Couple restores Old World charm to 80-year-old Kohler home

O Residence

"For me, moving to Kohler was like being sent to design heaven," says Karen Overly of Kohler.

She fell in love with her home on Ridge Court the moment she set foot inside of it in 2006. "I was thrilled at the possibility of using the Kohler Design Center to select products for my home."

Overly's husband, Jeff, accepted a position at Kohler Co. in July 2005. They moved into an apartment in Sheboygan in August of that year and started looking for the "right" house.
"We have lived in several different cities and states throughout the course of my husband's career," Overly said. "We were the first people to look at the home after it was listed and I knew within 10 minutes after entering the house that this was a good fit for us. We put an offer on the house that day."

The history of the home, which was built in 1928, intrigued Overly and she immediately went to work to restore the Old World charm, with some modifications.

"I had a vision for the home," Overly said. "We were fortunate that the Kohler Co. had the original plans for the house in its archives. Once we read those plans, we knew that it would be impractical to attempt a restoration of the house as it was when it was constructed in 1928, as the kitchen and baths in those plans were very small. So we decided to renovate the home with many details from that period," Overly said.

The couple hired architect Jennifer Lehrke from LJM Architects of Sheboygan to draw up plans for the home.

"She has a background in historical renovations," Overly said. She listened carefully to my vision and drew plans accordingly. She also helped us with ideas for the flow of the design, particularly in the master bedroom suite."

On Lehrke's recommendation, they hired builder Scott Thiel to make the renovations.
"Scott was the perfect contractor for us," Overly said. "He and his subs paid attention to the smallest details. One of the delights of our home, for us is that our guests have difficulty discerning where the renovation begins and ends. We restored the wide archways from the period and most people assume that they have always been there. Likewise, we rebuilt the staircase. Most visitors believe that it is original."

The home features arched doorways, a dining room with French doors to exquisite gardens, a new kitchen with four sink prep areas and a luxurious master suite.

"My gardens are phenomenal," said Overly, who credits the previous owners. "From middle April to the end of September, something new is blooming and changing every day, with the exception of the hot period in middle of July. Every day it's like a new surprise when you walk out into the garden."

Aside from the gardens, another favorite aspect of the house is the expansive kitchen that she credits to designer Nate Meyer of Paul's Cabinet Shop.

"Because the house is 80 years old, designing and building the custom cabinets was an extensive project," Overly said. "One of my favorite things in the entire house is how the panels on the refrigerator were made to look like an ice box. The hinges were handmade in Pennsylvania."

The home was originally built for M.D. Cottingham, who was the physician at the Kohler Co. in the late 1920s.

"We were told that he sold the home to Edmund Biever, a plant manager for the Kohler Co., in the early 1950s. Biever sold it to his son in the early 1970s and we purchased the home from his widow, Suellen Biever."

It took 16 months for the plans to be drawn up and the home to be renovated, the end result is pure satisfaction.

"I love the house. I love the history of the house," Overly said.

While undergoing renovations, an original prepared statement was found within the walls, written by Edmund Biever, detailing his experience of the Kohler Co. strike during the 1950s. They also discovered a 1952 Kohler phone book that was sealed in a phone niche.

Antiques Overly has inherited over the years are used to decorate the home.

"I have many antiques that I have inherited from my great-grandmothers, grandmothers, aunt and mother," Overly said. "I inherited an extensive collection of pink Depression glass that was collected before the market was flooded with forgeries from Southeast Asia."

One of her favorite antiques is her paternal grandmother's toy sewing machine. "My love of fabrics and sewing can be traced to my time spent with her when I was a child," she said. "I also have the crystal, silver and china that she received as wedding gifts."

Earlier this year, Overly's husband accepted a job in Manhattan and the renovations have ceased as the house goes up on the market. She hopes that someone will fall in love with the home's history, as she did, and will continue on the design journey.

"I had plans for renovating another bathroom and bedroom and doing some work in the basement. It would be my dream that a future owner would put a claw-footed tub and 1930s fixtures in the bathroom that currently has raspberry fixtures," she said.

"It's a hard home to leave," Overly said. "I love my house. I'm going to miss my house."

Thompson, Allison. “Couple restores Old World charm to 80-year-old Kohler home.” The Sheboygan Press. January 27, 2009, page A3.

Thompson, Allison. “Couple restores Old World charm to 80-year-old Kohler home.” Lakeshore Living. February 2009, page A20-26.