A Busy Week in Claremont

The White House

Kurt has been making slow-but-steady progress on the White House during this last week.

He finished cleaning all of the windows, inside and out, which took about an hour a piece because they were so incredibly disgusting. He had to scrape a ton of sloppy brown caulking off of the vinyl frames too. He also replaced the old, holey silver screens with less-noticeable black ones. The before and afters are awesome! Check out the upstairs bedroom windows.

Before After Window Washing

Since the front door is now officially Celestial Blue, we decided it was time to reinstall the 1940s Nutone door bell. (Even though the house is a 1910, I just couldn’t part with the adorable “DING-DONG” created by this vintage piece.) I also created new label for the window. I believe originally it said “Turn Handle” but I found that explanation to be incomplete, so after a trial-run using my laptop screen, I printed our new label out on paper (in matching blue letters, of course).

Kurt installed a brand new door on the back porch. Unlike the last one, this one opens and closes without rubbing on the porch floor in the process! He also changed from a left-hand opening door to a right-hand one. The location of the railing, the inside light switch and the adjacent kitchen door all made more sense with a right-hand swing. (He needs to put a little bit of metal trim around the outside before it’s officially finished, but it looks so much nicer than the old one, I just had to share.)

Over the last two days, Kurt and I have been working together to install a new garage door opener, with a nifty outdoor keypad entry and a motion-sensing reverse system.

And this afternoon, he finally reinstalled the newly painted (outer) basement windows. Now the inside and outside windows in the basement are sealed up and ready for anything Mother Nature can dish out. (And I’m still loving that dark gray paint!)

Earlier this week, the girls came over to help scrape wall paper off in the living room. I gave each of them a set of tiny work gloves (pink and green with a picture of Dora the Explorer on them!) and a Sharpie and had them write their alphabet and their names on the wall.

When they were all finished, they got to pull all their letters off the wall and throw them in the garbage! A wonderful way to get an hour of productivity from a 3.25- and 4.5-year-old.  Of course, I had to go by later and remove the upper six feet of paper, as well as the sticky layer, but it was still a lot of fun to have them participate. Here’s how the living room wall looked before, during, and after.

By the way, in case you’ve been laying awake wondering, you know that sticky yellow paper that you have to spray with water in order to get it off the walls? Well, if you let it sit (wet) too long in the garbage bag where it can’t dry out, it starts to mold. But here’s today’s fun fact… when it molds, it smells exactly like BRIE CHEESE! I’m not even kidding. It was the weirdest thing!

Smelly Cheese Garbage

Anyway, back to this week’s recap. When the girls weren’t helping inside, they were having a great time with their new-to-us playground set. The best part is that it fits (fully assembled minus the two red slides) in the back of Kurt’s pickup truck, so when we need to move it home or to the Berg, it’s super portable!

Next week, Kurt gets to move inside the house, to make big progress on the upstairs bathroom and the new walk-in closet.

Stay tuned.


A First Look Inside

The Berg

The Berg officially became ours last Thursday, so we took our girls over to get their first look inside.

Upon walking in the east side door which leads into the kitchen, I asked Maggie (age 3 1/4) what she thought. Her first words were “this house smells bad” followed almost immediately by “hey, this is the kitchen!” She was not wrong. (Just like the White House, our first job will be to open the windows and remove the very old, very dirty, very smelly carpet.)

I’ve sketched out the layout of the house, to give you some basic bearings. (Obviously not to scale, but close enough for now.)

Berg Floorplan

While the rest of the family was exploring the empty house, I snapped several million ‘before’ pictures. Here are a few to give you a sense of the house (without subjecting you to the scents of the house.)

There is so much more floral wallpaper than I remembered! The upstairs isn’t any better.

The basement is a bit of an eye-sore: crumbling walls, knob-and-tube wiring, old pipes. Kurt (and a handful of professionals) will have a lot of work to do down there before we’re through with this transformation.

Outside, the yard is large and full of nice plantings. And the garage has a ton of character, with different bricks from a century of repairs and renovations.

But let’s end this quick tour with a little natural beauty… Mr. and Mrs. Berg were avid gardeners and even though they have passed, their flower gardens are still lovely.

I can’t wait to get into there and take out that nasty carpet. The transformation begins this week!

Stay tuned.

Introducing “The Berg” in Rochester, MN

The Berg

Kurt and I are so excited! Today we bought our second project house!

It was previously owned (for the last 65 years) by an elderly couple named Mr. and Mrs. Berg, so we decided to call it “The Berg.” I also like the name because we just bought a 140 year-old house “AS-IS.” I’m sure that the problems we *know* about are just ‘the tip of the ice-BERG.’

