MAPLETON, Iowa | Evie Kaufman sighed and laughed, glancing at the Christmas wreath above the back door at her stately residence on Ring Street.
"I've got to get the Christmas decorations up," she said. "We really haven't started yet."
One can't blame Kaufman and her husband, Travis Kaufman. They put the finish on a kitchen table the night before.
The kitchen table followed the kitchen island, which followed the kitchen cabinets, which had to be altered prior to the arrival of the new refrigerator.
The kitchen followed the parlor, which followed the dining room, which followed the foyer, which followed the classroom, which followed the laundry room, which led to a pair of upstairs bedrooms.
And on and on and on. Such are the challenges when one purchases an 1896 three-story home. This tireless couple has been working steadilyl to return it to its former glory.
The Kaufman home is a labor of love --an almost unceasing one -- for the couple and their five young children, who range in age from 12 to 4.
"We do treasure the moments with our kids," Evie says. "The noise, the activity and, yes, the mess!"
Travis Kaufman landed in Mapleton three years ago, lured here by a faithful church flock and its remodeling effort as the folks of Faith Bible Church put their sweat equity into renovating the 1949 National Guard Armory at Mapleton into their new church. Travis Kaufman, a lifelong resident of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, had attended a relative's graduation ceremony in Mapleton four years ago. He was asked to help wrap up that weekend by leading services at Faith Bible Church, a non-denominational church that didn't have a pastor.
Travis Kaufman, at the time, served Monument Bible Church in his hometown, some 462 miles west of this Monona County community.
He led the service and politely declined when a couple of church members asked if he'd like an application for their vacant pastoral post.
He went home, worked at Monument Bible Church, and kept busy with their growing family. He visited Iowa again in 2014 and stopped in Mapleton on his return trip. The little church still had a vacancy. Travis Kaufman thought about moving to Mapleton on the 8 1/2-hour drive home. He confided with Evie, filled out and application and returned to conduct Sunday worship that October. Church members took a vote. It was unanimous: The Kaufmans were headed east, to Iowa.
One potential hiccup involved housing. More specifically: A house built for seven.
"The homes for sale when we arrived either weren't in our price range or didn't have the room we needed," Travis said.
"I envisioned having room for our kids to spread out, and room for Travis and I to host gatherings in the home," Evie said, noting how important it can be for a church family to open their home to members of the congregation.
Enter the home on Ring Street, a dwelling that offers 3,400 square feet, six bedrooms and 2 1/2 (or 3 1/2) baths. The home has a barn and a carriage house out back.
What's more? The home had been vacant for 18 months and in foreclosure. If the Kaufmans took a leap of faith -- and a plunge into a massive do-it-yourself project -- they could have the home for an incredibly reasonable price.
"We were blown away when we learned it was a Fannie Mae home," Travis said. "We could buy it, but with the requirements that we moved in within three months and then stayed for at least one year."
That was three years ago, give or take.
The Kaufmans moved to Mapleton and resided for a short time across the street at "God's Little House," a dwelling adjacent to Mapleton United Methodist Church. That home is owned by the United Methodist Church and used for the occasional family in-need of person passing through town.
"We finished the game room/TV room first and all seven of us stayed in that room for months," Evie said.
"When we moved here, all the plumbing had been frozen and the toilets cracked," Travis recalled. "The house had been vacant for 18 months."
At one time, the house had also been divided into apartment units. The Kaufmans quickly realized the former glory of the home and dug in, relying on Evie's creative spirit, Travis' know-how and some family members who were incredibly adept at mobilizing for behemoth weekend construction efforts.
They attacked the main floor, returning the hardwood floors throughout to their former glory. Once inside the door, guests move beneath glorious wooden doorways to transition from parlor to dining room to family room to foyer. A central fireplace expands on the main floor to a three-headed heating unit, the face of a fireplace showing in three different directions to serve three different rooms.
"Our wish is to one day get the fire place working," Travis said. "They're all so pretty with the cast-iron covers."
Until that time, the Kaufmans will rely upon a pair of furnace units in the basement and one upstairs, work done by Trucke Heating.
A friend, meantime, replaced all the wiring in the home, as Travis cut the kitchen cabinets down in order to allow for a modern-day refrigerator unit, the kind of which one wouldn't have seen more than a century ago.
Evie consulted a variety of outlets for creative solutions to kitchen nook areas (where a triangle table made by Travis from framing lumber has landed), a classroom space for her home-schooling efforts, and a kitchen door that now features a slate chalkboard in the center, one good for spiritual messages as well as "to-do" lists.
"The middle of the door had wire in it for some reason," Evie said.
The kitchen color is an abstract ash, following a neutral color scheme found throughout their home. The dining room color is a thunder clap, while the parlor and living room have a hint of a coffee color, using a shade known as frappe.
Hutches are built-in treasures found in corners throughout the home, as is an original chandelier and a stained glass window that helps the dining room stand out.
Family treasures like the dinning room and buffet dresser complement paintings created by Travis' grandmother, Virginia Harimon, of Scottsbluff.
"We plan to have the board members from our church and their wives here for a Christmas gathering," Evie said. "We will certainly try to be welcoming and we are finally at the point where we can have people over and it's not dangerous, considering how much work were doing."
Upstairs, the work continues as two bedrooms and a bathroom must still be addressed. The other bedrooms, all of which feature transom windows above the doors, have all been restored to their original state.
Travis opened a door at the top of the staircase and pointed to a set of stairs that leads to the attic, another project that's a year or two, at least, in the distance. Leading to the attic there's yet another small door, one that leads to additional storage space.
"Everywhere they could, they put a door to maximize the space they had for storage," he said.
The ingenuity elicited a laugh from Evie, who keeps busy chasing the pitter-patter of tiny feet on these immaculate hardwood floors. Her warm conclusion: "It's a great hide-and-seek home!"