Preserving personality



“It was fun to watch the house change and watch its personality change,” said homeowner Christiane Schnepf. “It’s come into its own, what it deserved to be.”

When photographer Jim Schnepf first saw the Cedarburg stucco house with the barn out back, he knew something beautiful could develop.

The barn could become his hoped-for home office, and there was plenty of room for an addition to the cramped house.

“I told him that for the money, we could have built our dream house, but this is his dream house,” said Schnepf’s wife, Christiane. “He had the vision; I didn’t.”

What the Schnepfs purchased in late 1998 was a 128-year-old house with an outmoded kitchen, just one bathroom, five teeny weeny bedrooms with even teenier closets and decorating that was caught in a 1960s time. Many other potential buyers had looked it over and taken a pass. “It was waiting for us,” said Christiane.

Tired of watching the countryside near their Pewaukee home being gobbled up for new home and commercial construction, the family welcomed the chance to settle into a historic community. “You can’t buy or build history,” said Jim. “You have to wait for it to happen.”

There was no waiting around when it came to restoring and improving the Schnepfs’ new-old house, which they purchased for $280,000. As quickly as they could draw up plans and hire a remodeler, the Schnepfs had nearly every room updated and redecorated, and had a total of 900 square feet added to both floors across the rear of the home. With 3,000 feet of living space now, there’s ample room for the couple, their three children (ranging in age from 7 to 12), a friendly golden lab and a cat.

Christiane recently completed studies for her esthetician’s license to work in the skin-care profession. And Jim has the work space he needs, just steps away from the commotion of the household.

“If I had walked through it the way it is now,” said Christiane, “I would have fallen in love with it.”

The entire project took about six months, during which time the kids finished out the school year and the family sold its other home. Jim, now 42, and Christiane, 40, had built in Pewaukee in 1990, after selling a Brown Deer condo.

“We were at a time when we were looking for a change,” said Jim. “In a couple more years, the kids would have had a lot more friends, so it would have been harder.”

Making new friends has proven easy, Christiane said, because the children can walk or ride their bikes to see their buddies instead of needing to be chauffeured.

B&E General Contractors Inc., worked on the house and its addition. Other firms and Christiane’s father, a skilled carpenter, did most of the work on the barn and its attached three-car garage to create 1,200 square feet of business space for Jim.

“There were a lot of challenges to this job,” said Mark Brick, president of B&E. Forget about digging four feet for a foundation for the addition, for one thing, because of limestone just 18 inches below the surface. In lieu of creating a crawl space, workers had to install sheets of plastic foam to enhance energy efficiency. “You couldn’t go down any further without dynamite,” said Brick.

Some of that same local stone had been used in the construction of the home, so the addition was no simple bump-out. Removing the 20-inch-thick existing south wall to expand the kitchen required “a lot of air-hammering, a lot of air-chiseling, sledgehammers and picks,” according to Brick.

Wherever possible, workers used the removed stone elsewhere on the project. The Schnepfs insisted on authentic materials and details wherever possible, such as former living room windows that found new life in the new family room and old kitchen cabinets that were stripped, stained and hung in a newly created first-floor laundry room. Throughout the home, two-panel oak doors and hardware such as glass doorknobs were recycled. Other salvaged materials remain stored in the upper loft of the barn for possible future use.

Other touches of 1800s and early 1900s craftsmanship that remain on display include ceiling and wall moldings in the dining room, built-in cabinets with leaded glass doors alongside the fireplace, stretches of exposed stone wall and timber posts in the barn, and exposed chimney brick in the master bedroom.

Even where new materials were used, they were made to look old. A stairwell wall was replaced by a mission-style bannister, and “tumbled” bricks were used to give the patio an its-always-been-there look. “We really didn’t want a house that looked half-and-half: half-new and half-old,” said Christiane.

As to the Schnepfs’ decorating style, the dining room is formal, with wallpaper of deep pink floral patterns; the living room and family room feature comfy overstuffed furniture; and one bedroom that had been “pink, pink, pink—the color of Pepto Bismol,” in Christiane’s words, now is a relaxing shade of putty. The generous use of Jim’s striking photographs, some taken in exotic locales such as Singapore and China, further personalizes the look.

On the practical side, the renovations included the upgrades to the home’s plumbing, electrical and heating systems, and insulation; the addition of a first-floor powder room; a set of handy cubbyholes near the rear entry for the kids’ boots, mittens and backpacks; and a killer master bathroom with a tub, separate shower, private toilet stall and two sinks. The dearth of closet space for the children was solved by turning a small former bedroom into a walk-through closet big enough to accommodate their clothes, board games and sports equipment.

The original 1870 structure is believed to have been just two rooms (the dining room and the former kitchen space) plus a loft. Around the turn of the century, other rooms were added to the main floor, and the upper floor was finished off. The barn was original but added onto (Jim’s office), and a laundry kitchen was original (now a tool shed); both are still standing. Today, the Schnepf girls have a playhouse in what was once the warming house at a local park. The property is a generous acre-and-a-half and is well-known to local residents as either the Meske home or the former home of the Groth family that operated the nearby quarry.