Do-it-yourself farmhouse

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 14, 2009 - 10:27 AM

In a four-year test of tenacity, a persevering Delano couple built a modern-day farm-style house themselves.

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Tony and Linda Schaust didn't plan to build their own home. But after hiring a pro to erect the timber-frame structure, they couldn't find workers to do the rest. So the resourceful couple did it themselves.

"A lot of our friends said we were nuts to build our house and it would take five years," Linda said.

It nearly did.

After four years of hard labor and creative thinking, the Schausts were able to move into their almost-finished farmhouse. With its hammer-beam trusses, two-story fieldstone fireplace and handmade furniture, their unique home reflects their personal style, their connection to nature and their determination to get the job done.

"A work of art is never a planned event," said Tony. "We went through the struggle and came up with something we never thought possible."

Farmhouse revival

What they had thought possible was having a timber-frame house built on the land Tony's family had farmed for decades.

In 1985, Tony purchased the 160-acre dairy farm from his father, and lived in the farmhouse he grew up in. In 2002, the Schaust farmstead became part of Delano's comprehensive development plan. Because Tony and Linda knew the city would eventually buy the part of their acreage that held their house, they decided to build a new one.

Tony and Linda came up with the design, which included a vaulted great room, a main-floor master suite, a wrap-around porch and big bay windows to maximize views of cornfields and rolling hills. They enlisted an architect to draw their dream, then hired framer Phil Bjork, of Great Northern Woodworks in Cambridge, Minn., to erect the timber frame.

Linda took on the role of general contractor, hiring workers for each stage of building. Problem was, no workers were available. It was 2002 and there was a building boom.

"We found out that it was nearly impossible to hire people to do pieces of our home," Tony said.

So Linda framed the first- and second-floor interior walls, armed with a carpentry book and skills she had learned from her father.

"I was really slow compared to a framer," she said. "But the walls are square and perfect."

And Tony, a former logger, harvested or salvaged most of the wood they used in the home's flooring, kitchen cabinets, staircases and even rustic furniture he built.

They were able to hire an electrician and plumber and found workers to hang the wallboard. But the couple did all the finishing tasks, such as installing faucets and sinks and hanging light fixtures. Family members helped Tony put in the home's many windows. But he was on his own when it came to nailing down the several thousand feet of white oak flooring.

"It took all summer," he said. "When I ran out of wood, I had to cut down more trees."

Never give in

Tony and Linda also sanded, stained and installed the white oak kitchen cabinets, which were built by a local cabinetmaker. "I was really nervous, because I'm not a carpenter or architect," said Tony. "And I had high expectations for myself."

He also had high expectations for the fieldstone fireplace in the great room, which is 17 feet tall. Tony hired a local mason, Steve Duske, to construct the flue and help him stack the handpicked stones, which had been gathered from the farm's fields over the years. "I lost 10 pounds and it took 200 hours," he said.

The house wasn't all they built. Tony and Linda also designed and installed a radiant-floor heat system that circulates hot water to the farmhouse and to Tony's workshop, which is a refurbished granary. And Tony also built some of the furniture in the home, including the vanity in the master bathroom.

In hindsight, they admit they didn't know what they were getting into when they started. But they both agree that all the hauling and toting, nailing and digging that went into their home never overwhelmed them.

"We underestimated the size of the job by a mile," said Tony. "But I never felt defeated."

To him, the 12-hour days spent working on the house were nothing compared with the 16-hour days he had put in as a dairy farmer. As for Linda, it was the shopping -- not the labor -- that burned her out. Spreading Venetian wall plaster while balancing on scaffolding wasn't a grind, but shopping for area rugs was. "I must have looked at hundreds," she said.

Built for the future

While the Schausts acknowledge that their 4,400-square-foot farmhouse has more space than they need, they say they built it for the future, though not necessarily theirs.

"We wanted the home to be sizable and functional for other families to enjoy for the next 150 years," Tony said.

Another family may be living there soon.

The Schausts are moving to Colorado to be closer to Linda's family. They said they were planning to put the home on the market next spring, but decided to list it now to tap into potential end-of-the-year relocation buyers. (The $2.6 million price tag includes 40 acres.)

Surprisingly, Tony and Linda said they're ready leave their labor of love, to move on to the next stage of their lives. "But I'll miss the sense of peace and strength of this house," said Linda. "I've never found it anywhere else."

Tony is hopeful they can build that sense of peace and strength once again.

"I'm looking forward to what's ahead," he said. "I feel I have one more house in me."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

Mike Buenting of Lakes Sotheby's Realty has the listing; 952-230-3180.

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