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Ryan Johnson, Published August 17 2013

Fargo couple spend years rehabbing old building into a picturesque home

FARGO - The former McCracken Photography studio here has become a picture-perfect home for one local family after years of work and some creative solutions.

Susan Enger said the small commercial building that’s stood at 813 10th St. N. since 1923 was run down when she and her husband, Jason Enger, purchased it in 2006.

But she knew they had what it took to convert the drab brick property into a mix of old and new, and the Engers jumped into the never-ending project of rehabbing the space.

“I’m proud that we could take a piece of junk and turn it into something really cool,” she said.

Jason said he’s drawn to alternative materials and enjoys thinking of new ways of tackling problems.

That sense of adventure, plus the bargain price of the building, made it seem like the perfect project. About 30 draft floor plans later, he was able to find an arrangement that would work for the entire family and started rehabbing the 1,000-square-foot main floor in early 2006.

The hard work paid off, and the family was able to move in later that year as construction continued throughout the house.

CREATING A HOME

The old building had character, but much of it was hidden behind decades of paint, paneling and outdated flooring that didn’t match the Engers’ vision. Their first step was gutting much of the existing infrastructure of the building that had several past lives, starting off as a furnace store and since serving as two photo studios and a small bookstore.

The commercial past of the building also posed its own challenges – especially its lack of a kitchen and adequate living spaces.

Their renovation was a complete overhaul. Every board and nail in the space is new, and even the front door had to be moved out from its original inset to add more space on the inside, Susan said.

They painted the front of the exterior a deep black, adding corrugated steel accents that give it an industrial feel that has since become trendy.

Jason stripped the exterior of a large sign that ran along the front, covering up gray panels he eventually realized were old windows that hadn’t let in light for decades.

“It was almost a little hidden gem,” he said.

With the paint scoured off the glass, the windows once again fulfill their purpose of flooding the inside with natural light. He also added a custom touch, installing small lights in each window that the family likes to turn on in the evening.

Susan said it was important to preserve the old details of the property as much as possible, a goal most visible in the large exposed brick wall that runs along the main floor and adds character to the living room and two upstairs bedrooms.

She said the brick also has worked well as an insulator – at 12 inches thick, it cuts traffic noise while also keeping heating and cooling costs down.

The brick is partially covered with a small partial wall that hides electrical wires and adds a contemporary touch.

Once the family moved in, construction shifted to the “cement shell” of the old 1,000-square-foot basement that Jason said needed a lot of work.

He added egress windows to bring more natural light to the basement and also meet building codes when his oldest son, Isaiah, moved downstairs into his new bedroom once little brother, Elijah, was born and took one of the upstairs bedrooms.

The basement construction also dealt with the building’s past. The family cleaned out a corner that at one time was a coal room, and he said he found an odd feature when he removed the old boiler system from when a previous owner lived in the house just across the alley.

“There were pipes going out across the alley,” he said. “I found out that he used to heat his house over there from the boiler that was in the basement here.”

Most of the basement now serves as a large family room that Jason said is his favorite part of the house. With the feel of a mancave, the room boasts a large TV, a pool table and room for exercise equipment and toys.

He was able to try his hand at creative materials in this room, using plywood meant for cabinets as wood paneling that runs halfway up the walls and adding a custom lightbox that wraps around the room to give guests a handy place to put down a beverage.

Jason didn’t want the basement to have conventional highly finished sheetrock walls, so he added a skim coat of drywall mud before painting it several colors and wiping some of the paint off to make a textured wall.

Susan said her favorite room is the kitchen, located at the front of the house on the main floor. The high ceilings allow for tall cabinets and an inviting environment, even in an open floor plan with the living room just across the counter.

The floors upstairs, too, are unconventional. Jason said he realized cabinet plywood was cheaper than regular wood flooring, so he purchased several large sheets and cut them into small planks to which he added a beveled edge and stained.

He installed modern light fixtures throughout the house and wired in dimmer switches.

The high walls throughout the house also gave Jason room to display his custom metal artwork, ranging from vibrant pool balls downstairs to a contemporary piece that adds personality to the couple’s purple master bedroom.

The story of the building’s rehab is incorporated into another piece of art Jason made for the living room wall, this one combining paint that was used throughout the house on a canvas stretched over a frame of two-by-fours. He wanted this signature painting to be three dimensional, so a steel rod and wooden dowel underneath the canvas add depth to the paint swirls.

But the Engers work isn’t quite finished. It’s been six years since they painted the exterior, black on the front and yellow on the side, and Jason said he’ll likely go with a shade of brown to match the interior when they repaint next summer.

He’s also hoping to add a half bathroom and laundry room to the basement, bringing the home up to three bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms to better meet their needs.

Still, he said their work so far has given them the feel of a downtown New York loft in the heart of Fargo – after plenty of backbreaking labor.

“To be honest with you, when I look back at the beginning pictures, I don’t know if I would do it again,” he said. “I look back and go, ‘Oh my God, it’s more than I really thought.’ ”

The project all started as an ambitious flip, Susan said. But when the housing market slumped shortly after they moved into the house for what they thought would be a temporary stay, the family fell in love with the lifestyle and is there to stay.

“It’s fun living in a building this old,” she said. “There isn’t another one, and that’s what’s so cool about it is it’s not a cookie-cutter kind of thing.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587