FARGO - Standing in the bright, spacious kitchen of Seth and Nicole Holden's north Fargo home, it's hard not to admire the gleaming quartz countertops, rich hardwood floors and the luminous white subway tile backsplash.
It's also hard to imagine the fact that two years ago, that kitchen didn't exist.
When the Holdens first started looking for a home back in 2010, they knew they wanted a home with character that they could also customize to their style and needs. They actually looked at a home across the street, but took more notice of the one they ended up buying in December of that year. Within a month, they had closed and moved in, and they began to imagine what improvements they could make to the 100-year-old home.
"We knew we were going to do some work, but we didn't know how much," Seth says.
On the main level, they painted and refinished some floors, but they focused initial energy upstairs. After a few years of living in the space, they set their sights bigger: a kitchen addition.
The tiny, maybe 100-square-foot space with dated linoleum, limited counter space and minimal storage just wasn't conducive to the couple's penchant for entertaining.
"Thanksgiving is my jam - we host every year," Seth explains. "The kitchen before was so tiny, it was so hard to prepare a big meal in there."
In June 2015, an excavator dug the hole that would eventually house their new kitchen. (As if the kitchen project wasn't enough to take on, the Holdens also decided to replace the single-car garage with a two-stall that also offers a music studio above it. Because of that, the Holdens didn't return to the kitchen project until February 2016.)
Thanks to Seth's expertise as a general contractor, the majority of the work was completed by the homeowners, but that doesn't mean it was easy.
Staying true to the home's character was paramount, so the couple meticulously researched the style of their Arts and Craft home and replicated many aspects in the addition from other areas of their home. Like the back door, which is identical to their front door and retrieved on a special trip from an old general store in Minnesota that Seth and Nicole made a special trip to retrieve.
"We didn't want someone to come in (to the kitchen) and think it looked like an addition," Nicole says.
The beautiful, mahogany-colored hardwood floor was actually saved from the former Old World Imports store (which is now Front Street Taproom on Main Avenue).
"It was just going to be thrown away, and I said I would take it," Seth says.
He took the entire lot to Nicole's father's wood shop, so the paint and glue could be removed. When Seth started laying the floor, he had to patch it into the existing dining room floor and worried whether he would have enough. Fortunately, he did.
"I have a 5-gallon bucket left - that's it," he laughs.
While laying a floor of reclaimed wood was interesting, it wasn't nearly as challenging as stuccoing the nearly 500-square-foot addition.
"That was the worst part of the whole thing," he says. "I know why it's a dying trade. It's so physically demanding."
The time between digging the hole for the addition and returning to the project gave Seth and Nicole a lot of time to mull the design, which she completed through IKEA.
"I'm not a professional, so designing the kitchen was the hardest part for me," Nicole says.
She admits some hesitation to use IKEA but, in the end, chose it based on its affordability and flexibility. The additional time meant they could make a few changes from their initial concept, like changing a butler's pantry to a laundry room.
They added a window in the mudroom area off the back door after realizing how dark that corner of the space would be without it. The Holdens had also hoped to create a "shotgun doorway" - a reference to a home layout that allows bird shot to be fired through the front door and out the rear without touching a wall. However, they decided they didn't like that layout so they ended up creating the main entrance where a window used to be and instead built a larger bar area, which Seth customized with a wine rack.
Nicole hoped to further customize the space with antique light fixtures, but she couldn't find the right ones - either they were too small or only one was available. In the end, she found aesthetically accurate fixtures at a retail store. They were able to find antique-style grates similar to others in the home for vent openings, and the white color scheme feels endlessly timeless.
Like anyone who completes a home renovation project, the Holdens point out things they would do differently or aspects of the project they say didn't quite come together as they would have liked. But they are pleased with the addition as a whole, and they've been putting the new space to use with lots of entertaining - first a St. Patrick's Day brunch once it was complete and again at Thanksgiving.
Now they're setting their sights on other projects they want to complete, like transforming the former kitchen area to a den or creating a basement family room in the space below the kitchen.
"We pride ourselves in putting new life into an older home, and we know not everyone can do that, but we hope to inspire others to try," Nicole says.
She and Seth are quick to point out that tackling new projects is a fun challenge, and learning how to do something is made much easier thanks to countless YouTube videos. That being said, Seth cautions that sometimes an expert is necessary.
"Don't be afraid to ask for help to do specific parts of the project," he says.
Nicole also points out they were able to save so much on the cost of the addition because they were willing to do the work themselves.
"It's not necessarily the materials that gets expensive - it's the labor," she says.
But for this Fargo couple, it was a labor of love.