Karin Schubert had an idea for the ultimate upcycled project on her acreage in rural Lake Elmo.
She envisioned repurposing the wood boards and timbers from a timeworn granary on the 1890s farmstead — and using them to build her new home there.
Her idea became reality. All the interior wood in Schubert’s new home — from the timber frame to the stair treads — was salvaged from the 120-year-old granary. And the timbers were reassembled to replicate the same-sized three bays — and footprint — of the original farm building.
The Schubert home takes simple agrarian function to a new level with its breezy galley kitchen, mudroom drop zone, spa-style bathroom and walls of glass facing rolling farmland. In fact, Schubert is cooking meals in a grain bay that stored oats decades ago.
“We used the resources and craftsmanship to revive and honor the original granary — instead of tossing it,” said architect Jean Rehkamp Larson of Rehkamp Larson Architects.
In 2013, Schubert was ready to downsize, and her adult children were planning to tear down the old farmhouse where she had lived and raised her family.
On that site, one of her daughters wanted to construct a new home for continued use for future generations. A stand-alone garage was to be built in the spot of the galvanized steel-clad granary, which Schubert used as a storage shed. So the granary had to go.
“I always liked the timber framing in the old granary,” she said. “And it was just the right size.”
Schubert connected with Rehkamp Larson after reading her book, “The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home.” She sensed that the architect wouldn’t consider her aspiration an unattainable pipe dream.
“I thought it was a brilliant idea,” said Rehkamp Larson. “It’s wonderful to re-use an old structure and make something new.”
She stepped inside the granary, climbed the ladder and started measuring to make sure there was enough room for a staircase, while calculating how she would design the spaces within the original footprint.
Rehkamp Larson chose the top of a hill for the new homesite so Schubert could take in the views of the rolling farmland, her gardens and horses grazing in the distance.
Builder Todd Anderson’s team, from Lifespace Construction, dismantled the granary timber by timber, and board by board. They had to number each timber in order to reassemble it exactly the same way.
Then the pine boards, floor joists and timbers were power-blasted clean. This process left fuzz, so Schubert and her son power-brushed the wood on both sides. “Now it feels textural — yet smooth,” said Anderson.
While designing the two-story, 1,650-square-foot home, “the timber frame drove the whole project,” said Rehkamp Larson. “The shape, size and the aesthetic.”
In fact, the timber frame is held together by the original wood pegs, for authenticity. And the original three grain bays perfectly formed the new 11-foot-tall living room, kitchen and staircase.
The galley kitchen features simple clean-lined Ikea cabinets, quartz countertops and industrial metal light fixtures that Schubert had salvaged years earlier.
The sitting and fireside/TV room, with its three walls of glass, is Schubert’s favorite spot to watch sunsets.
During winter snowstorms, “It feels like I’m in a snow globe,” she added.
Despite the space being wrapped in windows, “You don’t feel exposed, because of the weight of the timber frame. It gives a sense of enclosure,” said Rehkamp Larson.
Schubert decorated one corn-crib-inspired wall with copper planters packed with succulents.
For the staircase, they had only a half-inch to spare to make it code-compliant. The open floating design and metal railings let in light and airflow while not obstructing views.
“I like to stand at the top of the stairs and look down the stairwell,” said Schubert. “It’s a beautiful custom design.”
On the second story, Rehkamp Larson added a shed dormer that pops up from the rooftop for more head height and daylight.
The owner’s bedroom suite has a cozy attic feel, with built-in drawers in the knee wall.
A sliding barn door opens to the white subway-tiled bathroom, which is tucked under the original granary gable.
Schubert’s studio and office is down in the lower level, which has a walkout entry to the gardens.
Throughout the home, the warm wood is covered with a water-based varnish “that’s basically invisible,” said architect Ryan Lawinger. “It will not yellow, and has almost no sheen — but still protects and seals the wood.”
Schubert continued the eco-friendly theme by putting in a geothermal heating and cooling system with in-floor heat, spray-foam insulation and triple-glazed glass, among other green features.
“I want to try to minimize my footprint for a better environment for my great-grandchildren,” she said.
In fact, installing modern reversible-awning windows, which are easy to clean, posed a challenge. “They had to fit within the exposed timber frame structure, be functional and look good on the exterior,” said Lawinger.
Because of our harsh Minnesota climate, Schubert wanted a garage attached to the home — but one that would fit with the farm-building vibe.
Anderson found a 1930s galvanized steel circular grain bin for sale, and he and Schubert went on a road trip to haul the dismantled structure back to Lake Elmo.
Today the grain bin is a metal one-car garage with its original “Farm Systems” sign across the front.
The garage and house are connected by a new link holding an entry mudroom with a wall of Ikea cabinets and drop zone. “We found it on a lark — but it really came together,” said Schubert.
It took a year to create Schubert’s one-of-a kind minimalist home.
“I’m amazed that it turned out so well,” she said, savoring the view through the strategically placed windows, designed to frame the changing seasons. “Mother Nature is my decorator.”