What's Inside: The Zumbahlen Family Retreat

The short of it:

What I am reading: The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith.  

What I am listening to: typically classic rock, but I like most music

Best food in town: Gabby Goat & Joe Sippers in Effingham; Joe's & China King in Newton

Favorite thing about Effingham: It is a beautiful town with a sense of community.  The small town atmosphere still has urban qualities.

What do you want people to know about you? My family is everything to me. I love to make a difference and when I became a widow at the age of 59, I saw things with a new perspective.  I want women to know that it is important to tell their husbands how much they love them, how smart they are because they don’t hear it enough and how good looking they are.  It is very important because all can change in an instant as it did in my case.

If you could change one thing about your home, what would it be? I would share it with my late husband, John.  He worked hard to prepare this lot and make plans with me.  I am sorry he didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of his labor, but happy to make our dream a reality.

Favorite room/space in your home? The front porch.  It is peaceful and surrounded by nature.  I can sit and read, have coffee, listen to the birds and watch deer drink from the pond.

What was the one thing that made you say “this is the lot/home for our family”?

When our neighbors were moving, they approached us and asked if we would be interested in buying their house and surrounding land that was across the road from us.  My husband had hunted on their land for years and we thought the house would be a good investment. We bought it, fixed up the house and used it for short term rentals when bird watchers or hunters would come to the area.  Our daughter’s family now live there.  John and I discussed how we wanted to spend our retirement and use our new land.  We felt the pond and wooded area would be a great place for our family to gather.  He cleared trees, drained the pond, moved dirt and then the planning for the cabin began.

What was your biggest obstacle in renovating/styling your home?

The biggest obstacle for me, was that I had recently lost my husband, whom I had planned this project with.  We had done many renovations and projects over the years, so I had experience to draw from, but I had never done anything like this on my own.  It was very daunting, but I had my family and a great construction crew to work with.  In the end, I feel this taught me some things about myself and about life in general.

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The long of it:

I typically come away from a What’s Inside visit with a new home design idea or tip or maybe even a new parenting hack, but this time was different.  I came away from this one with a new appreciation for the brevity of life.

John, a brick mason and carpenter, came in from mowing one day three years ago, said he didn't feel well and then passed away in their living room.  Just that morning they had been discussing windows for the cabin retreat that they’d been building on their land near Newton, IL.  So one minute Anthea had a partner in all of this and the next minute she was on her own.  Just like that.

As you can imagine that rocked her world.  She now faced life without her husband and a big project to complete in front of her.  Being the type who likes to do things on her own, she now had to rely on others to help carry out her and his wishes.  She found local carpenters, Mike Smith and Mark Marshall, who set to work crafting the family retreat she and her husband had dreamed of.  

Only now she made it a bit bigger.

The now-completed cabin sits near her home just outside of Newton near the Prairie Ridge State Natural Area (follow the link, only 100 prairie chickens are left in this state).  Upon hearing a bit of Anthea’s story from her daughter, Sarah Weiler, I was so excited to see the area and to take a field trip to shoot and interview in such a setting.  Apparently people come from all over the world to this rural place just south of Newton to wake up well before dawn to get a glimpse of the prairie chickens.

Heck, the place sounded so cool that it being a school holiday, both Tytia and I took our kids with us for the visit. 

Turns out that taking kids to do an interview, while fun for them, was a bit chaotic for us.  Since they live nearby, daughter Sarah and her three kids also came over.  It was kind of kid chaos.

Hearing how Anthea took over the home building reigns, made some “big girl” decisions and carried on living after the death of her husband, required another much more peaceful interview session, which I'm happy I eventually got.  I got to experience this place as the sanctuary it was created to be.  And I spent time with someone who’s experienced first-hand how life can forever change in an instant and hear about the lessons learned from that.  

Plus I got to properly hear about all of the goodies she’d found and the projects she took on to reuse things she and her family had saved.  

 Anthea.

Anthea.

Five years ago John and Anthea’s neighbor offered to sell them some land near their home.  That land included a home (where her daughter, Sarah, and family now live), hunting ground that John hunted on as a child, as well as a pond.  They snatched it up and began planning to build a small cabin near the pond - a place to be with their family. 

Anthea describes John as the type of person you’d want to have around during the zombie apocalypse.  He could do anything with his hands and if he didn’t already know how to do it, he’d figure it out.  For example, once they decided on the spot for the cabin he bought a bulldozer and got to work clearing the land.

