The exterior of Jim and Katie Siebenalers' home has undergone a transformation. When they bought the house, it was small and gray with a two-car garage, but it's now a sturdy-looking red with plenty of windows and no garage.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
The exterior of Jim and Katie Siebenalers' home has undergone a transformation. When they bought the house, it was small and gray with a two-car garage, but it's now a sturdy-looking red with plenty of windows and no garage. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
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It was the shoes.

“The original front door was right here…you walked in and you got stuck right here. The whole project got started because we had no entryway,” stated Chatfield resident Jim Siebenaler.

He explained he and his wife, Katie, had had enough of coming in their home’s front door – directly into the home’s kitchen – stopping short at the kitchen island and tripping over the shoes and backpacks and assorted stuff of daily kid life that got left there.

Jim, a self-employed contractor, decided since he had the skills and some occasional time to overhaul the house himself, he’d tackle it. Besides, the couple had begun renovating the circa-1985 house as soon as they signed for it a little over five years ago.

The Siebenalers saw the house on the market but weren’t quite thrilled with its Highway 52 location or its original décor, complete with the “country goose” kitchen theme and the aroma of cigarette smoke. However, it included 20 acres – room for their children to roam and “be country kids” – so they dove in, living with Katie’s parents for three months so they could get a start on the renovations.

“We couldn’t pass it up, and now, we don’t even know the highway is here,” he said.

He pointed out they first chose to update the kitchen and convert a bedroom off a long hallway into a family room by moving the doorway from the hallway to just off the dining room and cutting a window into the room on the hallway side.

“We knocked out a few walls…when we bought the house, it had five bedrooms, and it has four now. That’s still enough,” he said.

He and Katie have made changes as they’ve found the need, working on various projects that encompassed aesthetic and functional upgrades, partly because he admitted, as a contractor, the house is always changing. He also admitted there were some immediate changes they made when they moved in that they don’t like now.

Up until last year, they put up with the shoes, and the bumping into one another as they came in the front door, and the commotion of not being able to properly arrive.

He dug into the house as a hobby, something to work on when he got home from building other people’s dreams in Rochester. He began designing an addition that included a new front deck and spacious entry, with bench seating and cubbyholes for the family’s shoes, coats and daily gear. He included a three-season porch that offers the clan a chance to bask in sunshine while indoors.

Visitors observed the project in progress as they passed by the house on their way to someplace else, and those who know the Siebenalers often commented that the family must be going slightly crazy awaiting the end of construction.

Jim said, “This addition was comical in that people were asking when it would be done, but really, it wasn’t a problem because I didn’t take out the front door and wall into the kitchen until most of it was done.”

That kept the mess outside the front door, allowing the family to go on as usual. When the work was done, the Siebenalers had gained the new entryway and the porch, plus a new hangout space for their trio of shoe-dropping traipsers.

What was supposed to have become Jim’s man cave in the former two-car garage, a corral that didn’t have enough room for both Katie’s car and Jim’s truck, actually became a kid-friendly great room.

“The kids are slowly getting that they’re supposed to put their stuff away when they get home,” Jim said. “The porch is supposed to be rustic, so we put in old plank flooring. We love that it’s 72 degrees on a sunny day…natural sunlight.”

He added that the porch, originally planned as a regular porch, gives the family a place to sit and watch snowstorms come and go.

“And the kids love to sleep in here when there’s no school,” Jim said. “We added just this section – the entryway and the porch – and that’s about 700 square feet, plus the garage is another 400 square feet. It’s well over 1,000 square feet we just added.”

The entry, though equipped for stop-and-drop, is also open enough that it might be used for overflow at family gatherings. They can just set up a card table or two along the window seat benches for instant dining space.

The garage was Jim’s hope for that man cave. “It’s a hangout for the kids. I wanted to turn it into a man cave, but their stuff landed out here, and I noticed that the exercise equipment came up from the basement,” he explained. “Oh well, it’s a great place for the kids to be, away from us.”

Outdoors, the house was given a new façade to show off to highway traffic, as Katie and Jim chose red siding that was just the right shade…not “red-red, but not too dark, either.”

There’s still work to be done inside and out, such as finishing trim and painting, but overall, they’re pleased with how the work is coming together.

Jim stated, “We’re not in a hurry now. This is a hobby for me. I don’t consider it work. I find it very satisfactory to take on a project like this and see all the hard work that I put into it, see the results.”

He admitted that while some people strive to have the newest homes with the most modern layout, he prefers working on renovations because it poses a challenge for him that straightforward construction does not.

“I like the challenge of remodeling something. It’s something new every day and that keeps me entertained,” he said. “The work here will never end. There will always be something we’re changing. Even the stuff we did five to six years ago – we’ll start over again. There will always be a project to do. This isn’t the same place anymore.”

The contractor advised others who attempt to make changes to their abodes to keep a sense of humor and an understanding of what they can and cannot do as they venture a do-it-yourself project.

“I encourage any homeowner to work on their own stuff, like fixing or updating a bathroom, but if it’s an addition, they might want to call a contractor. A lot of do-it-yourselfers get really overwhelmed,” Jim said. “On the TV home improvement shows, things go wrong, but it’s not as big a deal as the people in those shows make it out to be. It’s not life or death. Just go with the flow, know that stuff happens. There are a lot more important things in life than whether the tile in your bathroom is going up just right. If this had been someone else’s home, it would have taken about three or four months, but it’s ours, so it’s taken a year and a half. It wasn’t bad at all, and we’re always going to be making changes.”

So, the shoes have been conquered.

One might wonder what’s next up at the Siebenaler home? Jim said it has to be car storage, because the man cave just became the kid cave and exercise room.