By Neil Moran
We all face challenges in our lives. What we do to meet that challenge can make or break us. For Brenda Behling Strack, creating healing spaces in a home that needed some love was therapeutic.
“It was a curveball that I could not catch gracefully,” she says of a difficult period in her life that began in 2013. Strack, who grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, was living in Wisconsin with her husband and family at the time. She decided that a respite to her hometown might do her some good.
“I needed to come home. I needed a time out,” she recalls.
So in 2017, she returned to the Soo where her mom was in the process of selling her home. She met with the couple who was buying her mother’s house. At the time, they were living in an old three-story home on Cedar Street, which would be going on the market soon. The house was structurally sound, but as Strack put it, “needed a lot of cosmetic tender loving care.”
Then things moved pretty quickly.
“The couple bought my mom’s house and I bought their house,” says Strack with a smile.
She immediately went to work on the house - and her demons.
“The remodeling of this house was the most therapeutic life-changing thing I’ve ever done.” Eventually, she would not only cast out her demons, but find her own hidden potential as an artist, host, and entrepreneur.
The work she would do on the house became a metaphor for rebuilding her life. It started with a sledgehammer, where she took out her frustrations on the old drywall that needed replacing.
“I started in the kitchen, which was the most in need,” she says. “I started tearing down walls and felt better and better, putting my energy into something positive.” In the process, she was beginning to tap into a talent that laid dormant from years of doing for others - she rediscovered her talent for art and being creative.
“I tapped into something inside me,” she says. “I was always creative and artsy, but I never really considered myself an artist. But this house changed that and really helped me look at myself. I wanted to rebuild myself a little different from where I was.”
Strack spent countless hours working on the house, creating a unique color and artistic theme for each room. Much of what you see when you tour this home, such as the whimsical artwork and the objects that line her mantels, she has picked up in her travels. Some of her own artwork adorns the walls as well.
The home is a testimony to what you can do to a house when you’re on a budget. Strack has a van she drives back and forth to Wisconsin when visiting her family; it usually comes back crammed full of treasures she finds at thrift stores, flea markets and places like Habitat for Humanity, St. Vincent Depaul and The Salvation Army.
Strack perfected the art of repurposing. It is apparent when old chair legs and dressers become mantels and an old sewing cabinet she painted was transformed into a vessel sink.
“A mantel really makes a room,” she says as we toured a home that holds a surprise around every corner. “I got really crazy and have about eight mantels.”
Don’t like your carpet? Just paint it. That’s what she did in the spacious front porch that looks out on Cedar Street and also on the stairs leading into the attic turned ever-changing mural.
“I saw it on Pinterest,” she says gleefully. “Once I painted on top of it, I liked it - kind of funky and fun.”
The whole house has a funky and fun feel to it with bright colors and interesting details. It’s impossible to take it all in on your first tour through the home.
With nearly every room complete, with the exception of an art studio in the basement, she turned the upstairs into a bed and breakfast. Her home is listed on Airbnb, which has attracted over 100 guests, from artists and writers to tourists. Long term guests have also stayed here in the past.
Room with a View
The attic is a magnet for guests who spend the night and locals who want to put on a dinner party or special event. From this third floor loft, you can see the passing freighters and get a good feel for the city and neighborhood. It is spacious
for a gathering of friends and decked out with unique decor and furniture, like the smokey orange chairs she found at Habitat that look like they came from a 1950’s Humphrey Bogart movie.
“This was going to be my art studio,” she says of the attic. “But everyone wants to be up here. You can see the freighters and it’s just grand.”
Strack says she was guided in her remodeling by creating spaces that make her feel good and bring healing.
“Why would you intentionally surround yourself with things that irritate you,” she says. “Atmosphere is everything.”
Strack left Sault Ste. Marie when she was 20 seeking greener pastures and excitement. She found it in Wisconsin but says she is much more appreciative of her hometown now, where she has reconnected with old friends and partnered to open an antique store called Silver Lining on Ashmun Street.
“I came back because I needed a time out and wanted to be near my mom and dad,” says Strack, who spends summers in Sault Ste. Marie and winters with her family in Wisconsin. “But I found I absolutely love the Soo, I never took time to appreciate it.”
More importantly, she found herself and things that bring joy to her and the people who visit her welcoming home on Cedar Street.