 The pond around which the cabin was built.  Anthea's grandson, Logan, is on the dock that John built.

The pond around which the cabin was built.  Anthea's grandson, Logan, is on the dock that John built.

 Anthea's passion is quilting so it was only fitting that she had a barn quilt made for her new home.

Anthea's passion is quilting so it was only fitting that she had a barn quilt made for her new home.

His idea for their cabin was for it to be a small space.  However, when Anthea was left to make the decision about its finished size on her own, she decided to add on an extra 12’ to the main living space.  She’s glad she did as that gives the cabin a much larger space for her and her family to gather.  On the day I was there I could see the remnants of their family Christmas spent together around the tall Christmas tree.

She does know a thing or two about gathering.  While still working as a teacher Anthea had the dream of offering quilting classes.  An unruly storm and the destruction of a shed on their property lead to the creation of just the space to do this.  While creating the lean-to portion of the building she asked John to include many outlets.  Just in case.  “Quilting was my passion and I wanted to share it with people”, she says of how her business, “Quilting with Grace”, came to be.  She was tentative about starting the business of teaching quilting classes, but she asked God to show her the way as she put an ad in the paper.  Women started calling and for the next nine years her rebuilt space became a place for women to get together and talk…and quilt.

If you ever get to meet her be sure to ask her about how she orchestrated the creation of 350 lap quilts for Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, MO.  Anthea is a doer. 

Adding on extra square footage wasn't the biggest "big girl” decision, as Anthea puts it, she had to make.  The first and largest decision she made on her own was to re-situate the home.   The builder came to her and said the spot where she and John dreamed their cabin would sit was on unstable ground, so she had to choose another spot.

In the end Anthea, with the help of various tradesmen, made this gathering place come together beautifully.  

 The front porch is Anthea's favorite spot.  "It is peaceful and surrounded by nature.  I can sit and read, have coffee, listen to the birds and watch deer drink from the pond."  

The front porch is Anthea's favorite spot.  "It is peaceful and surrounded by nature.  I can sit and read, have coffee, listen to the birds and watch deer drink from the pond."  

 In the sunroom.  John was also a farmer and when he passed away he had crops in the field.  John's brother who lives nearby harvested them and the corn in the lamp is from that last harvest.  

In the sunroom.  John was also a farmer and when he passed away he had crops in the field.  John's brother who lives nearby harvested them and the corn in the lamp is from that last harvest.  

 Top:  Anthea's style is all about finding unique pieces from many different sources - local shops, secondhand stores, local builders, box stores and online.  The door on the right leads into the home.  Bottom:  She's also done a lot of repurposing.  For instance Anthea repurposed barn wood as paneling in the sunroom from a barn that John had torn down thirty years ago.  The bottom picture is of a bullet that came embedded in said wood.  

Top:  Anthea's style is all about finding unique pieces from many different sources - local shops, secondhand stores, local builders, box stores and online.  The door on the right leads into the home.  Bottom:  She's also done a lot of repurposing.  For instance Anthea repurposed barn wood as paneling in the sunroom from a barn that John had torn down thirty years ago.  The bottom picture is of a bullet that came embedded in said wood.  

 Anthea's son, Luke, made this wine rack.  Note the fishing poles in the corner, all ready for the pond.

Anthea's son, Luke, made this wine rack.  Note the fishing poles in the corner, all ready for the pond.

 The fun "Eat Here" sign points to the window that looks out from the kitchen/dining area into the sunroom.

The fun "Eat Here" sign points to the window that looks out from the kitchen/dining area into the sunroom.

 Walk in from the sunroom and in front of you is the vast living room and to the left is the kitchen/dining area.  Above is the loft and straight ahead is the hallway leading to the bedroom and the bathroom and out the front door.  Anthea removed the peeling-off veneer from the beautiful dining table.  It came from her neighbor's house and she suspects that it's from the 1930s or 40s.  

Walk in from the sunroom and in front of you is the vast living room and to the left is the kitchen/dining area.  Above is the loft and straight ahead is the hallway leading to the bedroom and the bathroom and out the front door.  Anthea removed the peeling-off veneer from the beautiful dining table.  It came from her neighbor's house and she suspects that it's from the 1930s or 40s.  

 Left:  The kitchen was designed around this  Boos  block her father gave her as a sign of appreciation to her for helping care for her mother.  Bottom:  The kitchen is nothing short of a masterpiece of thoughtful repurposing and reusing.  The vintage ceiling lights came from a building that now houses her daughter's business,  Integrated Therapy Services .  

