The 1918 farmhouse was supposed to be Chan Poling and Eleanor Mondale Poling’s happily-ever-after retreat in the country.
Eleanor had moved back to Minnesota from New York in 2002 to be closer to her parents, former Vice President Walter Mondale and his wife, Joan, and to Chan, singer and keyboardist for the New Standards and the Suburbs, who was then her boyfriend.
While hunting for property in the country where she could keep her horses, Eleanor fell in love with the white clapboard two-story sitting on an idyllic 5 acres near Prior Lake, said Chan. The couple married and spent the next nine years fixing up the charming country house and outbuildings, which they shared with dogs, cats, chickens, miniature horses and a miniature donkey.
“We built a beautiful new outdoor riding arena,” said Chan. “Eleanor used to ride the horse and buggy in there.”
But in the fall of 2011, Eleanor died of brain cancer, after battling the disease for six years.
Today the henhouse and stable are empty — the horses and donkey have been adopted by neighbors. “The horses were my wife’s thing,” said Chan. “It’s too hard to take care of them by myself.”
Chan recently put his Prior Lake hobby farm up for sale. “This house is a little far away to be all by yourself,” he said. “It’s great for a couple or a little family.” He has his eye on an older home in St. Paul that he hopes to buy and renovate.
Over the years, the Polings made improvements to their old farmhouse, aiming to stay true to the home’s early 1900s character. After they moved in, some local residents stopped by and told Chan and Eleanor that their great-grandfather had built the home.
“They showed us photos with a big porch on the front,” he said. “We wanted to return the house to its old classic look.” So they built a new covered front porch to welcome visitors and also serve as a place to lounge on warm days.
“The greatest thing about this house is the beautiful view,” said Chan, adding that the pond and pasture are visible from almost any room.
The Polings also updated the home’s mechanical systems and installed new wiring, a new roof and steel gutters. The most extensive renovation project involved knocking down walls and removing doors to open up the main-floor living spaces and “make the big country kitchen of our dreams,” said Chan.
The best part of the new design was having room for Eleanor’s restored antique appliances, which had been gathering dust in the garage. “The 1920s Magic Chef has six burners, a plate warmer and broiler. It’s very rare,” he said. Eleanor’s vintage Frigidaire icebox, updated with a modern refrigerator inside, looks right at home on a kitchen wall.
Chan, an expert cook, put in a new fireplace at one end of the kitchen. “I love having a fire going when I’m cooking,” he said. The new fireplace looks old, thanks to a carved wood surround from Architectural Antiques.
The main living spaces are covered with wide-planked floors constructed of 100-year-old reclaimed barn wood. “They are a work of art — all hand-milled from an old barn in Olivia, Minnesota, and secured with old flat-head nails,” Chan said.
The outbuildings include a barn, which has seven horse stalls clad in wood paneling, and equipped with air conditioning, heat and a stereo system.
“I loved to walk down to the barn on a winter night when it was snowing, turn on Garrison Keillor and have a glass of wine out there with the horses,” said Chan.
Although he’ll miss the country life he shared with his wife, Chan is looking forward to fixing up another house and “making it special,” he said.
“I’m ready for the next chapter,” he said. “There’s a lot of memories here, and that can be hard.”
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