The Brandt family’s Solon home evokes the essence of big-city living in small-town Iowa.
With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking “midtown,” ultra-modern lighting providing a dazzling nighttime glow, and two bustling businesses below, their 4,000-square-foot penthouse could seemingly be located in Manhattan, rather than its actual spot on Main Street in Solon, population 3,000 or so.
“We just believe in the seasons of life,” said Brian Brandt, who was inspired by the concept of downtown living during his time on the Cedar Rapids Downtown District board. “There was this conversation about the importance of residential housing to the downtown. That planted the seed for me.”
As much as they enjoyed their rural Solon acreage, it didn’t take long to convince his wife, Christy, and their four sons to make the move.
It took even less time to sell their Hickory Heights acreage – just two days from its listing – after which the family moved into temporary quarters as their home was constructed.
Previously, the Brandts spent much of their free time on yard work and driving their sons to school activities.
“For this season of life, we wanted to do the opposite,” Brian said. Two of their sons were in, or entering, college and the other two were involved in sports and other activities.
Best and Worst Timing
They purchased a vacant lot from the town of Solon, situated across from a mixed-use building developed by their friend, Mark Pattison, and hired him as their developer and contractor, with Erica Schreckengast as project manager.
Groundbreaking, in February 2020, turned out to be the best of timing and the worst of timing.
As pandemic restrictions ensued, they were faced with the question of whether or not to proceed.
“We didn’t want to be part of the problem,” Brian said of the economic downturn. “We wanted to keep people employed and keep the project going.”
Fortunately, with their head start, supply chain disruptions that plagued other developments after the start of the pandemic were not an issue, outside of the brick, which was “the biggest delay,” Brian said.
Then, in August 2020, the hurricane-strength derecho struck Iowa, but again, luck was on their side.
While neighboring Cedar Rapids was pummeled by the windstorm, ripping off rooftops, twisting trees, downing electrical lines and otherwise devastating the city, their Solon project was basically untouched.
Solon officials supported the project, and having locally sourced materials, along with many subcontractors living in Solon, also proved beneficial.
Lighting, for example, including a stunning three-fixture chandelier above their staircase, was from Illuminate in North Liberty, and wood for the staircase was sourced from Cy’s Tree Service in Anamosa.
The Brandts credit architect Patrick Alvord of Confluence with coming up with the perfect design, on the first try.
“We like clean lines and an open floor plan,” Brian said.
The grand staircase opens to the kitchen, featuring an impressive 15-foot-long kitchen island with white quartz counter, a welcoming pantry well-stocked with snacks, and a separate freezer and refrigerator that bookend a dark countertop.
Poker, euchre and more are played in the game room, with a pool table, poker table, shuffleboard and dartboard separated from the living room – or not – by LaCantina doors. The folding glass doors typically divide indoor and outdoor living spaces, but in this case, double as an effective interior soundproofing method, while also giving the penthouse a unique vibe.
A Sonos wireless home sound system allows music to be played in each room, while three bedrooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows.
The workout room has been converted to office space for Christy, who has been working from home as senior financial analyst at NRTC during the pandemic. It also includes a well-disguised Murphy bed that can be pulled down when either of their sons visit from college.
Brian commutes to Cedar Rapids in his job at Strategic Financial Solutions, and the whole family enjoys events such as Solon Beef Days, with friends visiting their strategically placed home next to the festival’s hub.
A spacious deck, above a three-stall heated garage, features a fire pit, outdoor furniture and perennials in large planters.
Cooper, the family’s goldendoodle, has become a fixture in town, with beds at different windows, allowing their pet dog views of City Hall, the nearby fire station and downtown Solon.
“People definitely recognize him,” Christy said.
They moved into their home at 120 W. Main St. in October 2020, with ground-level businesses opening soon afterward; Briar Ridge Bikes in February 2021 and The Eat Shop bakery in July 2021.
Brian pointed to the popular Hoover Nature Trail that now connects to Solon, and the cycling boom ignited by the pandemic.
He opened the bike shop with three other investors, and the Brandts frequent the bakery for fresh cinnamon rolls, breads and more.
“Everything we did, we wanted it to be positive for Solon,” Brian said.