One Sunday afternoon in 2016, Jim and Mette Malek decided to take a drive north. They were loving their life in Sioux City but felt called to visit their roots. As a child, Jim spent many summer days fishing along Sandbar Beach and Mette grew up in Estherville.
Inching towards retirement, they both desired a quiet place along the lake where their family could gather and Jim could fish with his grandkids.
“We always wanted a home on the lake – we love it up here,” Mette said. “We spent that Sunday afternoon driving around and looking at houses. This particular house on the northeast side of Big Spirit, we walked around the outside and basically bought it sight unseen. Jim called and put in an offer and it was ours!”
Jim was co-owner of Sioux-Preme Meat Packing Company, which later was acquisitioned by Perdue Premium Meat Co., and Mette was a School Administrator in the Sioux City Community School District. They wanted a place along the lake where they could relax, and eventually a home where they could stay for weeks at a time.
“Jim would say, ‘I can’t wait until we don’t have to leave Sunday afternoon to go back to work,’” Mette remembered.
As the couple looked at ways they could make the house their own, they received devastating news mid-October 2020 with Jim’s health.
“We found out that Jim had glioblastoma brain cancer,” she said. “The next days and months were extremely hard, but transforming this house was our lifetime and Derek and Dan Lee were amazing to work with. They really were our lifeline when everything else in our day was all about cancer.”
Creating a Haven
The original house included an old screened in three-seasons porch facing the lake. The windows were old and small, which Mette said her grandchildren initially loved because they’d play “kitchen” with each other.
“There would be a couple kids on one side and a couple on the other and they loved it, even if it was hot and sweaty,” she remembered. “Now, the sunsets are absolutely amazing with the open windows looking out at the lake!”
One of the first things Lee Custom Homes did was to integrate the porch into year-round livable space, increasing the square footage and opening up the home. Large new windows from Pella Gateway were added facing the lake and Jim helped pick the rocks for the new fireplace.
“The fireplace was initially just set in the drywall. Jim liked that rocks from the beach were incorporated by our team to fill the odd-sized holes in the fireplace,” Derek shared. “The mantel is a new cedar beam that we aged to look old and a blue shiplap was added behind the mantel to match the kitchen cabinets.”
The new windows transformed the house and new trim was added, matching the floor rather than painted white. Lisa Parks of Interior Sewing by Lisa helped Mette pick out one-touch Hunter Douglas blinds for all the windows.
A kitchen table was initially centered in the middle of the space. Now, the dining room is beautifully placed by the fireplace. The golden oak cabinets received new doors from CFE and were painted Sherwin Williams “Rain.” Lee Custom Homes also ordered the tile and engineered maple wood flooring from CFE in Spirit Lake.
“I love the blue and how just that color transformed the kitchen space. My Sioux City house is all oak and white and I wanted a different feel at the lake. Then I asked Derek if we could have an island, even though I didn’t really think it would fit,” Mette remembered. “He told me I can make it work.”
Now the cream island with dark granite is a place for family to gather. Mette enjoys the ample space to cook, especially liking her customized CAFÉ appliances from Zone Entertainment out of Storm Lake.
“Zone was so easy and so good to work with,” she said. “I love how I could customize everything for my needs. The gold knobs add that pop of color and stands out amongst the blue. I would love the same appliances in my other house.”
Because of Jim’s health, the master bathroom was important to the Malek’s. Taking that into consideration, Dan sketched out the shower design and layout one day when Jim and Mette were visiting.
“It was all Dan and the hand sketches he created on the fly for approval,” Derek said.
The fiberglass unit was transformed into granite tile and stone, including steps for sitting. The floor is heated and the vanity had its doors replaced and painted to fit the rest of the home. New closet systems were added, as well as sconces. Mette especially appreciates the light switch by the bed, eliminating the need to get out of bed to turn of the light.
“Derek and Dan think of everything; we are so appreciative of them,” she said. “They can customize anything you ask them to do. They basically touched everything in this house in some way.”
Shannon Dunham from Midwest Modern in Spirit Lake helped Mette pick out lights, flooring and the ceiling fans. She helped her select paints, wallpaper, furniture and other design features.
“I loved helping Mette make decisions that allowed her to have nice, durable pieces in her home,” Shannon said. “I also love working with Lee Custom Homes because they are always have really good projects and they do really good work.”
Throughout the process, Mette made decisions quickly and confidently, appreciating advice from the experts. The home was completed in time for Jim and Mette’s 40th Wedding Anniversary on June 5, 2021.
“Everyone loved Jim, and after his diagnosis, I asked him should we wait to remodel. He told me we are going to do this for you and for the kids. Let’s create a memory place for our family,” Mette reflected. “The transformation of the house was beautiful. Jim had two goals and that was to be here for our anniversary and for our son’s wedding on June 18. He did both and those are special memories.” Jim passed away on Dec. 4, 2021.
From Jim and Mette’s first look, the home along the lake quickly became a haven for the Malek family - a place where they could gather and create special memories.
“We so appreciated Derek and Dan and how they guided us through the process. They wouldn’t let us go wrong in any decisions,” Mette said. “We wanted a beautiful place for our family to gather and relax and they created that for us. Even more special is Jim got to be a part of it and saw the finished project.”
For more information on Lee Custom Homes, follow them on Facebook or contact Derek Lee at (712) 339-1997.