Mehrs build new house on other side of Elm Street

Mehrs new house on Elm Street

By Michael Jacobson
After living on Elm Street for nearly 25 years, Gerry and Mary Mehr picked up and moved... across the street.

Trading their split-level home, the Mehrs built a rambler on the north side of Elm Street for one-floor living and eventual retirement.

Both 1969 PHS grads, Gerry and Mary have been married for 37 years. After marrying, they moved to Glencoe in 1972 and lived there for 11 years before coming back to Paynesville in 1983 and building the house on Elm Street.

The split-level house was great for their young family with lots of usable space and multiple levels to provide some space and privacy. "It was perfect for the large family we had at the time," said Mary of the house.

Across the street from the house sat two empty lots. The Mehr family maintained the lot directly across the street. The kids played on it, they parked their camper on it, and they used it for parking at graduation, etc. "The family had always mowed the lawn here," said Gerry. "It was like a spare lot."

Always having the intent to build another house, "we kind of had our eye on this lot," said Gerry, of their sentimental attachment to the lot.

Both Gerry and Mary grew up on farms, but Mary never wanted to move back into the country after living in town. "I never really did like living on the farm," she said.

Since they have nice neighbors, staying on the same street made sense. "Once you get used to a neighborhood, you want to stay," said Gerry.

The Mehrs were friendly with the lot's owner. "When we'd send her a Christmas card, I'd always say, 'When are you going to sell the lot? When are you going to sell the lot?' Finally, she did," said Mary.

The Mehrs bought the lot in July 2006 and quickly made building plans.

Instead of a split-level house, Mary wanted a rambler - and one-floor living - because she was tired of stairs. "The laundry room was downstairs, and when you've got six kids you're constantly going up and down stairs," said Mary of their split-level house. "I said, 'Someday I'm going to have a rambler house.'"

When they bought the lot, it didn't take long to get the plans together because Gerry had been listening to Mary's wish list for years and putting ideas together. "I had (a design) in mind," said Gerry.

"She kept describing to me what she wanted," said Gerry, who worked at lumber yards for nearly four decades. "I just pieced it together."

In addition to the rambler design, Mary wanted a main-floor laundry room, a main-floor office, and openness between the living room, dining room, and kitchen.

Gerry did a great job of listening and putting their ideas into the plan, feels Mary, who liked the very first design. "I saw the one plan," she said.

"It was awesome," she added of the first plan. "No, I don't think we need to change any thing."

Not that she was surprised about the job her husband did. "He was good at what he did. He knew his job," she said.

The house, with a full basement, is only 1,700 sq. ft., noted Gerry, but the space is very usable. "This is really comfortable for us," he said.

One benefit of his experience in building was being comfortable with smaller sizes and knowing what would be enough space for them. "Knowing the sizes, knowing what's right," said Gerry of how his experience helped in building their house. "Just knowing the sizes that work."

"We really made this to accommodate this time of our lives," he added. To accommodate large family gatherings, they designed the main floor with open space between the living room and kitchen, finished the basement (including a large family room), and insulated and installed a heater in the garage. "When we have more people over, it becomes another room," said Gerry

. "It's not hard to do," said Mary of using the 24' by 28' garage for entertaining. "You just put a couple tables from the yard in there."

Everywhere they could, Gerry added cabinets and storage to make the house usable. For instance, above the garage is a large room, reachable by stairway, for storage. "We use every inch of this house on a daily basis," said Mary.

The Mehrs started building in October 2006 and moved into their new house in October 2007.

Their sons, who work in construction, built the house. "That was neat, too," said Gerry. "They were part of it. And their friends. It was really a family affair."

Mary would have their sons and the crew for lunch while building. And, when Gerry and Mary needed to decide on something, they could walk across the street and look at the house as it progressed. "It was a real easy way to manage the project," said Gerry.

"It was fun watching," added Mary. "I was out there taking pictures all the time."

While making their home modest in size, Gerry and Mary wanted some special features. For Gerry, that started on the exterior by making the house attractive."I just had these ideas in my mind of what I thought looked good," said Gerry. "It's fun to put them into an actual project."

"That's what I was trying to accomplish: curb appeal," added Gerry.

Mary wanted a porch, so Gerry designed one with gables to provide shelter from the elements for visitors and visual appeal.

On the front, Gerry wanted to use cut stone, a new product, that he liked the look of. Mary was a little resistant to choosing brown stone, since their old house was brown, but Gerry felt the green exterior needed to be complemented by an earth tone.

Instead of a plain, concrete driveway and sidewalk, Gerry dressed up theirs by having their mason cut a pattern into the concrete and then staining parts of the concrete. It was relatively easy and cheap (a couple hundred bucks) for the look it provided (as opposed to bare concrete), he said.

Then the Mehrs added lights to illuminate the cut stone and the sidewalk. The 20 low-voltage lights are inexpensive to power and make the house look better at night. "For the look of the house, it makes a big difference," Gerry said.

The utility shed in backyard has cut stone to match the house; a fire hydrant as a water fountain, designed to commemorate Gerry's service with the fire department; and a lighted flagpole.

