Buying the Farm

Iowa City Couple Turn Blank Canvas into Entrepreneurial Enterprise

The Walkers' home has an open floor plan combining the kitchen and the great room where full-length windows allow plenty of natural light and stunning views of the vineyard and acreage. CREDIT BRIAN DRAEGER

Kristy and Bob Walker each made a wish list of features to include in the home they were building in rural Iowa City, intending to cross off items as they learned what they could afford. 

Their bank didn’t say “no” to anything.

The result: Kristy has her indoor pool and “bonus room,” while Bob has his “Harry Potter” front door, wine closet and more.

“This was all a cow pasture,” Bob says of the five acres they purchased from family friends about 10 years ago. “There were no trees or anything.” 

They lived in a motor home for a few months while their builder, Aaron Klosterman, began the process of transforming the site into a dream home for the empty nesters. 

The couple has since settled into the five-bedroom, three-full bath home, and have added another 80 acres, for their Walker Homestead Farm and Winery enterprise.

Comfortable for Everyone

Entering through a hefty, curved door with a mystical Harry Potter-esque portal window, the home’s open floor plan offers a warm ambiance.

The kitchen features a six-burner stove with grill to inspire Bob’s inner chef, and cream beadboard cabinets with coffee-colored accents, reflecting Kristy’s love of a good cup of java.  

“We designed it so it would be comfortable for everyone,” Bob says. “We wanted it to be welcoming.” 

First-floor guest bedrooms provide plenty of space for visitors, including grandchildren, and earlier, both of Kristy’s parents, before her father passed away of cancer.

The room where they stayed adjoins an enclosed porch that overlooks a vineyard, offering tranquil views of the sunrise and sunset.

Artwork created by Kristy graces a wall in the great room, while a series of windows provide Grant Wood-worthy views of the rolling hills below the house.

“Now my canvas is this farm,” Kristy says, looking from the screened porch onto the vineyard they planted. “I feel like we’re caretakers of this masterpiece.”

Stone fireplaces provide focal points in the great room and master bedroom, where full-length windows allow plenty of natural light and stunning views of the fields below.

A clawfoot tub serves as another piece of art in the master bath, Kristy notes, while the zero-entry shower is designed to fit a wheelchair, if needed.

The 20-by-40-foot pool accommodates lap swimming and is set indoors in a room with 20-foot-high ceilings, tall enough for a live banana tree that thrives in the humidity. The pool deck does double-duty in the spring for seed starting plants used in Walker Homestead’s gardens. 

Most of the living space is on the first floor and lower level, which includes two more bedrooms, Bob’s office, an impressive wine closet and spacious rec room, featuring his grandfather’s pool table.

One exception is an upstairs bonus room that serves a myriad of purposes, including as a spot to dry extra-large sunflower heads for seed saving.  

The room was spacious enough to accommodate 40 guests at farm-to-table dinners the couple initially hosted in their house with chef Chris Grebner, who is now a partner in the couple’s business enterprise.

A new barn with a commercial kitchen serves as a 240-person venue for weddings, graduations, anniversaries and other special events. CREDIT BRIAN DRAEGER

Practicing Business Daily 

Walker Homestead includes a winery, orchards, honeybees, heritage chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, Highland cattle, vegetable and flower gardens and a new barn with a commercial kitchen that serves as a 240-person venue for weddings, graduations, anniversaries and other special events.

They use solar power and organic practices to reflect their health and environmental missions, and share their knowledge through hands-on classes, such as preparing a Thanksgiving meal. 

While public events have moved from their house to the barn and winery, a home office is used for interns, equipment in a workout room doubles as garlic-drying racks, and the fruits of their labor can be seen in the wine closet, which showcases Walker Homestead’s award-winning wines.  

Kristy and Bob both teach in the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business and the two co-authored a college textbook on personal finance, making their enterprise a testing grounds, of sorts, for their entrepreneurial ideas.

Bob notes that he initially moved to Iowa in 1985, having spent his formative years in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“I literally bought the farm in Iowa,” he says with a smile. “I get to practice my entrepreneur skills every day.” 

To read more stories from this fall’s Lure magazine, visit here.