Editor's note: This story is from Spring Home magazine, published April 14 by the Detroit Lakes Tribune, Perham Focus and Wadena Pioneer Journal newspapers, which are all owned by Forum Communications Company. Read the magazine in full online HERE, or pick up a copy on area newsstands today.
If you can’t go out, go “all in” at home.
That’s the attitude many homeowners appear to have adopted in this pandemic era, as they spend more time at their houses and their travel budgets are freed up to put toward home improvements instead.
Home remodeling projects have been popular across the lakes area throughout the past year, and are only getting more so, according to local home designers and building contractors. Kitchens and bathrooms are the most popular rooms in the home to remodel.
“It keeps getting busier every day,” reports Tracy Olson, the head kitchen and bath designer at Cabinets Plus in Detroit Lakes. “There are more calls, and there’s more in-showroom traffic.”
“It actually started in the fall of last year and progressively picked up more and more,” adds Catie Herman, who owns Do-Right Construction in Detroit Lakes along with her husband, Jim. “And it’s not slowing down.”
That’s a trend seen across the country. A survey conducted last July by national remodeling platform porch.com showed that more than three-quarters of all U.S. homeowners had already done some type of home improvement project within the first few months of the pandemic, and 78% said they planned to take on a new project within the following 12 months.
The top motivator behind those projects, the survey showed, was “finally having the time.” Nearly 60% of respondents admitted that spending more time inside due to the lockdown inspired them to renovate their places of residence.
“People are spending more time in their homes and realizing, ‘Oh, I don’t like this,’ or ‘We really need to fix that,’” says Tracy.
As is sometimes the way with remodeling projects, those seemingly smaller jobs can evolve into larger overhauls.
“They’ll call to start with one part of the house, but then the projects grow from there,” she says. “It’s the old, ‘As long as you’re here, you may as well do this.’ Or they at least want to find out what it would take to do everything they’d really like to do.”
For example, with kitchen and bathroom remodels it's often the case that, “The new cabinets and countertops look so good, that they decide they want to do the flooring, too," Jim says.
Do-Right Construction and Cabinets Plus have a shared showroom with CP Flooring, and the businesses work together to help homeowners throughout the remodeling process. From start to finish, they ensure people get what they want out of their home projects without going over their budgets.
The biggest design trend right now, Olson and Catie Herman say, is to have an “eclectic” mix of cabinets in the kitchen or other areas of the house. While white cabinets are the most popular in the lakes area, more and more people are also opting for painted grey, blue, or other finishes, often using one color on the bottom cabinets and a different color on the top.
“We’re doing one house now where there’s about four different finishes on cabinets and countertops, so not everyone wants it all to match,” says Tracy. “Now, it’s a mix.”
For countertops, quartz is the most sought-after material, Jim says, as it’s “completely maintenance free,” but “laminate has come a long way and is a less expensive option.”
For flooring, luxury vinyl planking has become the way to go -- it’s waterproof and comes in many different styles, from a rustic wood look to a tile appearance, “so lake folks like the easy cleanup” for their in-and-out areas and others like it in their bathrooms, “because it looks like tile but is warmer and easy to maintain, even with kids and pets.”
Read on to learn more about three recent remodeling projects in Detroit Lakes, with before and after pictures.
Greg & Christi Orson: Making the most of a small space
Christi Orson already had a basic design plan in mind when she reached out to Cabinets Plus for help remodeling the laundry room, wet bar and bathroom area at the Long Lake home she owns with her husband, Greg.
They’d been wanting to redo that space for a while, she says, and decided that 2020 was the year to do it. The timing with the pandemic was coincidental, as they had already called to get their project started before COVID hit, in the fall of 2019.
As it turned out, it was a good time to get the work done, “because we weren’t entertaining or anything anyway,” Christi says. The construction process was held up just a little by delays in the shipping of materials, but otherwise the project went just as planned.
She worked with Tracy Olson, the head kitchen and bath designer at Cabinets Plus, to hone her design and get the project started. She and Greg had built four homes in Fargo previously, so this was a relatively small project for them, but she says Tracy was “very helpful with the design plan” and in the end, “I thought it ended up turning out really nice.”
Their goals for the remodel were twofold: First, they wanted a fresh, new look; and second, they wanted to make better use of the limited space they had in that part of the house.
“We wanted to update, first and foremost, because everything was quite outdated and old,” says Christi. “It was also about spatial issues… It was a very small area that we were working with, so we were trying to accommodate our needs with what we had to work with -- trying to mesh those together.”
There was some fairly serious demolition involved, as a large overhead beam needed to be removed, along with a massive brick fireplace that Christi says “infringed on the room.” A water softener and related systems were relocated to a spot under the stairs, which opened up more space elsewhere; and a large wet bar that protruded into the room was replaced with a new one set back against the wall -- again, opening up more space.
