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Renovation of historic Fargo Laundry featured on Magnolia Network

The 1923 building—now the industrial-chic residence of Keith and Rondi McGovern—is showcased during the Magnolia Network's series, "Where We Call Home," which is now available to Discovery Plus subscribers.

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In this screenshot from Magnolia Network's "Where We Call Home," Keith and Rondi McGovern talk about the experience of renovating the dilapidated Fargo Laundry building into their industrial-chic residence.
Contributed / Where We Call Home
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FARGO — The transformation of the iconic Fargo Laundry building into a high-end residence has been highlighted on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network .

The industrial-chic abode of Keith and Rondi McGovern is showcased front and center during the half-hour show (13 minutes minus commercials), which first ran on the streaming network Friday, June 17, and is available to Discovery Plus subscribers.

The renovation of the Fargo Laundry building at 1002 1st Ave. S., was featured as part of a series called “Where We Call Home,” which explores unconventional transformations of former commercial spaces — like an old ice cream factory, a church or shipping containers — into private residences. Fargo Laundry is featured in the second episode of the second season.

“This is not your conventional, from-scratch suburban house. It’s typically adaptive reuse,” says Chris Hawley, the Fargo architect who led the renovation. “Adaptive reuse is cool for me because you already start with a story before you start a new story,” he said.

Although the restoration happened nearly 10 years ago, Hawley says he always knew they were creating something extraordinary. “It’s so unique,” he says. “The client was so receptive to really pushing the envelope with design. I felt like it was definitely going to be talked about.” 

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The restoration has been awarded an American Institute of Architects Residential Juror’s Choice Award.

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The renovation of the building included replacing the many broken and damaged windows with identical reproductions and restoring the front entry, which had been modified over the years, to its original style.
Contributed / Craftwell Architecture + Construction

More recently, it’s been included in “Warehouse Home,” a high-end coffee table book which highlights extraordinary examples of commercial-to-residential renovations around the world, says Hawley, who owns Craftwell Architects + Construction in Fargo.

Catching Magnolia's eye

Hawley says the Magnolia Network (recently launched by Chip and Joanna Gaines , stars of HGTV's former hit show, "Fixer Upper") dispatches a group of filmmakers to scope out projects that fit the theme of whatever shows and programs they’re planning.

The network aims to represent all parts of the country, so was particularly interested in featuring a non-traditional home in the Upper Midwest, he adds. They heard about Fargo Laundry and, as they had never featured a laundry-turned-home project before, reached out to Hawley.

“We quickly scrambled and made sure the homeowner was fine with it,” he says.

Footage for the episode was shot over several days in June 2021, although the program didn’t air until a few weeks ago.

Hawley is interviewed in several scenes throughout the program, including one shot in front of the home's distinctive fireplace, which was built to replicate the original boiler in the building’s basement.

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Architect Chris Hawley told the film crew for "Where We Call Home" that he spent two years on the Fargo Laundry project and spent every day at the site.
Screen shot / "Where We Call Home"

“The interesting thing about a project like this is that a lot of times when you do something new, you screw something up, you can go backwards and fix it,” he said during his segment. “You screw up in a project like this, you don’t get it back. That was kind of terrifying. You can’t mess this one up.”

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But the majority of screen time is dedicated to the McGoverns, who shared their story of how they acquired the property.

Originally built in 1923, the three-story, 19,000-square foot building served as a laundry service for decades, then was purchased by Leef Brothers in 1987 to become a drycleaning center.

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A photo of Fargo Laundry's exterior, which was taken in earlier times.
Screen shot / "Where We Call Home"

But the building was vacant and dilapidated when Keith McGovern drove by it and noticed it was for sale more than a decade ago.

Keith, who described himself on camera as an appreciator of anything old or vintage, said he was ready to buy the building the first time he walked through it.

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A photo of Fargo Laundry's top floor, back when that space was dedicated to sewing and repairing textiles and clothing.
Screen shot / "Where We Call Home"

Rondi wasn’t so sure. “I thought he was a little crazy for even entertaining the idea,” she told the show’s interviewer with a grin. “And then we walked inside and I saw the mess in here, I thought he was even crazier.”

“It was 80 years of white paint, 80 years of lint, 80 years of dust, grease … odors. It was bad,” Keith added. “ But we saw through it."

After two years of extensive renovation, the McGoverns moved into the building in 2013.

The end result is an industrial-chic celebration of interior brick walls, enormous windows patterned after the originals, exposed ductwork and soaring ceilings with Douglas fir beams.

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The interior of the renovated building contains everything that the McGoverns were looking for, including hardwood floors, lots of windows, exposed brick and original wood beams.
Contributed / Craftwell Architecture + Construction

The ground floor of the building is used primarily for entertaining large groups and guest quarters. The top floor is dedicated to family living space. The garden-level basement is used as a home gym and storage. A sprawling addition that was built onto the structure in later years now serves as a massive garage for Keith.

Fixtures and details throughout pay homage to the building’s original purpose.

The main floor includes a long bar outfitted with foot rails made from repurposed water pipes from the basement. One curved end of the bar is created from the massive exhaust stack of the building’s original boiler.

A hot tub room still includes a wall of original truck doors from the loading dock, which were so heavy they needed to be opened and closed with aid of concrete counterweights.

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Old-school engineering, like this huge window which opens with aid of a concrete counterweight, brings some of the outdoors inside. The tongue-and-groove paneling on the back wall was harvested from the ceiling of the top floor.
Contributed / Craftwell Architecture + Construction

That engineering detail inspired Hawley and the McGoverns to institute a similar system to open the massive, multi-paned window in the bar. It is the only original window in the building, Keith points out during the episode, as the others tended to crumble when they were removed from their openings.

Even so, they salvaged portions of the original windows for use throughout the home — either as transom windows between rooms or to enclose the walk-in wine cellar.

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“It’s almost like we were stockpiling materials to be used as a medium to reinvent the building,” Hawley says. “It’s comfortable as a house, but it still needs to have the feel and the aesthetic of being not your traditional home.”

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This "before" photo from Fargo Laundry is a reminder of all the heavy machinery that once filled the space and how much planning and labor went into transforming the space into a home.
Screen shot / "Where We Call Home"

The show's producers showed careful attention to detail on every aspect of the home — down to the tiny white button that fell in a knothole in the floor years ago, and which the McGoverns elected to keep as a nod to the building’s former purpose while refinishing the floors.

Overall, Hawley said the "Where We Call Home" experience was a positive one. "Honestly, the film crew and interviewer were very professional. It was very high-test and thoughtful and well-done."

Related Topics: HISTORICALFARGO
Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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