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Home Design

From the Ashes

After facing a devastating house fire in early 2019, the Brown family used this opportunity to design a house that they truly love.

Photos by Hillary Ehlen

Suzanne Brown jokes that her family home is the classic West Fargo rambler — quartz countertops, subway tile backsplash and an overall appearance where “there are probably eight other ones just like it on this street and 50 more in the neighborhood.” But the Brown household holds a story unique from any other homes along the strip. 

In February 2019, only months after moving in, Suzanne and husband Kyan Brown were devastated by a house fire that destroyed everything. Following this calamity, the family had to rebuild and replace every detail, from flooring to furnishings to bedding to blankets. 

Looking on the bright side of the event, they took the empty framework of their post-fire home and redesigned everything in the 2016 home to their own tastes and liking. The once traditional rambler that stands in the West Fargo lot is now a modern farmhouse with the coziness of a traditional farmhouse, but the intentional minimalism of a modern home. 

The Family

The Brown home consists of Suzanne and Kyan, their three children, Khloe (15), Caleb (12) and Sophie (9) and their two dogs. The family found themselves in Cass County thanks to Kyan’s job as a basketball coach at NDSU. His career as a college basketball coach has taken their family to Tulsa, Okla.; Fort Smith, Ark.; Springfield, Mo.; and, now, to West Fargo, N.D.. Suzanne works as a paraprofessional educator for West Fargo Public Schools, but on the side enjoys home decorating and design. 

Having moved to Fargo from Tulsa, Okla., the Browns consulted friends on what area of the Red River Valley they should live in. Following suggestions, they settled on West Fargo, thanks to the great school options for their three children and the neighborhood’s feel. “We were going in blind. So we rented for a while in this area and then we realized we really liked this area,” said Suzanne. “We loved the idea of living on the outskirts of town, but still close to everything we needed. Our lot backs up to a pond with a walking trail and park and we love that for our family and dogs.”

The Fire

When moving to the area and selecting this home, they partially chose the 2016-built home because they wouldn’t have to do much updating and it wouldn’t be too much of a project. An ironic thought looking back, now that they had to redo the entire interior thanks to the fire. 

Just three months before the incident, the family had finished the basement, including a bar area, common room and a bedroom for their eldest daughter. With the paint barely dried, they had to finish the basement all over again. The new carpet was destroyed by ash and soot, the ceiling had to be replaced thanks to ruined ductwork and the walls all needed to be repainted. “It was basically like doing what we had just done all over again,” said Suzanne.

“That was probably the silver lining of the whole thing, was that we had done the basement how we wanted already—with the colors we wanted. And we were planning on redoing the upstairs to match the basement.” This process of remodeling the whole home just came a bit sooner than expected thanks to the fire. Having just selected all the finishes they wanted when redoing the basement, when it came time to redo the whole house post-fire, they already were fresh on this decision making. 

Suzanne joked that she is normally indecisive when it comes to home-design matters. But in the process of having to replace and design everything all over again on a quick timeline, she had to make her decisions with less inner back-and-forth. 

Sharing the Story

On her Instagram, @northandnomad, Suzanne has shared the experience from fire to rebuilding. She had previously begun sharing images of her home, but when the fire happened, she said, “I can’t really take pictures of my house when it’s burnt to the ground. The whole inside is a hot mess! And I was just not in the right frame of mind to continue documenting everything, and I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to share anything at all. I just wasn’t in the headspace to add one more thing to my plate and keep up with all that.”

But after the encouragement of friends and neighbors, she was inspired to share the rebuilding process. She found that people were curious about the process and wanted to see what was going on. “So I started the page so that people could see. For the people who were curious about what happened to us and what happened to our house and our living situation. Because who doesn’t like to know what’s going on?” she said. 

At first, Suzanne felt strange about sharing all her new furniture and decor, but then she saw it through the lens of rebuilding after a terrible accident and she knew people interpret it as “showing off” all her new things. “Our neighborhood was incredible after everything. People brought groceries and grocery cards and kept our dogs when everything was getting sorted out. I almost felt like I sort of owed it to them to show them what happened, to show where we were, where it is going,” she added.

Through Instagram, she found inspiration for the rebuild and a community, saying, “like follows like.” Through documenting her rebuild process, she noted how she has found others with a similar style as her own. “I still get ideas for different things, and hopefully people will look and maybe they’ll say, ‘Ok I like that she did that!'” She hopes that by sharing her own design discoveries, she can inspire others who are looking to refresh their homes and inspire some good out of this otherwise sad situation. 

The Aesthetic 

Following the modern farmhouse aesthetic, Suzanne tries to only bring in things to the new home that add to their lifestyle. This echoes modern design aesthetics, boarding on minimalism but adding the personality and comfort of farmhouse design styles. 

By having to replace completely everything in the home, she was able to make all of her new purchase intentional and in the exact style she wanted. “We don’t live in a humongous house, it’s a very typical house. But its how you can make it yours and put your own spin on it, your own touches,” she said. In doing this, Suzanne embraced shopping locally and from small businesses. She shared that much of the home’s furnishings are from Eco Chic, Baker Garden and Gift, local thrift and vintage shops and Etsy. 

Entertaining 

Hosting and gathering groups of people in their home is important to the Browns, making the home’s layout particularly important. “To me, this house is home because of how it serves the people I love,” said Suzanne. When they first purchased the home, Suzanne noted that she didn’t love all the finishes, but it was the layout of the space that drew her to it. “I really liked the layout of the house and I saw the potential,” she said. She knew that she could eventually replace the countertops and cabinets, but the layout itself was perfect. 

What made the floorplan ideal for the Browns was the open-concept living space, with the heart of the home being the kitchen, living and dining room all in one place. This space makes for a great place to gather, where everyone can be together, even if they are doing different things. “We like to gather people in our home, so my thought in designing and decorating is always ‘how will this serve others when they are here?'” she added. With the finished basement, complete with a bar and comfortable seating area, the goal of making a home ideal for entertaining was complete. “Everyone has a place here and that’s important to me,” said Suzanne. 

What’s Next

“I always have projects, it’s the decorator in me,” laughed Suzanne. What’s next in their home process is to add details to their laundry room. While it is technically “finished,” they hope to make it more functional for their family.

Right now, the Browns have all their new furniture and bedding, but they are working on adding in accessories and decor now. Starting the decor process from zero, Suzanne said, “I want to be international about the things I’m bringing in and making sure I have a place for them […] I like to take my time picking things out, so I am always hunting for just the right items to bring in,” she said. 

With many homeowners who are designing and decorating their own homes, the process of adding and taking away is a constant. Part of the joy of living in a custom-curated space is the process of the curation itself, and this is true to the Brown home. Looking at the impeccably designed modern farmhouse, the stranger’s eye might not even be able to tell that the space recently faced disaster. But backstory or not, you can’t deny the fresh and clean beauty of this home. 

Credits:

Builder: Thomsen Homes
Remodel Builder: Engebretson Construction
Appliances: Homemaker’s Villa
Tile and Flooring: Carpet World
Furniture and Accessories: Eco Chic 
House Plants: Baker Garden & Gift

 

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