125-year-old farmhouse in Minnesota is the ultimate fixer-upper
NEW PRAGUE, Minn. — Most people wouldn’t touch the renovation of an 1890s farmhouse, let alone one in foreclosure.
But a passion for fine craftsmanship and old-house character far outweighed the drawbacks of the water-damaged outdated dwelling for Barbara Droher Kline and John Kline.
In 2015, the couple were planning to move from California back to the Twin Cities area, where they both had grown up. John was going to retire, while Barbara would continue to work as a financial representative for Thrivent Financial.
They yearned for country living, where their three horses and dogs could roam. After house hunting on the internet, John found a 5-acre property just a few miles from New Prague. The Klines loved the area (John came from nearby Le Sueur), which would allow them to be close to their families as well as joining the closely knit New Prague community.
John came to Minnesota in the winter and shot a video tour of the for-sale farmhouse for Barbara. His video highlighted the two-story home’s tin ceiling, carved wood trim and reasonably sized rooms. He peeled back the worn linoleum and brownish-orange carpet to reveal the original hardwood floors.
He even narrated the video: “Look! We can refinish this beautiful floor.” Barbara was impressed. “I saw the tin ceiling in the video and I couldn’t believe it was still in one piece,” she said.
The Klines weren’t discouraged by the condition of the back of the home, which held a no-frills kitchen remodeled in the 1960s and was deteriorating due to water damage. While in California, they had refurbished their 1920s redwood log cabin across the bay from San Francisco, and it sold in a day.
The couple couldn’t resist another fixer-upper. Barbara, who came from a line of carpenters and contractors, had a keen appreciation for expert craftsmanship and solid construction. She and John also respected the legacy of the house.
“We wanted to preserve the history, the wood, the plaster, the charm and the warmth of the farmhouse,” she said.
The bank-owned property, which had been empty for nearly two years, turned out to be a good buy, as well. “We basically bought the piece of land — the house was a bonus,” she said.
After finding the right house, the Klines hunted for the right contractor. Several of the contractors they talked to advised them to tear the house down rather than trying to update it.
“We told them that we didn’t want to live in a new house,” said John.
Finally, they connected with John Anderson, co-owner of Anderson Brothers Construction in Henderson, Minnesota.
“And he gave us confidence that we could make the new parts feel old,” said Barbara.
Anderson acknowledged that the renovation would require extensive work.
“It was in pretty rough shape,” admitted Anderson, “but it had a lot of character and I believe in preserving Old World craftsmanship.”
First, Anderson put in new heating and cooling systems, and new electrical and plumbing. Cosmetic improvements included refinishing the maple and pine floors and updating the main-floor bathroom. Painter Nick Slavik stripped the flaking paint on the tin ceiling and covered it with a rich copper finish.
Anderson’s crew rebuilt the ramshackle rear of the home and designed a new roomy kitchen outfitted with sleek Miele appliances and an Ikea farmhouse sink. They installed Mission-style cabinets stained to match the home’s original wood trim and put in a big bay window that draws light into the adjacent breakfast room.
The trickiest task was rebuilding and rotating the steep staircase that led up to the second floor and down to the basement. The new staircase was costly, but the Klines realized it was necessary.
Now the house “feels more open and lets in light,” said Barbara. “It was the right thing to do.”
A fan of the HGTV show “Rehab Addict,” Barbara followed in the footsteps of the show’s star, Nicole Curtis, and scoured Bauer Brothers in Minneapolis to find old materials for the renewed rooms.
She unearthed a mint-condition antique china hutch, which carpenter Fred Wentzlaff built into the kitchen island. The countertops are remnant marble slabs salvaged from the Foshay Tower. And a reclaimed clawfoot tub graces the main-floor bathroom.
Now that they’re settled in their new-style farmhouse, the Klines feel at home — and at peace.
“This home has good vibes,” said Barbara. “We feel like we saved a historic family farmhouse.”
John looked out the window to where their horses were grazing. “It’s just so peaceful here,” he said.