Here are the stats… 2 bedroom, two 3/4 baths, 1,869 square feet. Built in 1880. Corner lot with large yard and an ancient carriage-house garage.

It was described on realtor.com as “Fixer upper in great location! Charming old home that needs a loving touch.” Oh boy, here we go!

We got the keys this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to take pictures yet. But here’s what I borrowed from the listing (realtor.com).

View The Berg’s transformation (in chronological order) by visiting the Archives page.




Dining Room


Living Room


Sitting Room




Stay tuned.

Extraordinary Exterior

The White House

With the beautiful weather we’ve been having here in southeastern Minnesota, Kurt has been especially productive during the last several days. And he has a lot to show for it.

First, there are the not-new-yet-vastly-improved cement steps that lead into the back porch. Here’s what they looked like before he started. Crumbling. Sagging. Sad.

Back Steps - BEFORE

We tied a chain around them and used pipes (and the pickup truck) to roll it away from the house. Behind the steps, Kurt discovered a lack of proper support under the back porch. So before fixing the stairs, he beefed up the underside of the porch and installed some siding to cover the hole.

Then he used several layers of vinyl cement patch to make them look nice and smooth again.

And finally, he painted them the lovely dark gray color that we used on the porch. He also repainted the black metal railing and then we shimmied it back into place and leveled it so it wasn’t crooked compared to the back door. Here’s what it looks like now that it’s all done.

Repainted Back Steps


He also straightened out and repainted the door and window on the garden shed in the back yard. He also replaced the broken pane of glass and repainted the hinges and handle. Check out these before and after pictures.

And he removed and repainted the basement windows. I was assigned the job of taping them off.

He made the outsides dark gray and the insides white. Once reinstalled, they will look sharp!

He added beveled landscaping blocks along the east side of the garage and topped off the river rock.

Garage Border

And finally, he painted the metal cellar door. It had several layers of old paint that needed to be scraped, sanded, and brushed off first. But with a shiny new coat of gray, it looks nearly-new again!

The more we use this gray, the more I love it! It is a wonderful contrast to the white siding and it looks so clean and rich.

Up next… A little frill for the front porch.

Stay tuned.

Lovely Landscaping

The White House

The grounds around the White House are really coming into focus now.

Since the soil was now sloped away from the foundation, it was time to make it pretty. (If you missed it, see this post and this post for full details, mud balls and all.)

First, I lugged a truck-load of 30-pound bags of black (wood, not plastic) mulch and 13-pound Belgian edger blocks all around the house. I put them right near (but not on) where they would eventually be needed so that installation would be quick and easy. The girls were a big help (well, as big as a couple of little girls can be.) It turns out that an old red tricycle with a small step/shelf on the back was perfect for moving blocks across the yard without making little arms tired.

Then, when Kurt was available to help (he was in the middle of repairing the back steps when we arrived; more on that later), he and I put down a sheet of plastic, tied up a string to make a straight line, and then he laid down a row of edging blocks 3′ away from the house.

Laying Border Blocks

Once it was all set, we added a gazillion bags of mulch and smoothed it out to a very attractive 3″ depth. The girls were on hand to collect the empty plastic bags and sweep the mulch shavings off of the blocks so it looked nice and clean. Here’s how sharp it looks now that it’s finished!

The next step will be to plant some perennials for a little splash of color and a bit of grass seed to fill in around the blocks and the new sidewalk. Oh, and Kurt will also be putting new privacy lattice under the porch soon. I can’t wait to see how it will look when it’s really finished!

Stay tuned.


Dirt Day

The White House

July 8th ~ Do you remember our first disastrous attempt to add soil (aka mud balls) around the outside of the house? If not, check it out here. Well, today was much better!

Kurt picked up a trailer and pickup bed full of top soil from a different location and hauled it to the White House this morning. Upon pulling into the driveway, the trailer tire blew out due to the excessive weight. (Thank goodness for good timing of bad things.) He was able to unload it along the driveway side of the house, but it was still pretty lumpy. When the girls and I arrived to work, our job was collecting mud balls in buckets so the surface could be easily raked.

The last two loads of the day came from a completely different source: our home. And I must say, hands down, we have the best soil around. It was dry and easy to rake. I wish it would have all been so nice.

While we were shoveling soil into place on the east side of the house, Kurt noticed that the air conditioner wasn’t perfectly level. So we jacked it up, dug out the blocks it was sitting on, added gravel, and repositioned the blocks so the whole unit was securely sitting on four lovely concrete feet.

I think this falls into the category of “no one will ever know you did it” but he says it’s the right thing to do because it puts less stress on the tubes going into the unit. So there you have it!

