Steve and Andrea Atwood's Cherry Grove home now has a cozy master bedroom — that used to serve as their living room — inside the house that used to belong to Andrea's grandparents, Virgil and Jessie Mensink.
Steve and Andrea Atwood's Cherry Grove home now has a cozy master bedroom — that used to serve as their living room — inside the house that used to belong to Andrea's grandparents, Virgil and Jessie Mensink.

Forget thinking outside the box.

Steve and Andrea Atwood built onto the box.

“It was about 980 feet, originally, and I think we added about 1,800 feet onto it,” said Cherry Grove resident Steve Atwood, standing back to admire the comforts of the box he calls home.

He elaborated, “That was the original house, but we added on about 30 feet by 42 feet with an entry, a garage, master bath and main floor laundry. The house was built in 1956, and I think we’re the fourth generation here. We wanted to keep it in the family.”

The Atwoods’ box, sweet box began as Andrea’s grandparents’ home – belonging to Virgil and Jessie Mensink, but the land itself has passed through the hands of her grandmother’s family, the Vriezes. The farm has earned the century farm designation as well.

Jessie’s parents farmed there before she and Virgil did, and the Mensinks lived in the tiny plaster-walled house until the end of their days, at which time it was handed to their children and shared by several of their grandchildren. When it came on the market approximately a decade ago, the time was right for the Atwoods to move home to the farm – they’d rented homes in the Spring Valley area and also lived at Good Earth Village in the caretaker’s house while their children grew up, as that’s where Steve is employed as maintenance foreman.

But they felt just a little cramped in the box, even though most of their tribe had grown and moved away. The three of them – Steve, Andrea and their son, Isaac, – needed a little elbowroom, and with the addition of grandchildren, it gave the Atwoods the reason to tackle the renovation and expansion projects.

Steve related, “We have four grandchildren, and that’s what kind of started everything.”

Steve had been perusing the view from their south-facing window for quite some time, thinking that the waves of corn and the snow flying by would be worth the investment in adding a family room with a vaulted ceiling.

“We had remodeled when we bought it about 10 years ago,” he remarked, pointing out that the house used to have small rooms with arched doorways leading between them, typical of houses built in 1956 – the arched doorways were the only real fanciful inclusion in a house that was meant to function as a place to sleep and have coffee and more coffee while discussing crops.

The couple had added and removed decks to make way for various phases of construction, transformed the former living room into their bedroom and renovated the kitchen to make the work triangle more functional.

“The living room used to be where the master bedroom is, and when everyone was at home, it was kind of crowded. We decided to build out, and so I opened the wall from the kitchen and built this room,” Steve explained.

The family room was certainly worth the wait. Steve noted the house sits atop a hill overlooking the rest of the farm – the very view he had been eyeing for quite some time – but that the garage and other farm outbuildings were all downhill from the house and square in the middle of the view he sought. That meant that the garage had to be taken down and a new one built.

“All the buildings were downhill, so nothing was usable,” he said. “The old garage sat there…and I wanted to open up the view. I planned to open the view up, get a shed up top.”

He turned several degrees in the family room, sharing, “This is my favorite…what I’ve worked 30 years for. I did most of it myself…I planned what I wanted. I hired to get the framing done to get the house closed up, but I did all the wiring, the sheetrock, everything. I wanted that view opened up.”

Now, he and Andrea enjoy the breeze blowing through the first addition to their box, and not just on one level. Steve recounted that he had a small light conundrum when he approached the family room’s construction – if he built an addition with a vaulted ceiling, it would mean that the second-story window of the story-and-a-half house would have to be either closed off or expanded significantly. He chose “expanded significantly.”

“I was up there on the staging with my Sawzall one day and decided that we needed natural light upstairs too, so I just started cutting and ended up with opening up most of that wall. The bottom of the window is about waist high on me, so Andrea can still get on the treadmill and watch TV down here from up there, and the grandkids can go up there and play and we can still keep an eye on them.”

Since the tiny garage had to be demolished, the couple determined that extending their box to the west by adding a garage, entry and master bath this year would make the most sense. The insulated, heated garage has a floor drain so melting snow doesn’t refreeze on the floor, and the new entry makes way for grandchildren to drop their coats and boots and leave the mess there. And given that Steve occasionally comes home a little muddy, he can get out of his truck, leave his shoes at the door and go straight to the master bath to clean up before supper.

One of his other favorite features is the bamboo flooring in the entry and dining rooms that he admits put the project slightly over budget but warms up the welcome so nicely.

He admitted, “I liked the bamboo flooring so much that I ordered some without remembering to ask how much that much floor would be, but I like it a lot. And Andrea and the grandkids spend a lot of time together here, decorating for all the seasons, so it’s good to have room for everybody.”

There’s work to be done yet – their box needs some outdoor appeal to show off the addition and the new siding.

“I’ve got a deck and patio to put on yet, and Andrea wants me to do some landscaping…we’ll probably do that next spring,” Steve said. “We look back at the pictures of the house when it was so small, and of the garage and sheds being snowed in, and we do miss the huge maple trees that we had to take down in order to put this addition up, but one of them was rotting from the inside and would have had to be taken down anyway.”

He concluded, “The house is a lot bigger…by about 1,800 feet bigger, and we like it.”

It’s proof that there’s merit to building onto the box.