Overview

08

Owner

Carl and Eleanor (Field) Nichols

Address

217 Riverview Dr Decorah, IA 52101

Year Built

1956

Architectural Style

Midcentury Modern Ranch

After some years working in management for the Independence (Iowa) Produce Company, Carl Nichols bought Decorah Produce Company in 1953. Under his management, it became the largest exclusive capon producing plant in the world. He developed an experimental farm for growing quality capons, and also owned Goodrich Fuel and Oil Company, Wapsie Hatchery, and Carl F. Nichols Feather Enterprises.

Eleanor completed her Registered Nurses’ training at the University of Iowa in 1941. She and Carl were also married in 1941. In addition to raising four children, Eleanor volunteered in many ways in Decorah, including as the Decorah Kilties nurse and as a Nordic Fest tour bus guide.

The Nichols often hosted outdoor receptions for the Luther College Scandinavian Institute. The outdoor setting was attractive because of the nearby river, but also because of the large, dramatic circular flower bed which Eleanor maintained on the open lot to the north of the house–a Decorah landmark from the 1950s onwards.

Although somewhat more modest in size than some of the other Altfillisch homes built during these years, the well-preserved, ranch-style Midcentury Modern home at 217 Riverview Drive has some distinctive features that make it one of Altfillisch’s surviving gems. The recessed entryway retains its original steel column support posts and semi-open roofline. The low-pitched gable roof is original. The front-facing attached garage, which was becoming standard in the post-war period, has not been expanded. The wrap-around upper-level screened porch at the rear provides a remarkable view of the Upper Iowa River. In 1961 (Project # 6111; there is a child’s handprint in the concrete dated 1962), Altfillisch-firm architect Roger Olson designed a concrete-walled, lower-level patio. The current (2021) owners, only the house’s second owners, have added distinctive, prairie-style front-yard landscaping that enhances the house’s overall effect. The current owners have the original 1956 Altfillisch house blueprints and the undated Olson patio blueprints.

The interior has an open, flowing floor plan typical of Altfillisch’s houses of this period. Between the entryway and the dining room, there is a less-than-full-height divider that provides a full-size coat closet at the entryway (the divider has unusual circular, lucite-covered holes on its ceiling that bring natural light into the closet). There is a similar divider between the dining and living rooms that provides storage space. Both the dining and living rooms have clerestory window openings above large picture-type windows. The living room has a working, roman-brick fireplace that feeds into the same large central chimney that also serves a lower-level fireplace. The upper story ceilings are covered with light-stained fir boards, and load-bearing ceiling beams are visible throughout.

The current owners have very sensitively modernized the house. The new living and dining room floors are ash, a nice complement to the somewhat darker mahogany prominent in the original interior. The distinctive beveled mahogany baseboards found in the rest of the house have been duplicated in a matching ash in these rooms. The bathroom has been modernized; the original drop ceiling was removed in order to reveal the fir ceiling boards. The two smaller bedrooms to the rear of the house  have been opened up to provide a large primary bedroom with impressive open views to the river. The laundry facilities originally on the upper level have been moved to the basement. The non-repairable folding bamboo doors on closets have been replaced. The non-functioning louvres in the bottom ¼ of the patio openings have been discreetly replaced with a solid bulkhead.

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