It was getting past dinner time when we finally unloaded the last load of soil from the back of the pickup truck. But the extra long day was worth it because I just love how nice the whole area looks now.

Next steps: some sort of edgers, a bunch of mulch, and then lots of colorful flowers! Yippee! And new porch lattice eventually.

Stay tuned.

New (Autographed) Sidewalk

The White House

July 7th ~ By a stroke of good luck, we had a visitor stop by this morning. He was an old friend of Kurt’s who runs a concrete business and he was looking for work. Kurt happened to be on his way out the door, headed to the White House to pour the new sidewalk! Now equipped with an automatic mixer and a skilled professional, the need for me to assist evaporated. Hooray for everyone (especially me)!

Here are the two men hard at work. (The girls and I were inside scraping wallpaper in the dining room, but I came out a few times to document their progress.)

The 18′ x 2′ strip which would have taken Kurt and me a full day (or two) was finished in just under three hours! Doesn’t it look wonderful?

New Sidewalk

Kurt decided it needed a personal touch, so he encouraged the girls (Maggie, age 3 1/4 and Cambria, age 4 1/2) write their names in the wet cement. He added the year to make it official.

Names in Concrete

July 8th ~ The cement was all dry by the time we arrived to work this morning. The girls were so pleased to see that their names were still there. Maggie said “until it rains next time”, assuming that concrete names work just like the chalk names she has so often seen washed away. I reassured her that the names would be there FOREVER, a concept they have no frame of reference for yet.

Before the girls were allowed to test it out with their bicycles, Kurt had to remove the wooden frames and then mark where the crack lines were supposed to be cut. While we watched from inside (where it wasn’t as loud or dusty), he made nice clean, symmetical grooves in our new sidewalk.

Cutting Cement Cracks

Then, he filled in some dirt along the edges and it was all done. By day’s end, I think it looked pretty flipping awesome.

Stay tuned.


New Landscaping and Sidewalk

The White House

July 3rd ~ The weather is starting to get hot and sticky, so it’s just about time to quit working outside. But there were a few last details that Kurt wanted to get done.

First was to add soil around the base of the house to re-slope the ground so the water would run away from foundation instead of toward it. So we hooked up an old trailer and headed to a nearby sand pit. A man with a very big front-end-loader dumped 1.8 tons of wet soil into the trailer, which turned out to be too heavy for our little trailer. After shoveling several hundred pounds into the bed of the pickup, we were able to drive down the road (slowly) without the trailer tires rubbing. More shoveling to unload and it was finally in the right area along the side and front of the White House.

Landscaping with new soil

But, as you can see, it was basically a load of mud balls, which will turn into rocks if they ever get the chance to dry out. Hopefully next time, it will be drier, less clumpy, and easier to work with. But it will be a while before we try to get another load.

Since we were already outside and dirty, Kurt decided to cut out the sod from where the new sidewalk will be going in. It will provide easy access to the driveway from the front porch.

New sidewalk path

Finding pavers that match the existing sidewalk is proving difficult, so Kurt may decide to pour the new sidewalk in (on a cooler day in the near future.)

Before calling it a day, we also dug up a ton of daffodil and tulip bulbs from the back yard, and used the sod to cover the holes we dug. Here’s what the flowers looked like when Kurt viewed the house in late April.

Daffodils and Tulips

Here’s what the bulbs looked like when I spread them out to dry in the shop. Nearly two 5-gallon buckets worth! So much early-spring potential, I can hardly wait!

Tulip and daffodil bulbs drying

Stay tuned.

Introducing “The White House” in Claremont, MN

The White House

In mid-May, my husband Kurt and I purchased a charming old home in the tiny hamlet of Claremont, Minnesota. It was built in 1910. Kurt knew this house had ‘good bones’ and just needed a little TLC.

The first thing we do when we start a new project is to name it. We considered calling it “the Tall House” or “the Owl House” but we decided to call it “The White House.” Our family has been politically divided since last November, so I was hoping this house could once again connect a positive feeling to the term.

Here are the stats… 3 bedroom, 3/4 bath upstairs, half bath downstairs, 1750 square feet. Located on a double lot with several mature trees. It also has a modern garage which includes a nice (unfinished) loft and a small garden shed.

The next several posts will be trying to bring you up to date on the improvements we made during our first five weeks. But once I’ve caught up, I’ll post updates when we’ve finished a portion of the project.

And here’s what it looked like when we started. (Photos borrowed from realtor.com.) It was a foreclosure and the previous owner left a lot of stuff behind (except kitchen appliances). Thankfully it was mostly cleared out before we got the keys.




Garden Shed


Dining Room




Living Room

Stay tuned.