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: old­house­on­­ti­cles/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.

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