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Elkhorn couple cooked up a cozy family home in a one-room schoolhouse
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Elkhorn couple cooked up a cozy family home in a one-room schoolhouse

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Nebraska family converts one-room schoolhouse into a home

Summer Miller and Steve Widhalm have had many, many discussions about how they’re outgrowing their 1,200-square-foot home.

Then they think about how Steve proposed on the swing set a month after they bought the one-room schoolhouse near Elkhorn, and how a year later, they were married in the yard.

They remember the white oak their kids planted for Steve for Father’s Day and the two hydrangea trees that flank the front door that Summer received for her birthday. And how the house and its two acres of land is the perfect compromise for a country-loving guy and a city girl who adores old houses.

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Summer Miller said she and Steve Widhalm have had lots of discussions about buying a bigger place.

“We have a lot of history in this place,” Summer said. “I also think once you have renovated every inch of a house, it’s imprinted on your heart a bit.”

Their home was the last functioning one-room schoolhouse in Douglas County before it closed in May of 2000 and was sold at auction. Summer and Steve bought it in 2005.

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The bell on the roof originates from 1913.

The schoolhouse still has the bell on top, the original chalkboard on one wall and the school water fountain.

But now one restroom is the main powder room in the home and the other has been converted to Summer’s office. It’s where she wrote a book called “New Prairie Kitchen" and where she works as the senior editor for Simply Recipes, an online company based in Manhattan. Steve is the COO for Thermal Services.

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The kitchen was completely renovated two years ago.

The main school room has been partitioned into a renovated kitchen, living room, dining room and two bedrooms. The redone basement is where kids Jackson and Juniper each have their own room.

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Summer in her reading chair. She also has an office.

They’ve added insulation (curtains no longer billow when the wind blows outside), siding and saved for years to replace all the windows. They figured out how to stretch partitions into floor-to-ceiling walls (using glass transoms on the top) so as to not ruin the view of the pressed tin ceilings.

“My husband and I didn’t have an enclosed space until four years ago,” Summer said. “We suffered through it. My daughter originally was in a crib in the corner of the living room.”

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Summer in the entryway.

Every time dreams of a master bath threaten to overtake her, Summer thinks about the article she read that said the average American only uses 10% of the space they live in.

There’s also the money they save on heating and cooling and the time that would be spent on cleaning a bigger home.

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Pendant lights hang from the pressed tin in the kitchen ceiling. 

“I take a lot of pride in that we do use every inch of our house,” Summer said. “We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this house.”

Next up could be a larger garage that would actually fit one of today’s bigger vehicles with space on the second floor for the kids. That’s still under consideration.

The couple has done everything they can to honor and respect the schoolhouse’s history as they’ve renovated. They still have plants that were put in when the schoolhouse was going strong.

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The walls are covered by artwork and photos. "I have a lot of local artists," Summer Miller said.

“It’s not a normal house,” Summer said. “The community is really invested in this place. They have a lot of memories in this house.”

So do Summer and Steve. So no matter how much they’ve talked about moving, they’re still there.

“Once you give it up, you are never going to get something close to what this space is,” Summer said. “I guess we’re just cozy people. We figured out how to make it work.”

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