The Forever House
A DIY couple help an already intact house embrace its age— and the new- old kitchen is an achievement!
The kitchen fits in with period rooms in a 1912 Foursquare.
AAmerican Foursquare, with a large variant front-facing of the gable and Colonial Revival details, this 1912 house in St. Paul, Minnesota, became home for Rich and Shirley Erstad in 1998. “This was the only house we looked at with our agent,” Rich says, “the only house we’ve ever owned. It’s in a great location, just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul, or the airport. “On the day we took possession, I installed a shower ring and piping in the clawfoot bathtub,” he says. “The only water shutoff was the main line. I stripped the threads on the old fittings while installing the valves, so we had no water until I could get a plumber over. Ah, the joys of an old house,” he chuckles.
That inauspicious beginning turned into 22 years of caring for and restoring the 2100-square-foot house. The work culminated in a 2017 kitchen remodel that proved so successful, it won a prestigious Contractor of the Year (CotY) award for the builder, APEX Construction Management.
“We lived here for almost 20 years before we built the addition, while raising three daughters, with only one bathroom,” Shirley Erstad explains. “When we were ready to start, we knew exactly what we wanted.” They rebuilt the rear of the house to make space for a first-floor bathroom and mudroom, accessible through a new sheltered porch with an entry from the yard, with a new laundry below.
Rich Erstad says that one of the benefits of owning an old house has been the chance to learn carpentry, beginning with the front porch steps. “I managed the project and made sure we executed our vision,” says Shirley Erstad, who is the executive director of a local parks-and-trails non-profit. “But it was great to learn that Rich could do a lot himself!”
Erstad, who is a lawyer, designed and built the cabinet over the refrigerator, basing its design on a desk that was owned by
Second owner Bessie McGuigan lived here from 1916 until 1969. “We view Bessie as the guardian angel of the house; she got it through the treacherous 1950s and ’60s intact. No painted woodwork, etc.”
the Finnish composer Sibelius. Sonos Wi-Fi speakers are hidden in vintage radios on display in the cabinet.
Over the years, restoration was a learning process for the builders as well as the homeowners. “We had some challenges connecting the 100-year-old toilet and bath sink,” APEX’s
John Biancini says. “The bank of kitchen windows had to be sized around the old farmhouse sink. Many of the switches and outlets required special, non-standard placements. And, to satisfy the building inspector, we made the natural-gas shutoff to the match-lit stove easily accessible. There were no electronic ignition systems back then!”
The Reliable gas stove dates to ca. 1929. “I bought it from a guy in New England, unrestored,” Rich says. “The chrome surfaces were in bad shape, so I took it all apart and got it all replated. Because it was winter, I’d taken the pieces inside and reassembled the stove in the basement. Bad idea: it wouldn’t fit up the stairs. Eventually, when we did the addition, they cut the downstairs door and carried the stove up that way.”
“We live in a house that looks old,” Shirley says. “But we couldn’t have done it without modern technology.”
To make the back of the house function better, the door was moved and an entry porch built (above). The new lower bank of four windows frames the kitchen sink. The yard ends in a sauna and a multi-purpose garage.
The Erstads did extensive research to learn about their 1912 house. They fly a 46-star American flag to commemorate that year.
The Erstads found a carved dining table that can seat 12, and nine matching chairs: They bought six of the chairs at an auction, and, a few days later, discovered three identical chairs in a shop. The room has its original built-in buffet; the swinging door opens to the kitchen.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT The Renaissance Revival headboard fits nicely into the window bay. • Shirley Erstad chose the dark-green wall color for the living room, over her husband’s initial objections. “I was afraid of dark colors,” he says. “Now, I love it. It brings out the wood grain.” • The upstairs bath retains its clawfoot tub, window, and beadboard wainscot. The wall-hung sink is 1920s salvage. The floor was painted with a stencil to look like hex tile. • A desk from Rich’s grandfather’s farm-machinery business sits in the foyer.
RIGHT A brown checkerboard floor, antique appliances and lighting fixtures, painted cabinets, and a kitchen table create a convincing period kitchen. More Online Restoration of a 1920 kitchen: oldhouseonline.com/kitchens-and-baths-articles/a-bungalow-kitchen-comeback
ABOVE While the rest of the house was remarkably untouched and well maintained, the kitchen was a mashup of 20thcentury remodelings. This room was the last project and crowning achievement.
BELOW Victorian-period doors for sauna and garage were each $25 on craigslist.
ABOVE The yellow shed in the backyard is a wood-burning sauna that Rich built to look like Victorian-era houses in Norway.