"I really like it," said Mary of the exterior lights. "I come home at night, and it doesn't feel like I'm coming home in the dark."

Mary and Gerry Mehr used oak cabinets, granite countertops, and oak flooring in their new kitchen, which flows into the adjoining dining room and living room in the open center of their new house.

On the inside, they were able to have lots of oak cabinetry, oak flooring in the kitchen, granite countertops, and other amenities instead of excess square footage.

"You can put some of the fun things in," said Gerry.

A key decision on the main floor for the Mehrs was whether there should be a wall between the kitchen and living room. They discussed all the options: full wall, half wall, or no wall. "My sisters would call and say, 'Where's the wall this week?'" said Mary.

Eventually, they decided on no wall. "I just love the openness," said Mary.

"Mary was really right about the wall," said Gerry.

Without the wall, Gerry figured that they had room in the kitchen for an island, an idea about which Mary needed some convincing. (Due to his expertise in building and familiarity with products and options, Gerry often needed to explain his ideas to Mary and give her time to digest them. "After he'd do it," said Mary, "I'd get used to it."

The island, with peacock-colored granite countertops like the rest of the kitchen, is great for the two of them to eat or to serve food during a large family gathering."I love it," said Mary. "We basically live on the island. Yes, the dining room table does get used but not nearly as much."

One loss with the lack of a wall between the kitchen and living room were a whole set of cabinets for the kitchen. So instead, the Mehrs had a series of cabinets built into the hallway that serves as a mudroom between the kitchen, laundry room, and master bedroom.

There's a coat closet in the hall, too. And, in the garage, which is trimmed in pine, they even built cubbies by the door to hang outdoor clothes and stow boots and other footwear. Gerry got the idea from one of their six grandchildren, who uses one at daycare.

The garage also features a stairway down to the basement, where their son Greg lives, allowing him to come and go, as well as the stairway up to the storage area above the garage.

The main-floor laundry is not large but is functional, said Mary, who didn't want to have to carry laundry up and down steps any longer. This room is dedicated to their six grandkids.

The master bedroom suite includes the bedroom, bath, and walk-in closet, though Mary lost a little closet space due to the pantry.

While the kitchen and dining room have oak floor, the living room is carpeted. "It gives the living room a border," said Gerry.

The living room also has a compound vaulted ceiling with up lighting. "It appears bigger," said Gerry of the room with the higher ceiling. "It's taller. That's all that it is."

Living room
The living room features oak shelves on the north wall, an electric fireplace, and a vaulted ceiling with up lighting, making the room feel bigger.

Amidst the cabinetry and shelves on the north wall, the Mehrs put an electric fireplace (and another in the basement). Gerry liked the look of this model, since it could be a heat source and could - unlike most gas fireplaces - just be lit by a light bulb, giving the appearance of a working fireplace without providing excess heat. "It looks real," said Gerry, who had seen the model a few years ago and made a mental note. "That's the nicest model I've ever seen."

On the east side of the main floor are the stairs to the basement, a bathroom, spare bedroom, and office, dedicated to their late son Jim and complete with a desk for grandkids, too. Mary had their sons install built-in shelves in the closet. "Get rid of the clutter," she said. "You can still have it but hide it."

"I think we used up every space we possibly could," she added.

Gerry was prepared for all the decisions that go into building a house, but Mary said it was overwhelming even with Gerry's expertise. People still ask her how they could build a new house and stay married!

When it came to decorating, they made a deal.For the most part, Mary got to decorate the upstairs, with help from a decorator, and Gerry the downstairs. "Sometimes it gets complicated with all the decisions to make," said Mary. "I said to Gerry: I'll do the upstairs, and you do the downstairs." They did make joint decisions, but each having the freedom to finish part of the house in their taste was a nice compromise, they feel.

So Mary got to paint the master bathroom lavender, which she loves, and the walls in the living room breadloaf (a wheat color) and plum by the front door (to bring out grains in the wood work).

While Mary got to decorate the main floor, Gerry got to decorate the basement, which he did in a cabin theme. The large basement family room includes hickory cabinets, pine ceiling, large-screen TV, and electric fireplace.

The basement has a cabin theme for Gerry, who might have wanted to live in the country closer to a good fishing spot. The big, open family room has another fireplace, a large-screen TV, a L-shaped couch, and a pool table and is decorated with hunting and fishing trophies.

The south wall has hickory cabinets, including an alcove bar with sink and fridge, around the TV. The entire basement has knotty pine ceiling.

"What I was trying to accomplish was more of that cabin theme," said Gerry.

When entertaining, the basement is the place for the guys to go, added Gerry, who thinks the light provided by modern egress windows make basements nowadays much more usable.

The basement also includes two bedrooms, another bathroom, a storage room, a fish cleaning room, and a furnace room. And, in keeping with the spirit of the rest of their house, trying to use every space possible, the Mehrs have a built-in gun case in the basement, too. Then, to have a place to store the pool table accessories, they had their cabinetmaker build an extra section for pool cues, too.

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