Left:  The kitchen was designed around this Boos block her father gave her as a sign of appreciation to her for helping care for her mother.  Bottom:  The kitchen is nothing short of a masterpiece of thoughtful repurposing and reusing.  The vintage ceiling lights came from a building that now houses her daughter's business, Integrated Therapy Services.  

 Top:  The screens in her kitchen cupboards are her pride and joy.  She had old tin from her family farm inserted on the bottom and up top she utilized copper screen wire that her dad had saved.  Bottom:  The kitchen sink came from an old house that was torn down.  Since it was full of raccoon poop and in pretty bad shape when she found it, she had it recovered.  

Top:  The screens in her kitchen cupboards are her pride and joy.  She had old tin from her family farm inserted on the bottom and up top she utilized copper screen wire that her dad had saved.  Bottom:  The kitchen sink came from an old house that was torn down.  Since it was full of raccoon poop and in pretty bad shape when she found it, she had it recovered.  

 Top:  Funky knobs and the copper screen behind it.  Bottom:  These canisters were from her hope chest.

Top:  Funky knobs and the copper screen behind it.  Bottom:  These canisters were from her hope chest.

 Top:  A birds-eye-view of the living room from the loft.  This is the room to which she decided to add 12' and she's very glad she did.  Bottom:  The cabin's first Christmas was recently celebrated in this room.

Top:  A birds-eye-view of the living room from the loft.  This is the room to which she decided to add 12' and she's very glad she did.  Bottom:  The cabin's first Christmas was recently celebrated in this room.

 "There are many items I treasure, but my favorite is the light in my great room. It is made from the old hay hook and trolley that used to be in an old barn at our farm."  The ladder came from the same place and the buck on the wall was John's "big one".

"There are many items I treasure, but my favorite is the light in my great room. It is made from the old hay hook and trolley that used to be in an old barn at our farm."  The ladder came from the same place and the buck on the wall was John's "big one".

 Top:  Virtually everything in this home tells a story.  Bottom:  These stairs lead up to the loft.  The quilt artwork on the wall was made by a friend.

Top:  Virtually everything in this home tells a story.  Bottom:  These stairs lead up to the loft.  The quilt artwork on the wall was made by a friend.

 Top:  She's created the perfect spot for sleepovers in the loft.  Bottom:  The intricate iron stair railing came from Menards and that's her prized hay hook light in the background.

Top:  She's created the perfect spot for sleepovers in the loft.  Bottom:  The intricate iron stair railing came from Menards and that's her prized hay hook light in the background.

 Top:  The bedroom.  The dresser came from her sister's shop,  The coral Sash ,  in Michigan.  One time she bought so much furniture that she had to borrow a friend's trailer and they made the trip up together to collect it all.  Bottom:  Anthea in Yia Yia mode with grandson, Marshall.  

Top:  The bedroom.  The dresser came from her sister's shop, The coral Sash,  in Michigan.  One time she bought so much furniture that she had to borrow a friend's trailer and they made the trip up together to collect it all.  Bottom:  Anthea in Yia Yia mode with grandson, Marshall.  

 Anthea knows how to create a sanctuary.  I had to fight the urge to just crawl into that bed and take a nap.  

Anthea knows how to create a sanctuary.  I had to fight the urge to just crawl into that bed and take a nap.  

 Top: At the other end of the hallway from the bedroom is the bathroom. Turn right in front of the drop zone to leave from the front door.  Bottom:  Of this space Anthea says, "You have to have a little bling".  

Top: At the other end of the hallway from the bedroom is the bathroom. Turn right in front of the drop zone to leave from the front door.  Bottom:  Of this space Anthea says, "You have to have a little bling".  

The two main take-aways from this issue for me were:  Life is short, enjoy it and we're capable of more than we know.  

A close third is: Hoard away!  You never know when you're going to build a retreat and need a sink or some paneling or cupboards or lighting or ...

 

//Next issue:  The David Gould home - A study in minimalism  

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About the Photographer

Tytia Habing is an award-winning and highly regarded fine art, family and commercial photographer based in the Effingham, Illinois area.  You can see her work at tytiahabingphotography.com.   

About the Writer

Joanna Davies is owner of Fresh Digs in Effingham, IL.  Fresh Digs sources locally, globally and uniquely made home goods and gifts and displays them in a shopping experience some have said is their happy place.  We also like to get people together.  Join us.