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'Alcoa' home gets amazing makeover: Aluminum home was built for factory workers

'Alcoa' home gets amazing makeover: Aluminum home was built for factory workers

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People driving down Bettendorf's Grant Street during the past year might have noticed.

A small, one-story home between 8th and 10th streets suddenly sprang to new life with the addition of crisp, charcoal-gray siding accented with black shutters.

New stone tile appeared on the foundation, a wood deck and staircase popped out the front door and a black "M," for "Munoz" initial landed on the side.

Unknown to passers-by, changes were happening inside, too, transforming the house that was built in 1947 as an "Alcoa home."

Alcoa homes are those nearly identical, three-bedroom houses built in the late '40s and early '50s for families of workers at the under-construction Alcoa plant in Riverdale, now known as Arconic. The homes were made of metal, including the joists, rafters and walls, and while some had basements, others were built on concrete slabs.  

More than 130 such homes were built in the city, and through the years, owners have customized them.

Joe and Angela Munoz are two of the most-recent. They love their "new" home, and are proud of the work they've done.

"What we've done shows what (people) can do with smaller houses," Angela said. "And when you walk in, it doesn't seem so small."

Both Joe and Angela have children, but they're grown and no longer living at home, so "this place is perfect for our age," Angela said. "This is what I want."

And except for installing the drywall and new electrical wire, the couple did most of the work themselves, with help from Angela's parents, Chris and Ray Yoke, of Eldridge.

Creating 'open concept' in kitchen, living room

The front room of all Alcoa homes is the living room, with the kitchen, one bedroom and the stairs to the basement (if the home had a basement), behind the living room, separated by a wall. The Munozes removed this wall, creating a modern, open, great room space.

For structural integrity, they installed a horizontal beam at the ceiling (now covered in drywall) between the kitchen and living room, and they created half-walls, sometimes called knee walls, on either side of a staircase to the basement.

And then they gutted the kitchen and completely re-did it.

One of the outstanding features Angela dreamed up with was to install an eight-foot white quartz countertop on the kitchen-side knee wall for extra seating as a breakfast bar.

The cabinets are cream-colored with silver hardware. Elsewhere there are  stainless steel appliances, a glass mosaic tile backsplash, a farmhouse-style sink, white quartz countertops and gray, luxury vinyl tile planking.

The Munozes bought their cabinets at KBD of Davenport; an employee came to the house to take measurements and to help them select stock cabinets and appliances that would fit, then the couple installed them themselves. Except for a sink under a window overlooking the backyard, they rearranged everything else and added a microwave and dishwasher.

Which brings up a point we haven't mentioned yet.

Alcoa homes are, indeed, made of aluminum, including the walls. That means there is no hammering nails into place. In order to hang cabinets, the Munozes first installed plywood on the home's metal frame, then had the plywood covered with drywall, then hung the cabinets on the drywall.

The home's kitchen opens into a dining area that — when the home was built — was the home's third small bedroom. The wall creating that bedroom was already removed when Joe bought the home in 2004. To further open up the house, the Munozes enlarged a window opening in this area to create space for a sliding glass door, which serves as the home's back door.

The home's original "back door" was on the side, but they covered this up when they redid the kitchen. And, in one fell swoop, they moved the staircase/deck off that door to the new door with the slider.

Two other major changes:

• The bathroom. As in the kitchen, the couple gutted everything. They also cut into the bedroom behind the bath to add space in the bathroom for an up-down washer and dryer. They also installed a new shower, a "floating" sink (it's attached to the wall and has no legs), a stool and a shelf above the stool for extra storage. For extra room, they replaced the swinging door with a pocket door.

• The bedroom windows. In both remaining bedrooms, the original windows came right up to each corner of the house. The couple scooted them back a bit from the corners, adding more wood and molding.

Angela said she knew when she walked into the second bedroom, she wanted the two windows overlooking the backyard to "be the focal point."

"I love it," she said of the result.

A lot of work

Ideas for the makeover came to Angela during spare moments, and she scribbled them on paper. "I don't think he (Joe) really believed I was serious," she said of her scribbling. "But I'm the kind of person, if I'm going to do something, it's done."

She said she got this forge-ahead characteristic from her mother and grandmother.

"My mom always said, 'It can't be that hard. ... '"

The couple worked on their kitchen for three to four months, cooking and eating in the basement.

Neither one would want to do it again.

"People would see us at the (home improvement) stores and ask, 'Do you flip houses?' and I'd say, 'No!'" Angela said.


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