Driftless Home & Garden: Fowlers’ rural home features comfort and wide-open spaces

By Roz Weis,

A slice of rural life was the dream for Ryan and Sarah (Wicks) Fowler in the construction of their new custom-built home outside Decorah.

Looking at the surroundings, one can see the beauty of the Driftless region.

After nearly 20 years living in the Cedar Rapids area, the Fowlers were drawn to all the attractions northeast Iowa has to offer.

The couple and their two small children, Ahnika (6) and Anderson (4), were former Fairfax residents. They were called to the Decorah area for the good schools, the trout fishing and more.

Construction of their 4,400-square-foot home began in October 2021, and they moved into their finished home late last fall.

Situated atop a hill on an acreage north of Decorah near the Seed Savers Exchange, the Fowlers’ two-story home was designed by Shawn Saltou of Cresco. When it came to designing the Fowler home, Saltou incorporated plans from their previous home in Fairfax in the new design.

When entering the Fowler home, guests are greeted by a statement sidewalk encased on both sides by thousands of rocks the couple collected over their nearly 20 years of marriage. They will celebrate their 20th anniversary in July this year.

The new home boasts plenty of natural light and an open-concept living room with a massive, statement fireplace.

The stacked stone, floor-to-ceiling, double-sided fireplace is the centerpiece of the home. The fire can be viewed from the living room on one side, and from the dining room on the other.

The Fowlers’ home also features a spacious, open-air kitchen, five bedrooms, 3-½ bathrooms and an inviting lower-level bar area. The lower level’s electric stacked stone fireplace in another inviting feature. An area in the lower level was cut out to make room for the vintage bar from Ryan’s childhood home.

The home’s site has a natural slope, and the lower level was designed as above-grade on the side.

Another highlight feature of the home are the two prominent deck areas on the main level, boasting two distinctive features. An east-facing door off their spacious sunroom opens to a deck for enjoying the morning sunlight; and the other door of the sunroom leads to the west-facing deck for embracing the evening sunsets.

Inspiration for the color palette of the home were Driftless-inspired prints the couple purchased at Decorah Hatchery and had framed at Perfect Edge in Decorah. Subtle hints of blue and coastal tones prominent throughout the home.

The couple’s love for the tropics also is expressed through the tile work above the kitchen stove and the tile flooring in the sunroom.

The home has a cohesive look and easily flows from one space to the next.

The Fowlers said they couldn’t be happier with the local contractors involved in the construction and decorating phase of the project. Their vendors were dedicated to attention-to-detail and fine craftsmanship. 

“We were lucky to have such good help,” they agreed.

The couple credits the following Driftless area suppliers: Shawn Saltou for the home design; Duwayne Whalen who rebuilt the old cornfield
driveway; Shawver Well for the new 308-foot well; Dan O’Brien, the builder; Ridgeway Lumber for the smart siding, Trex decks, verticle cable deck railings with LED lighting and the Malarkey roof shingles; Bruening Rock; Hubka Construction for the basement, garage floor with drains, stamped concrete entry sidewalk, stamped concrete patios and firepit and the retaining walls; Christopher Construction for the driveway, water drainage/grading, septic system and driveway; Casper Heating and Plumbing for the heater and air conditioning, heated garage, plumbing fixtures, steam shower, tub, shower and installation of oven vent; Dan Polashek for the installation of the Acacia hardwood flooring, porcelain tile flooring, basement luxury vinyl plank flooring, porcelain tile in steam shower, quartz shower bench and quartz shower trim and window trim; K& M Glass for steam shower glass/door/transom; Decorah Electric for all the custom lighting, back-up generator, hard-wiring internet and televisions; Wright Way Computers for a computer router; Hearthside Fireplaces and More for the basement electric fireplace; La Crosse Fireplace for the statement fireplace and Eldorado Stone fireplace rock; Tryad for the kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, laundry room cabinets and countertops, mudroom cabinets, basement bar cabinets and counters, custom master closet and custom pantry shelving; Johanningmeier Stone for the black pearl leathered granite countertops in the kitchen and the quartz in the master bath, basement bath and entry bath and the granite in the kids’ bath and mudroom; Fashion Floor for the porcelain tile in the mud room, kids’ bath and master bath, shower shelving and carpeting on the stairs; Sherman Williams and Tom’s Painting for paint; and Root River Hardwood of Preston, Minn., for the unfinished maple hardwood for the sunroom ceiling.


A native of the area, Sarah is the daughter of Wayne and Pam Wicks of rural Decorah. Returning close to her roots was important for Sarah, who is a registered nurse with Howard County Regional Health Services of Cresco. Ryan, a Cedar Rapids area native, has an insurance agency in Cedar Rapids. He works in Cedar Rapids several days a week, and remotely from Decorah on the other days. His love of the outdoors made the move to Decorah an easy choice.

Their new home fits the family’s desire for wide-open spaces for family gatherings and relaxed time at home.


More photos in the Driftless Journal.

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