Favorite item in home: It is very difficult to choose just one item! Ray and I decided that we didn’t want anything in the house that didn’t hold some special meaning to us. As a result, every walk through the house takes us down memory lane. The brass sailing ship that sat on Ray’s family bookshelf all during his childhood is one of his favorites. Mine would have to be the beautiful Coat of Arms that my parents purchased on vacation in the seventies. I display it in our coffee table in the balcony. I think it is just a beautiful piece that reminds me of them every time I see it.
What I am reading: I just returned from California for a friend’s baby shower. While I was there, I met a professor from Berkley who authored a book called The Other F-Word. It is about failure in our personal and professional lives and how we deal with it. So I ordered it and have just begun reading it. Ray was reading Moby Dick. He made it through about three quarters of it before he died of boredom. Luckily, the Cubs playoff run brought him back!
What I am listening to: Christmas music, of course! We always have Sirius XM Traditional Holiday Christmas music on at the house. Usually you can catch me listening to Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Steve Perry, Phil Collins, Bette Midler and Cher. What can I say, I am a child of the 80’s! Ray, on the other hand, doesn’t like music until it has had a chance to age. Anything older he likes. If he hears a new song, it will take him about ten years to warm up to it. He just now thinks the Black Eyed Peas are genius!
Best food in town: My daughter Whitley and I love Fujiyama! We try to go there whenever we can! Of course, I have to give a shout out to Cruiser’s Drive Thru, which is run by Ray’s older brother, Bob. Ray doesn’t care for Mexican food but he loves Pollo Loco at El Rancherito. Go figure.
Favorite thing about Effingham: I love the balance that Effingham offers! It still has the small town feel but offers many of the amenities normally found only in the larger cities. Places like Fresh Digs are what help make Effingham so eclectic! The EPC (Effingham Performance Center), all of the small shops downtown and such wonderful restaurants allow all of us to enjoy the amenities of the big city without having to go there. I can’t think of a better place to live and raise our children. Of course, I’d prefer to be a bit warmer, though!
Wild card question... What do you want people to know about you? I love getting together with friends and family! When Ray and I were designing our home, our desire was to create a space that simultaneously felt warm and cozy but would also be ideal for entertaining. I think we struck a nice balance. Nothing makes us happier than to have a full dinner table and interesting conversations with those that are important to us.
We also love repurposing old things. We have so much fun taking things and personalizing them to our lives. Ray has been working on an old executive desk for the past few months. He has sanded it down and carved our family tree into the sides of it. It will be a great addition to our home. As you can see by the amount of decorations in our home, my passion is creating home décor out of whatever I can find. I am always looking for my next project!
In writing this issue about the Ray and Chandra (Kiefer) Niemerg family I must confess that I worried I wouldn’t adequately convey to you how much family means to them. Grab your eggnog-laced coffee and settle in – here goes my attempt.
Ray and Chandra, with their two kids Drake (20) and Whitley (18) live on a family compound in Bishop Creek, IL. That’s a rural “village” about 15 miles southeast of Effingham. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of place but it’s brimming with charm. The Bishop Creek Church plays Taps every night at 8 p.m. and the actual Bishop Creek runs through their backyard. Where it flows on next door to Ray’s Dad’s house and on to his brothers’ houses – all five of them. Geographically speaking, they are a very close family.
Ray came up with the design of the structure and Chandra the interior design. Her style is a mix of antique/vintage and bling and I’d say she does a good job of mixing the two. It took two years to build their house and in 2015 they all, except for Chandra, moved in. At the time, Chandra was staying with her mom who was battling cancer. Six months later her mom, Dee, passed away. It was then that Chandra moved into her new home.
Chandra has made up for the absence of her mother by incorporating reminders of her everywhere. As she gave us the tour, her mother was present in some way in every single room. Her dresser, her ornaments, her favorite color red. She is everywhere and there is even a Christmas tree devoted to her. It’s called the Grandma Dee Tree.
A giant 12’ tree sits in her living room but because her main floor is so open and spacious it fits in there perfecting. Her mom bought this tree for her to use in her downtown salon and when she closed it four years ago the tree was put in storage. Now that she has more than enough space for it in her new home she and her aunts worked together to set it up.
In the open plan kitchen above the cupboards is her collection of Santas. She’s been assembling this entourage, one per year, for 20 years. The golfing Santa was her first and her mom has given her a number of them.
Like I said, Chandra is a hairdresser, so this home was built with her in mind. And just as much as this home is filled with memories, care was also taken to consider her and Ray’s needs as they age. You see, when you build a house later in life on family land you plan on living there until you die. So as we walked through the home Chandra pointed out features she and Ray incorporated to make life easier as they get older - like this room. It will be used as Christmas storage when she retires from her career – which means no carrying heavy boxes up and down stairs each year.
Remember how I said they were planning for old age when they built this home? Well here’s another example of their forethought. Their home is built on ten acres of wooded ground with space for two more homes, one for Whitley and one for Drake. The kids now have the ability to one day build on the family land, too.
Even though she admits she doesn't want them to ever move out, Chandra is setting them up to also one day have their very own set of memorable Christmas trimmings to put in their own homes. Just like Chandra’s mom did with her, they receive an ornament every year that ties in with a memory she has of them.
Whitley’s bed was originally supposed to have been a regular ole bed, however, Ray incorrectly figured the size of the room when he was designing the home and a regular bed would not fit. So they came up with the idea to have a round bed made and it ended up being even better than they had anticipated. A perfect example of their favorite saying, “We may not have the best of everything, but we try to make the best of everything.”
The upstairs is Ray’s domain. It’s going to be his office and a place for him to entertain and relax. A bar will come into this space once Christmas is over, in the meantime they are preparing to host over 50 people for the holidays.
As Chandra stated, everything in her home is meaningful. Just this one picture of the wall around the hutch tells many stories. Pictures with steam engines in them were taken on the family’s last trip with Dee to see the fall foliage in the northeast. Another picture tells the story of how Chandra took in her friend’s daughter, Allison (Miller) Thoele, when her mother Mary was hospitalized with Huntington’s and residing in a nursing home. This happened as Allison was going into her senior year in high school. Ray says he came home from work one day and Chandra announced Ally was moving in. She is now married and they are very proud of who she's become.
Everything on the Niemerg land in Bishop Creek holds a memory and I could easily have written this in multiple issues. I hope I did this family and their memories justice. This house both in its setting and content is a tribute to family - the family they live next to, the family who have gone before them and the family who reside within it.
//Next issue: The Kevin and Christy Hiatt Family – A Special Kids Edition
~We at Fresh Digs and Tytia Habing Photography would like to thank everyone for all of the positive comments you've shared with us about this blog series. We enjoy hearing them. We especially want to thank the families whose homes and lives we've been allowed to peek into these past few months. Thank you. We hope it wasn't too painful.
We hope you're spending the holidays surrounded by family, making memories and enjoying your time together. We will be. Merry Christmas!~
About the Photographer
Tytia Habing is an award-winning and highly regarded fine art, family and commercial photographer based in the Effingham, Illinois area. You can see her work at www.tytiahabingphotography.com