, but after hours of cleaning and reupholstering the seats, they look as good as new.

She returned to Cedar Rapids a little more than two years ago after living in Council Bluffs. Chapman looked at her current home first on a house-hunting trip and saw 10 more after, but the first home won her heart and her bid in a weekend.

Part of her home’s story includes a name. Naming a home, Chapman says, “gives it its own identity. It becomes more than just an address number.”

Officially, Chapman calls her home the Blue Hydrangea because the only landscaping it initially had were two hydrangea bushes. But if you ask her friends, “people jokingly call it the Mermaid Lounge,” Chapman says.

Chapman’s home is somewhat of a mecca for mermaids. They hang on doors and walls, sit on tables and shelves, and swim on pillows and art. In her time as a swimming coach, young girls would bring her mermaid decor. She embraced it and started a collection. One could say she took to mermaids like a fish takes to water.

That simile is all the more fitting after learning the gold stars on the living room ceiling are in the shape of the constellation Pisces, Chapman’s astrological sign. Fountains inside and outside act to stream the sound of running water. When the fire pit is not in use outdoors, it serves as a holder for a water garden.

When Chapman bought the home, it looked different. But she saw potential.

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The home’s previous owner had done some remodeling, which left her with a tan canvas to express herself. The floor plan upstairs previously had been chopped up by two bedrooms. It is now home to Chapman’s master suite. Two of its highlights are the large bathroom and closet. With enough hooks to hold at least a dozen hats and even more necklaces, not to mention a sitting chair, the closet is any woman’s dream and sold the house to Chapman.

The biggest changes Chapman has made have been in the backyard. There was a 12-foot square redwood deck that was accessible through the dining room. After Chapman’s first party at the house, she decided the deck was unstable. A metal door centered on the exterior wall prevented light from coming in, and the small windows on each side weren’t ideal. In their place now are a glazed, wood frame door and larger windows, which allow guests to view the backyard oasis.

Chapman steps out of the dining room onto 10-foot wide stone steps. Yes, she reassured contractor Tim Schneekloth, she really wanted the landing that wide. The width allows Chapman to have a Papasan chair on the top and to maximize seating space on the sides. Stepping down on the stone in a sea of pea gravel, colorful Adirondack chairs beckon to guests to have a seat around the fire pit. Guests easily can hear the sound of running water from the limestone- and plant-rimmed pond.

Adjacent to the fire pit is a white pergola, offering shade and privacy in the south-facing yard. Curtains can be drawn around two sides, and vines are establishing themselves up one side.

Though the transformation could be complete by anyone’s standards, Chapman envisions even more. For the upper tier of the backyard, Chapman says she could see using an old Army tent to make a reading nook.

Where did this idea come from? Chapman says she was an early reader of HGTV Magazine and looks through images online. Her style, she says, is “designing a nice place for friends to have cocktails or for her to lay and read a book.”

In conjunction with the backyard work, Chapman had the existing garage and driveway demolished and rebuilt. In her efforts to make a new space, Chapman was able to incorporate some old elements. The small dining room windows were used in the garage, portions of her concrete driveway were reused in the backyard, and she collected pieces of a limestone wall a neighbor took down to encircle the pond.

Above her new garage, she had a warehouse light installed. The color must have thrown the installer, because Chapman says he called and said “The light came in pink. Is it supposed to be that color?” It is, Chapman said. After all, she’s creating her storybook home.

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Chapman’s home may not be the final chapter. For her next house Chapman would like to get a really modern home and outfit it with mid-century pieces. But then again, she still has a long list of to-dos for the Blue Hydrangea.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.