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Published March 24 2012

Whether sentimental or cyclical, old touches are in for new homes in the metro

FARGO - When Tanya and Keith Lingle asked Tanya’s dad, Howard Wrigley, if they could put one of the barn doors from his family farm in their new home, he thought they were crazy.

Why, he wondered, would they want to hang a beat-up old door – complete with rusted rail and sun-blistered paint – inside a beautiful new house?

But the Lingles loved the texture, patina and genuine age of the door, which once hung on the Wrigley family barn near Columbus. The architectural detail reminded them of visits and hunting trips to that rural community in northwestern North Dakota.

Now the time-scarred door guards the entryway to the home office of the Lingles’ south Fargo home, where it blends in with the French Country and cottage décor.

“To us, it’s warmer to have a look that’s old-fashioned,” says Keith Lingle, a mechanical contractor.

Many homeowners are thinking the same way. They crave the character of old architectural styles, but they don’t want to deal with 80-year-old plumbing and a fossilized furnace. Local builders and architects say the demand has increased in the past decade for these “new old homes.”

Terry Becker, president of Terry Becker Construction and head of the F-M Homebuilders Association, says his clients are requesting more homes built in the early American colonial or Craftsman style.

First popularized in the early 20th century, Craftsman homes typically boast broad porches, distinctive square porch pillars, open floor plans and plenty of windows. Nowadays, clients want their Craftsmans and colonials outfitted with stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops and heated bathroom floors, builders say.

“I think it’s a lot of the warmth that it creates,” says Becker. “It could be a lot of memory stuff, too. It reminds you of a different time. You walk in and you feel more relaxed, and things feel slower-paced. It’s a very comforting feeling.”

Phil Stahl, architect and owner of Stahl Architects and Builders in Fargo, says he believes people gravitate naturally to environments that conjure up positive memories from our pasts.

“My theory is that in childhood, you connect with a house somewhere. Maybe it was your best friend’s house or your grandma’s, and you have a fond memory of playing with her or being in that place. That’s what gives us our sense of home,” he says.

But part of the trend could be what Stahl calls “the pendulum swing” – a reaction against the beige McMansions that dominated American neighborhoods a decade or so ago.

New home has history

The Lingle home is a textbook example of a how a new home can contain an old heart. They began working with Stahl architect Dan Elton in early 2011.

Their previous home in Rose Creek had to be demolished to accommodate a new pump station for that flood-prone neighborhood. They needed a new house that would accommodate their busy family, which includes Max, 14, and twins Jack and Gracie, 10.

Elton designed a 6,000-square-foot, French Country-inspired home with all the modern amenities: a basement theater area for 12, a game and bar area and an expansive master suite with a custom shower.

The Silver Lake home may be spanking new, but it already exudes a sense of history and family heritage. Oak ceiling beams in the living room were cut from trees from Keith’s family farm near Park Rapids, Minn. So was a mantel attached to one of the home’s two fireplaces.

Vintage furnishings from auctions or family members mix easily with Tanya’s cozy decorating palette of golds and warm reds. Even the home’s brand-new elements were designed to convey a sense of age.

The main floor is covered in quarter-sawn oak, a hallmark of the Arts and Crafts style which first inspired the 20th-century Craftsman craze.

The exterior boasts charming window boxes and olive green siding, which looks like cedar but is actually a low-maintenance, fiber-cement product called Hardie board.

The story-and-a-half design creates upstairs bedrooms with the sloping ceilings and bump-out dormers reminiscent of old farmhouses.

Other Old World details include rolling library ladders, a butler’s pantry and a cherry, built-in room divider that looks like a massive antique piece.

Right off the kitchen is what Elton calls a “keeping room,” a seating area dominated by a fireplace of Pennsylvania ledgestone, window seats and three walls of double-hung windows.

On a recent evening, it offered peaceful views of a grove of trees, open fields and a peach evening sky. It felt like sitting inside a farmhouse sun porch, as long as you didn’t look to the south and see the next door neighbor who was grilling in his backyard.

“I like lots of styles of design, but what can you live in and enjoy? You need a place where the kids can all plop down and be comfortable,” says Tanya, principal at Clara Barton Hawthorne Elementary in Fargo.

A commercial trend, too

The Lingle home is just one illustration of the “new old” trend. Some other notable examples:

E Builders like Lute and Paula Rae Simley of Paula Rae Homes have made a business of building new Craftsman homes, which combine new-fangled amenities with the wide porches, open floor plans and mission-inspired wood details that characterize the Arts and Crafts style. Lute Simley says building material manufacturers have recognized the “new old” trend with products that look old but have low-maintenance, energy-efficient technology.

E Many of Terry Becker’s clients ask for reproductions of cabinetry, old-style moldings and reclaimed flooring. Becker’s clients are predominantly in the 45-and-older range, but he believes many age groups long for the character-rich look of older architectural styles and aged wood. “Even if it’s a new floor, people want something that looks a little more distressed, with the tighter knots, the wormholes, the color variations,” Becker says. “A few years ago, you would have to toss all that stuff out and make pallets out of it.”

E Local developers, architects and builders are bringing back the porch as a way to infuse new homes with instant charm and a neighborly vibe.

The porch is one element of a broader movement – sometimes called “new urbanism,” “neo-traditionalism” or “traditional neighborhood development” – that aims to create community-centric neighborhoods with Mayberry-brand charm.

Local examples of more neo-traditional neighborhoods include the Shadow Wood and Sincebaugh communities in West Fargo, Stahl says.

E The trend doesn’t stop at residential projects. When developers Steve Stoner and Rick Burgum approached the Wild Associates architectural firm about a new mixed-use facility in south Fargo, they wanted their proposed mixed-use facility to have an “urban funky” flair.

“You’re starting in a brand new part of town, so how do you give it a sense of place – the feeling that it’s been there for a while?” said Kent Wild, who worked on the project with his brother Michael.

The answer was to turn the live/work/play center into a structure that re-creates the eclectic look of downtown Fargo.

Located at 4040 42nd St. S., Woodhaven Plaza fuses architectural styles and masonry palettes, all tied together by a more modern-looking colonnade, or enclosed walkway.

The effect is as if it’s been built, in bits and pieces, over a long stretch of time.

“It has a Main Street visual attitude,” Michael says.

Part of pendulum swing

So what drives our Craftsman craving?

Stahl believes it is all part of the constant pendulum swing between modern, pared-down forms and more classical approaches.

The Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries cropped up as a protest against the Industrial Age’s glorification of machines, Stahl says.

Likewise, midcentury modernism was an answer to the hand-made aesthetics of Arts and Crafts.

Today’s neo-traditionalism seems to be a backlash against the cookie-cutter homes, suburban sprawl and monster garages of the 1980s and early 1990s, architect Holly Rieger said in an interview last year.

And local builders believe it will be here for a while.

“Twenty years ago, everything was very light-colored. Even the home styles were real boxy. Basically, all the wood was oak, that’s pretty much what everyone knew about,” Becker says. “Now we’re going in a direction I’ve loved for a long time. It’s almost like Old World. We’re grabbing something from the past and recreating it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525