DRIFTLESS HOME & GARDEN: A dream (house) comes true

Sometimes a dream home isn’t what you buy, it’s what you build.
For the Wiltgen family of Spillville, that couldn’t be truer. When Kristie Wiltgen and her husband Ryan bought their home in 2000, they knew from the start there would be updates, but they would have to adopt them “in phases.”
“It still had the original green slate siding and windows,” Kristie said of the 1952 home.
The first major project came in 2002 when they added a porch. Then, in 2005, they added a 24×24 extension, including a finished basement. From there, they began their exterior remodeling project in 2018, their biggest assignment to date. This project included a garage remodel, replacing all of the original windows, installing new siding, new gutters and a new roof. The garage was taken from a small one car garage and passageway and converted to a 27ft x 34ft heated garage that is now connected to the home’s original roofline.
And as if that wasn’t enough, in March 2020 the Wiltgens started their showpiece: the kitchen remodel. As Kristie put it, “Our exterior makeover and recent kitchen remodel was something we dreamed of when we originally bought the house, and 20 years was long enough to dream of, so we finally decided to go on the sours.” to bite an apple.”
And ever have. The plan from the start was to remove everything but the studs – including the ceilings in the hallway, living room and front entryway – and then knock down the walls to open up the staircase, swap out cabinets, add a pantry and relocate the entire kitchen to create a “complete open concept living area.”
In the plan, Kristie listed a few “must haves.” She said: “Having a pantry was a must! Also, more storage space and functional cabinets and drawers were a must. We used to store perishable goods in a small stable and on some shelves in our basement. I had extra kitchen appliances in about three different places including our basement which wasn’t practical.”
From the start, the Wiltgens were completely immersed in the chaos that comes with such a large-scale rebuild. “We had no choice but to have the mess indoors, where as a family of four we had to function every day. When Kristie left [for a work conference]she had a kitchen and when she came back four days later she was completely stripped down to her nails,” Ryan said.

Pandemic Rebuild
Then, two weeks into the transformation, the world shut down. COVID hit and brought Kristie into the world of working from home. The problem? Her home was in ruins. “It looked like a tornado had ripped through our house, and while I wanted to go to work every day to keep my sanity, I didn’t have an office to escape to. I worked on a cardboard table in a corner of our basement for about two months,” Kristie said.
The rest of the family also experienced inconveniences. “While most things were shut down, we spent all of our time at home with no kitchen sink or dishwasher. We used paper plates and plastic cutlery most of the time. Our oven and fridge were functional in our living room for a while until it got a little warmer outside and we decided to build a makeshift kitchen in our garage. We took all our appliances and the kitchen table outside and instead of washing up in the bathroom sink, we washed and washed dishes in plastic containers in the garage.”
But despite the pandemic, the Wiltgens kept moving. In fact, they claim it got them ahead of schedule! “The conversion went ahead because when everything was closed in March 2020, we had nothing else to do but work on the house. The four of us spent Easter weekend painting our entire main floor and ceilings instead of egg hunts, church services and family reunions with our extended families,” the Wiltgens said. “It was a family bond!” they joked.
And they’re not joking either. The Wiltgen family have taken it upon themselves to do as much of the remodeling themselves as possible including painting, wiring, demolition, removing old siding and windows, building the locker unit they placed in the entrance hall and installing, staining and varnishing the Hardwood floor.

renovation advice
Now that the project is complete, the Wiltgens have some advice for home renovators. “Our advice is to go for it. Kristie likes order, so it was a bit stressful,” Ryan said. “And Ryan is much better at handling things when things are in a mess and in build mode and can be more relaxed about things. He had to remind me that it wasn’t a mess, it was progress,” Kristie said. “The inconveniences only last for a short while, by and large, and the result is so worth it,” they agreed.
Additionally, they recommend looking at other homes—both new build and remodeled—to get ideas. “We looked and drove around a lot to see what we liked. We took photos of the outside of strangers’ homes to find ideas or color schemes for siding that we liked. Talk to and visit people you know who have recently completed new construction and remodeling projects. It’s also a great idea to talk to a designer because they’ll think of things you might not have,” Kristie said.
Looking back, Kristie is glad she followed that last piece of advice as well as she did. “We love the kitchen layout with the pantry and how our home is so open now. When we met Kari [Steinlage, of K.L. Design], she gave us many options to think about. We probably had plans for about six months, looked at them several times and changed them a few times before finally deciding and starting. Originally we wanted to partition off our front entrance area to have a separate mud and wash room, but we decided to leave everything open and build a locker unit instead. It was exciting to see Kari’s 3D images and reassured us that the finished projects would turn out as we envisioned them.”
Now, 22 years after the original purchase, the Wiltgens can finally say they are living the dream in their dream home. And that wasn’t a dream they bought, it was one they made. Through time, effort, family and what can only be imagined as blood, sweat and tears, the Wiltgen family have made their dream (home) come true.

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