The project was completed last August and Christi says she’s “absolutely” happy with it. So happy that they’re now working with Tracy’s team members at Do-Right Construction on another project: re-siding the home, and putting a new roof on.
“Usually if they’re happy with you, it leads to more work,” says Jim Herman, a co-owner of Do-Right. “There’s a great sense of pride in being able to help somebody out. That’s one of the things that’s always driven me to be in this business.”
Bill and Darline Mahowald: Out with the old, in with the new
When Bill and Darline Mahowald bought their home on Deadshot Lake, they started making cosmetic improvements soon after. Wanting to update the look of the home, they changed up some trim and finish work around the house, and installed some new flooring.
After several years of doing those kinds of smaller projects, they decided to take on something quite a bit bigger: the kitchen. It functioned fine for them the way it was, Bill says, but, “it was quite dated. It was 25 years old, so we basically took it out and redid it.”
They didn’t change the dimensions of the kitchen, and the layout stayed mostly the same, he says, but all the cabinetry, appliances, countertops, flooring and finishes were replaced -- so they essentially ended up with a brand new kitchen. Tracy Olson, at Cabinets Plus, helped them with the contemporary design.
“We’re very pleased with everything that Tracy did,” says Bill.
They worked with Tracy again more recently, this time to turn an under-utilized entryway into a mudroom and office space. Skye Fingalson, of Design 2 Sell in Detroit Lakes, also helped with the design of that.
“It started out as a shop but really wasn’t being used that way, so we converted it into a mudroom entryway into the house,” says Bill. “It turned out really nice. It was probably one of our nicer projects we did in the house.”
That room, like the kitchen, didn’t need a new footprint; it just needed updating and a little reworking in order to become a more functional, attractive space.
“It was an empty room, so we put cabinets into it and a new floor,” he says. “That made the space more useful for us, and more friendly as an entry.”
Bill says he and Darline are happy with how the projects turned out, and don’t have any plans to do any more remodeling in the near future.
“Now, it’s time to sit back and enjoy it,” he says.
Jeff & Sue Lewis: A small project goes big
It’s the kind of remodeling story that everybody likes to talk about -- a homeowner opens up one part of their house to embark on a small project, and that somehow leads to another project, and another, and another… until pretty soon, that small project has snowballed into the construction of a whole new house.
That’s been the experience of Jeff and Sue Lewis of Detroit Lakes, who broke ground last spring on what was supposed to be a small addition to their Cozy Cove Road home; one year later, they were putting the finishing touches on what ended up becoming an almost completely new house.
“We had an older one-and-a-half-story farm place that...had been added onto a couple of times over the years, so it was a bit of a mishmash,” says Jeff. “You know, when you tear into these older houses... I knew we were going to run into these bigger issues. But it ended up being much bigger than I anticipated.”
After completing the originally-planned 33’x30’ addition to connect the house and garage, the Lewises “decided we didn’t like the upstairs half-story,” so they stripped that whole story down, cut it up with a chainsaw, and lifted it off the main floor with a forklift. Then they totally rebuilt that upper level, making the home a full 2-story with three expanded bedrooms and a new bathroom upstairs.
They thought they’d be able to save some of the original structure on the main level, but after tearing out some of the walls they decided to just tear them all out and replace them with 2x6 boards. They also put additions onto that level, in three different directions.
In the end, they had just two interior walls left from the old structure, plus the original basement. The walls, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling and pretty much everything else, are brand new.
“We basically built a new home,” laughs Jeff. “In hindsight, we probably would have torn it all down and started over. Time-wise, it would have been a lot quicker if we would have bulldozed it and started from scratch, but money-wise, I think it was about the same.”
Jeff did some of the work himself, with help from a couple of friends and multiple local contractors, including Sweeney Builders, ZB Concrete, Boit Excavating, Johnson Plumbing, B&M Electric, Cabinets Plus, LumBros Building Supplies, Gilbertson Masonry and others.
Jeff has a good sense of humor about the much-evolved project, and, now that it’s almost complete, loves how it’s all turned out.
The Lewises bought the home in 2013 from a family member, and always intended to remodel it, albeit not to this extent. They wanted to wait and start the project after Jeff retired, which he did about two years ago.
“We started out with very modest goals, and ended up with something not very modest,” Jeff says. “Most people our age are downsizing; for some reason, I felt the need to make a bigger house.”
The house was about 2,200-square-feet before. Today, it’s 3,600.
“You just have to laugh,” Jeff says. “It’s a very neat project. We’ve very, very happy with it.”