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Fixer-uppers: Couple channels their passion for repurposing for home, business

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Matthew and Audra Mehl discovered their shared love of repurposing while transforming a rental property. Photo courtesy of Paul Flessland / Special to Forum News Service2 / 5
This hutch was repainted with chalk paint and outdated hardware was replaced for a fresh look. Photo courtesy of Audra Mehl / Special to Forum News Service3 / 5
The back of the 1980s TV cabinet was replaced with shiplap. Photo courtesy of Audra Mehl / Special to Forum News Service4 / 5
Mehl's Gluten-Free Bakery and Grace 1972, a home decor shop, have moved south in the same mall they were previously located in. They are now at 1404 33rd St. S., Fargo. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service5 / 5

FARGO — Fear not, Chip and Joanna Gaines fans. Even though the fifth season of "Fixer Upper" will be the last, locals can still find their repurposed farmhouse chic fix through local couple Audra and Matthew Mehl.

Like other fixer-upper couples in the region, Audra and Matthew Mehl discovered their shared love of repurposing through happenstance when they had to renovate a house Matthew had formerly used as a rental property from 2012 to 2016.

"We decided to stage and sell this house, and we wanted to make as much money as possible," Audra says.

The rental property had been severely damaged, but with Audra's design expertise and Matthew's construction skills, the newlyweds transformed the space.

"I guess we were a little 'fixer-upper' before fixer-upper was a thing," Audra says, recalling with a laugh. "He was the construction guy and I was the design (expert)."

Through the flipping process, the couple learned about their individual skills and how they could complement each other without becoming overwhelmed by the project's enormity.

"Don't let her fool you. We collaborate on a lot of projects and she does some of the work too," Matthew says. "But her passion is the decorating and staging."

Audra says her husband finds it relaxing to do handywork, like painting, which is convenient because it typically gives her a migraine. Matthew admits he may have picked up some design skills from his wife, "but will never be as amazing at it as she is," he says.

From flip house to home decor

The Mehls enjoy transforming older and mid-modern furniture pieces with a coat of paint and a few hardware replacements to match their farmhouse-chic style.

If they don't fall in love with the piece, the couple sells it in their family-run store called Grace 1972 — a farmhouse chic boutique that shares space with Fargo's popular gluten-free bakery, Mehl's Bakery, in south Fargo.

"We usually tend to find things that have a more classic look to it," Matthew says.

The couple loves this era of home decor due to the sturdiness of the furniture.

Both Audra and Matthew are drawn to repurposing vintage Ethan Allen or Heywood Wakefield pieces, but they also consider any vintage item, keeping an eye out for pieces that are in relatively good shape.

"We try to only repurpose things that could last forever in people's homes," Audra says.

One of the couple's latest projects was a hutch they painted cool gray and replaced the hardware with dark, almost-black knobs and handles.

With Audra's keen design eye and Matthew's carpentry skills, the couple has been known to make exceptions to their mid-modern furniture rule, choosing to repurpose an '80s TV cabinet they found for free in the Rose Creek neighborhood more than two years ago.

"It was the typical TV cabinet. The inside had cheap wood with a big hole in the back where an old TV used to fit," Audra says.

It wasn't until a Realtor explained that a room without a closet couldn't be added to a home's total square footage that the couple decided to repurpose the TV cabinet into a bedroom armoire and TV stand.

"Matthew put shiplap in the back, then painted and distressed it. He also added a wooden rod inside," she says. "Now this is some extra closet space to be used."

Both Audra and Matthew love giving old pieces new life as it helps them to craft their cozy, farmhouse-chic style inspired by Audra's childhood in the country.

"Farmhouse chic means home to me," she says. "It's just warm, welcoming and comfortable. It's about creating spaces that you really enjoy living in."


4 tips for repurposing projects

1. Consider how much the piece is used.

"Tables and chairs are high-traffic furniture items," Audra says. "You're going to want to sand, prime, paint and seal them. Chalk paint is great but not always for pieces that will be used frequently."

2. Have a plan but make it fun.

The Mehls are adamant about this strategy.

"We don't put timelines on anything, because you have to make it fun so it isn't burdensome," Matthew says.

Because they both work full-time jobs, they want their repurposing projects to be flexible. Of course, this doesn't always happen, but they can stress less without a timeline that competes with their obligations to their careers or family.

3. Recognize your weaknesses and others' strengths.

'We used to both have ideas about how something should be done. Now we can say to each other 'Oh you want to do it like that? OK, I trust you," Audra says.

Audra concedes that she used to have strong opinions about everything but now she recognizes her husband's good ideas. Likewise, Matthew asks for Audra's advice on specific colors and accessories.

4. Pay attention to colors, and accessories.

Choose a paint color that will work with existing home furniture. Audra says accessories like chicken wire or some updated hardware can be an easy way to transform an item into the cottage or farmhouse chic style.

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues, and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as a digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew up on a farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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