Driftless Home & Harvest: The enduring allure of an older home … An inside look at a Victorian home renovation

By Roz Weis,

Located on Decorah’s East Side, the historic home boasts the Second Empire architectural style with decorative details including iron cresting along the roof, bracketed cornices and balustrades.

The Victorian home of Dale and Joleen McCarty is a striking example of successful renovation and expansion.

Located on Decorah’s East Side, the historic home boasts the Second Empire architectural style with decorative details including iron cresting along the roof, bracketed cornices and balustrades. The most distinguishing characteristic of the home is the grand, sloping rooflines.

This past year, the home has been transformed into a stunning retreat. For Dale and Joleen, first came love for the historic home, and then came the major undertaking on the brick Victorian at the corner of Montgomery and Main Streets.

Dale grew up in Decorah and graduated from Decorah High School in 1980. He met Joleen, a native of the Iowa community of Vail, while in Minneapolis. They met on a blind date. Joleen was working as a nurse in Minneapolis at the time. Various job opportunities for Dale in the hotel industry took them all over the country, from California to Washington State, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, New Orleans and most recently, Nashville.

They are familiar with Decorah, returning each year for Nordic Fest and family gatherings, and they’re thrilled to be back permanently. 

Indianapolis was their home for 18 years, where they raised their two sons, Nick and Jake. Nick is recently married and works in Washington, D.C., while Jake lives and works in Chicago.

Their decision to return to Decorah came several years ago.

“My youngest brother, Mike, retired from 30+ years in the Navy and decided to move back with his new family and set up roots in Decorah,” Dale said. “My mom has lived here all her life, and we thought someday it would be great to be closer to her, too.”

“We came to visit in 2020, and just got an itch to look around at some houses on the market,” he continued. “We really didn’t think we would pull the trigger so quickly. The COVID epidemic also made us look at our life, and where we really wanted to be … and that was closer to family.”

Another bonus for Dale was having close high school friends who had also recently returned to the area.

A visit to a local antique shop prompted the couple to make their dream of “coming home” a reality.

“We were at Nancy Lerdall’s antique shop (at the corner of Montgomery and Water Streets), just looking for some things. Dale made the comment about the house across the street, and he said, ‘if that house (pointing to 709 East Main Street) ever goes on the market, we’re buying it’,” Joleen commented.

Dale has memories of the house from his childhood in Decorah. The historic home was constructed in 1873 by the late Sumner W. Matteson, a successful businessman at the time. The residence was purchased by the B. Anundsen family in 1879, and it was the Anundsen home for generations to follow. Anundsen once served as the Norwegian Vice-Consul for the State of Iowa. The home was featured on the Nordic Fest Tour of Homes back in 1967. The residence has a long, storied history in town, and is distinguished to locals because of the massive wrought iron fence surrounding the property.

As luck would have it, their initial interest in the house would become serious in the weeks to follow.

“I received a Facetime call from my brother as he toured the house,” Dale said, “and Joleen was also Facetiming with local realtor Marcia Madrigal. We made an offer and came back to look at it in person.”

The renovation “ball” was set in motion.


The McCarty’s were ready to begin renovations immediately after purchasing the home.

“I was pretty overwhelmed with all that the house would need,” Joleen commented.

“We had the living room, dining room and primary bedroom walls and hallway skim-coated and we painted ourselves,” she said. “We put up crown moldings in the front rooms ourselves, and we also did some other cosmetic work inside.”

Replacing the old slate roof was completed in 2022.

Dale removed two unused chimneys and an old water-holding, copper-lined tank in the attic in 2022. 

“One chimney was completely taken down, so eventually we would put a chase in for the new HVAC system. We also had to remove all the old brick pavers so they could start renovation. We did this by hand to we could save the brick to reuse,” Joleen said.

After all this hard work, the “big” renovation work began.

“We started working with Kari at KL Design on some plans right after we moved in, back in 2020,” Joleen continued. “We knew we wanted to update the kitchen, level the floors and add an attached garage and possibly a primary main-floor bedroom and bathroom, since both the stairways have a steep pitch to them, and we want this to be our retirement home.”

A list of potential contractors was provided to them, and they went to work finding just the right contractor.

“The first contractor said that a lot of people would just tear these old houses down,” Joleen said.

That wasn’t the answer they wanted, and the McCarty’s went a different direction, deciding that renovation was the direction they would take.

They reached out to Travis Massman at Massman Construction and were lucky enough to get on his list for the future. The project started in full-swing last fall.

“Once everything started it was great to see all the contractors step up and get their part of the project done,” Joleen said. “They were very well coordinated, which made things a lot easier and less stressful. It was reassuring to know they wanted to keep the momentum going, just as much as we did.”

The McCarty’s had plumbers and electricians working nights and weekends through the winter.

There were issues, as in every older house, but their determination was not swayed.

The couple met with city officials, going through the process of getting permits and approvals for the renovation. They found it a bit nerve-wracking watching as the footings and foundation were poured, just as the snow began to fly. After finding some rot, from a poorly designed roof, on the side of a porch, they tore it off and had it rebuilt.

The McCarty’s merged the old with the new in the house design.

“We are keeping the front of the house original,” they agreed. “We want to add back the picture rail that we can see in an older photo of the front living room. Also, we added new storm windows and are having the old windows restored by David Wadsworth. I have struggled with losing some of the old character of the house with the renovation but have found ways to integrate them. We copied the inside trim work from the front of the house in the new addition/renovation. Outside, Travis used LP Smart siding, which is low maintenance. We ended up adding a trim board under the gable ends of the house and adding a green chunky quarter-round piece to match the front of the house. We plan on adding green accents to the front of the house as well. We found old trim pieces with green on them, so it was fun to realize we are restoring it to what it looked like in years past.”

Joleen enjoys decorating, and they’ve have gotten a lot of their ideas from decorating blogs such as Pinterest. Visits to Decorah’s Depot Outlet are common, as she enjoys repurposing and painting items she finds at the local thrift shop.

Joleen describes her decorating style as “traditional to transitional”. The tone and colors throughout the home are saturated with neutral colors, with room for pops of softer accents. The space feels light, airy and warm. The traditional and contemporary furnishings combine to enhance the classic, timeless design.

Over the years, they have embraced old and new construction for their homes across the country.

“It’s been a mix of both,” Joleen said. “Mostly newer houses, where we were the first ones to live in them, but we did design and build our house in Indianapolis.”

During their years in New Orleans, they lived in a house built in 1862 in an historic part of town called “Uptown”.

“That was a lot of fun to fix up, and tough to leave after we had put in so much work ourselves.”

Lots to love

The Decorah renovation is nearly complete (a dining room chandelier is one of the last items expected to arrive soon) and the McCarty’s couldn’t be happier with the finished product.

“We love the flow of the house now,” they said. “The new kitchen is so much more functional, and we love the side porch for morning coffee. Also, the new patio off the side porch is awesome. We usually have a nice breeze and shade from the old oak tree nearby.”

They agree that the front porch, the gorgeous inlayed floors in the front of the house and other vintage pieces of the home have added measurable character to the home renovation. They also appreciate that great, new garage as they continue to adjust to the Iowa winters. 

“We love the character of older homes,” they agreed. “We really enjoyed working on the project.”

View the feature in the October 24 E-edition for more photos.

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