By SAMANTHA PIDDE
After almost five years of hard work renovating the 150-year-old structure, Doug Sherf and Lorri Mostad have finally made the "Downing House" at 105 N. Clay St. in Mount Carroll their home.
The yellow brick home was built in 1873 by Uriah Green. To Sherf's knowledge, it is the only yellow or "Milwaukee Cream" brick house in town. Green, a native of Pennsylvania, moved to rural Carroll County in 1841 and made a living in farming and raising livestock. He moved to Mount Carroll in 1873, after the house was built.
In the early 1900s, the Downing family purchased the house (often referred to as the Downing House). In 1948, Preston "Preppie" Downing turned the home into apartments for rent. Until recently, the house has sat in disrepair for many years.
"There was nothing here but junk," said Mostad, adding the only things they found in the home were four toilets and an old wooden spoon.
Sherf was raised in Mount Carroll during the 1960s and 70s, with his parents, Glen and Bette, owning and operating the Coast to Coast hardware store in Mount Carroll during that time.
Almost six years ago, Doug was visiting Mount Carroll and saw that the Downing House was in the foreclosure process. The home had been purchased by private entities intent on restoring the property, before eventually losing interest. Sherf thought it would be exciting to restore such a historic building within the community.
"It looked pretty cool and it just spoke to us," said Sherf, in a previous interview.
Sherf and Mostad bought the house in foreclosure in March 2014. The couple moved to Mount Carroll from Minnesota around that time and Sherf began working full-time on the house, doing much of the work himself.
During the past five years, Doug and Lorri have put a great deal of work into the home. In many of the rooms, they gently removed all of the wood trim off the walls, carefully bundling and labeling them.
"We stripped pretty much everything down to wood, sanded it, primed it and painted it," Sherf explained.
Most of the wood floors in the home were painted, requiring the couple to get "down on hands and knees" to scrape off the paint and restore it to the original wood. Mostad said they wore masks in case any of the paint was lead-based.
The home has 38 windows and all of them were removed and reglazed. Some of the windows were replaced while others are the old windows. The bay windows in the front living room area were taken apart completely, with all the wood stripped and restored.
Mostad explained that the window and wall frame had sagged and separated, causing gaps in the bay window. They "jacked everything up" and reconnected the window. In most of the rooms, portions of the wall were removed and later replaced, to allow for spray foam insulation.
While Sherf has some minor experience in home repair as well as skills learned from his father, he and Mostad agreed that most of it was learned "on the job."
"These type of things, we figured it out," said Mostad, adding, "You just have to use your imagination and figure it out."
Those driving by the historic home recently may have noticed the front entrance area is no longer boarded up as it has been for years. Instead, the original front doors featuring stained glass windows), which have been restored, have been re-installed.
These doors also had to be "hand-scraped" and Mostad explained that while scraping the doors, she found some evidence of gold leaf on them. Wherever she found this, she went over those spots with gold paint, to make the doors look more like how they used to.
While making the renovations, Sherf added several modern updates as well, including geothermal heating units in both the basement and the attic. Sherf also did all the plumbing and electrical work in the house, noting that he even added motion sensors in the upstairs master bathroom to signal a re-circulator pump to begin warming the water. This is so the water does not take too long to warm from the basement water heater.
Mostad emphasized that her husband was in charge of all the "techy stuff," adding, “I do all the design work and he makes it work.”
Sherf and Mostad repurposed several rooms to add extra bathrooms, as well as an upstairs laundry room. The former servant's quarters were renovated and had plumbing added for a laundry room, with a walk-in closet. Sherf turned the house's old "trunk room" into another bathroom using old boards from the front porch.
"As much as we could, we re-used," Mostad said. "We salvaged everything we could find."
Sherf also did significant work on the attic and cupola — the windowed structure on the roof area of the house. He moved walls and doors for two of the upstairs bedrooms to create a staircase to the attic, replacing the ladder that was once used to enter through a small opening.
In the attic, he created a see-through door at the top of the stairs to the cupola. This allows light into the attic while permitting them to control the temperature of the house. The couple actually watched fireworks from the cupola on July 4. Sherf pointed out the names written on the inside walls of the cupola from each time crews painted the house.
Sherf and Mostad worked as a team in designing and decorating the home. Mostad found and installed most of the tile work in the bathrooms. She also picked out and purchased all of the basins and fixtures, including a large metal tub for the master bathroom.
The two of them said they have had a lot of fun finding antique items (particularly pre-Civil War) for the home. Mostad has scoured the internet, auctions and antique stores for various items. They also have received some items from friends.
"We've just gradually picked up pieces that worked," Mostad said. "We're always on the hunt (for items)."
The home is filled with unique antiques, including an old "tobacco chest," an antique desk that has been converted into a bathroom sink/vanity and more.
Undoubtedly the most unique piece of furniture is the couple's master bedroom closet is made from the confessional booth from an old Catholic church in Wisconsin.
Mostad remembered finding the item at Riverview Antique, 409 N. Main St., Mount Carroll. After measuring the confessional booth (9 feet and 3 inches tall) to make sure it fit her 10-foot ceilings, she rushed back to the shop to ask the owners to set it aside for her. She explained that they had to move the item up the stairs and into the room in pieces.
Recently, Doug and Lorri held their wedding at the house, with the couple and guests donning period clothes.
Both agreed that the house renovation project has been a "labor of love” and they still a good amount of work to do, including converting from gas to electrical and installing several light fixtures.
The woodwork in the library is still bundled, waiting to be re-installed and Sherf plans to re-do the fireplace in that room. The couple plans to have a great deal of bookcases, with one full wall of bookcases having a library ladder.
Eventually, Mostad and Sherf hope to have a separate garage and outdoor kitchen built on their property behind the house. They have already had a large deck constructed along with a beautifully landscaped patio.