Creative concepts: Repurposed, reclaimed and whimsy combine in Widboom renovation project
Johnson Builders did the original home expansion project in 2015, and were hired to complete the basement renovation in 2022. Kyle Johnson used his creativity with focal points in the space.
WORTHINGTON — When Matt and Teresa Widboom transformed their existing farmhouse in 2015, they sought the expertise of Johnson Builders to mesh the historic elements of a home built with plans purchased from a Sears catalog with the modern-day space needs of a family of six.
When planning for the construction, the Widbooms met with Worthington contractor Kyle Johnson, who spoke of the importance of a good relationship between homeowner and contractor.
“Both parties have to be comfortable with each other,” said Johnson, who co-owns Johnson Builders & Realty with his younger brother, Jason. “I want to build homes and do projects for people who want me to do them because you spend a lot of time together. You get to know each other really well.”
Construction on the home addition was the start of a great friendship, shared Teresa. So, when it became time to finish the basement seven years later, there was no doubt that Johnson would be tapped for the job.
It was a fourth-generation construction company working with a fourth-generation family farm.
“I think it’s a good example of, ‘Here’s what we’ve got,’” said Matt. “We wanted to keep the house in the original project. Kyle was up front and said it was easier to do a complete new build, but it was the house my grandpa had built and my dad grew up in.
“We had several challenges in tying in to a simple, country farmhouse, but he tied it in perfectly,” Matt added.
The addition features elements of a rural lifestyle, such as galvanized tin for the fireplace face, repurposed Kasota stone that was once a beloved planter box of Matt’s mom, Gloria, and a stone slab created for the fireplace hearth from a large shale rock that Matt discovered in their farm field.
There’s also a bit of whimsy in the home — a three-story spiral slide installed through the roof of the home during construction that transports both kids and adults from the upper-level loft to the basement.
At the time it was installed, the basement was essentially a large, unfinished room.
“The basement was originally going to be done in 2015 when we did the bigger project upstairs,” Teresa said.
Instead, they opted to save up some money and wait a few years. Ultimately, Teresa said, the goal was to have it finished by the time their oldest, Riley, graduated from high school in 2022.
“For five years this was our basketball room,” said Matt, adding that they also had a wrestling mat and ping pong tables in the space.
“The slide is a big element with the kids,” Teresa added. “This was strictly a fun space and the rest of the house could remain tidy.”
Teresa said when she and Matt began talking about their home addition, they wanted a feature that would be super unique and memorable for their kids and one day, grandkids. It was among items that topped their list of non-negotiables.
Matt’s initial idea was a fire pole that would take someone from the upstairs to the basement. A pole, however, brought with it too much liability. Still, they mentioned it to Johnson.
“Kyle asked, ‘Would you ever consider a slide?’” recalled Teresa. “It took us about 14 seconds to say ‘Yes!’”
“We did the research and did it right,” said Johnson, adding that he found a very reputable company that provides slides all over the U.S. “This one was custom made for this exact set-up.”
It was one of the last elements installed during the 2015 building project, and had to be dropped into place with a crane.
“It was very tempting for all of us workers to go down it right away,” Johnson said with a grin. But, they decided the Widboom family should be the first to use it.
Teresa kept the kids home from school on the day the slide was installed, thinking it would be an all-day process. She brought donuts and pizza to celebrate the occasion and then, since Matt was at a meeting in St. Cloud related to his role then as a Nobles County Commissioner, she made the kids wait until he got home that evening before they could try it out.
It’s safe to say the slide has been used thousands of times by the Widboom kids.
“It had a lot to do with the design of the whole house,” Matt said of the slide. “A lot of things revolved around the shaft.”
“I think it’s really fun and I’m really proud of it,” added Johnson. “I’m glad it’s the Widbooms that will get to have years and years to enjoy it.”
At the bottom of the slide is the red and black wrestling mat previously used in the basement space, another repurposed item that came from the high school.
Matt and Teresa’s vision for the basement was to have a bar with a place to prepare food and drinks, as well as a gathering space for family and friends. The space also includes a spare bedroom (currently used as a game room) with a large walk-in closet, and a bathroom.
“We knew that we would be spending a lot of time down here as a family,” Teresa said, adding that they wanted a bar area that would function more as a table in which the family could gather around for pizza or conversation. Around the corner, a wall-mounted television is used primarily for watching big games, whether it be the Twins, Vikings or whatever.
“We’re not really big TV people, but we knew we wanted the space,” Teresa shared.
The adjacent wall is the accent wall of the space. It features more of the repurposed galvanized tin, tying in with the fireplace on the main floor. The tin, said Johnson, was taken from a large stockpile in the grove on his acreage. It also features rough-sawn pine purchased from a sawmill and made into shiplap to match the ceiling. A ledge on the accent wall, created from reclaimed brick, can be used for additional seating.
“My grandfather purchased two railroad cars of old Chicago brick,” said Johnson, who incorporated about 1,500 bricks into the Widboom basement between the ledge, a small stage and the backdrop for the bar. Another 1,500 bricks were used in a different project by Johnson.
The Widboom family helped Johnson sift through the bricks, remove the mortar and clean them up for reuse.
The basement floor is stained concrete with a large rug in the sectional seating area of the room.
“We put in-floor heat in when we did it, knowing we would be down here a lot,” Matt said.
The focal point of the room, though, is the bar, which features a large table and kitchenette countertop all created from rough-cut slabs harvested from a large oak tree near Lamberton.
Johnson had heard about the wood, taken from a 4.5-foot-wide tree, and drove to the site in March 2022. He and Widboom brought five pieces home, cut and trimmed them to more manageable pieces and then transported them to an individual with a wood kiln, where they stayed for three months.
Johnson said he’d seen a lot of epoxy tables but had never done one. He was happy the Widbooms let him experiment with their project.
“It was this immense amount of work to make the wood tops,” Johnson said. “It needed many elements to happen — a homeowner that had faith and trust in me to create something; myself to drive the project forward and the expertise of Richard Phelps and Josh Peterson, who played large roles.”
Phelps owns Colonial Cabinets in Worthington and Peterson works for Johnson Builders.
“We did it after hours — in the evenings we would work on it,” Johnson shared.
Many hours were spent sanding the wood down to create a consistent surface, and bow-tie-look wood pieces were added as decorative features within a split in the wood. A coffee-colored epoxy was poured into the split and hardened, and when that was sanded down, a clear coat of epoxy was applied to the entire piece.
The table top was one of the last items to be completed in the basement renovation, installed just prior to Riley’s graduation. The cabinetry in the bar area, as well as two floating shelves with undermount lights, were constructed by Colonial Cabinets, and Teresa incorporated a wine cabinet she’d found years ago at an occasional shop and a large mirror that had once belonged to her grandmother.
Johnson said the entire basement renovation was completed in about three and a half months.
He’s happy with the finished space.
“I want to be the type of builder that is recommended for many projects, but especially when people really want to do something creative and unique,” he said.
As their construction business heads into the warmer months, Johnson said they’re busy, but they’re always looking for work.
“We specialize in whatever pays the bills,” he said with a laugh, adding that they have a great main core in their construction crew, and hire some seasonal help during the summer. Bob Paplow and Rod Hibma have been core employees of Johnson Builders for more than 30 years. Both helped in teaching Kyle, along with his uncle, Mike, the construction industry.
Johnson Builders was started by Miles Johnson in 1938, with Donavon Johnson taking over the business at a young age. Donavon’s sons, Steve and Mike, purchased the business in 1985, and Kyle and Jason, sons of Steve and nephews of Mike, bought it on Dec. 31, 2019, beginning the fourth generation of ownership.