Breaking New Ground

When Tonia Bonow moved to the Elkhorn area in 2009 to take over the local State Farm agency, she rented a condo and immediately began to peruse homes for sale. Not finding anything she loved, or anything she wouldn’t change, Tonia decided that building would be a better route.

“The dream of designing and customizing to my own taste was very appealing, and I wanted a floor plan that would mesh well with my family.” Tonia explained. With that in mind, Tonia started looking for an empty lot to purchase. When she visited Sugar Creek Preserve, a fine homes conservation neighborhood situated on 260 acres of restored prairie, forest, streams, a spring-fed lake and miles of nature trails about 40 minutes southwest of Milwaukee, she knew she had found the right spot, and bought a 1.03 acre lot.

To Tonia, it would be the perfect place for her family: conveniently located near the interstate, in the Elkhorn Area School District for her two children, and a fifteen minute drive from her of office on the west side of Elkhorn. Being on a nature preserve gave her the feeling of living in the country without having to worry about maintaining the land (thanks to a Homeowner’s Association that would care for the preserve, trails and lake), and with the benefit and security of neighbors, as 52 home sites make up the Sugar Creek community.

“Some people would walk by and call old things ‘junk’, but I say, let’s continue its story.”

For the next five years, before breaking ground, Tonia and her family visited the preserve for hiking, fishing and picnics. In the midst of life’s many changes it became apparent to her that this was where she needed to be. The dream of building a home was now becoming real and represented a fresh start for Tonia and her two children.

The process Tonia underwent to design and build her new home was akin to the process of building a semi-custom home. She was involved in not only customizing the house, but also working on the floor plan, to create a one-of-a-kind home that t her unique vision. “Every home has its own ow and rhythm,” explained Tonia. “I knew what would work best for us, what rooms would be used and what rooms would be a waste of space.”

Based on the recommendation of a good friend, she chose The Victory Companies in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, as her builder. Tonia asked to see existing home packages (which included exterior elevations, floor plans and pricing options) so that she could determine if any were close to the floor plan she had designed. One of the models had a similar exterior shape, and the builder decided to alter the model to fit Tonia’s designs and use it as a footprint to customize both the interior and exterior of her home.

“I wanted the ow of my home to adequately represent my style of living. I wanted a big kitchen island for baking and cooking, and a place for my kids to do their homework. I wanted a kitchen that connected with the dining space yet was open to the living room for entertaining purposes. I wanted a wall of windows for a panoramic view of nature instead of a television.” Tonia said. “I tried to stick with the basics: a space to eat, cook, work and relax. I added a sunroom and craft room for fun.” She continued.

Intent on making the home her own, Tonia was very hands on throughout the entire process of the project. She was involved in every step, from designing the interior floor plan to adding a porch, pillars and a barreled roof to the exterior. Tonia outsourced several things, including hardwood flooring, lighting and specific furniture pieces from local stores. She had been collecting antiques over the years and incorporated a number of those items into her design. Among many vintage items, she placed a rusted school bus sign over lockers in the mudroom, re-purposed unique mirrors, and restored antique corbels restored under the island, just to name a few.

A piece of history from a local barn adorns the wall in her laundry room as an easy DIY project. Simple spray painted piping creates a custom open shelf above the washer and dryer. “Some people would walk by and call old things ‘junk’, but I say, let’s continue its story.” Tonia hand-picked everything from the sinks, tubs, faucets, lighting, lockers, hooks, flooring, island top and replace, which allowed her to individualize her semi-custom home and design it according to her taste while keeping within the budget she had set for the project.

Tonia found sinks and faucets at a discount on Wayfair.com, an online seller of furniture, lighting, cookware and other home goods. While visiting the historic Third Ward in Milwaukee, she discovered a rustic, chic home décor store called Inspired MKE, run by a lovely couple, where she ended up purchasing several of her lighting options. She then found a good deal on wide plank white oak flooring with Robert Peterson at Custom Finish Wood Flooring in Elkhorn. In addition, she worked with Seth and Emily at Heritage Beam & Board in Elkhorn to build a replace mantle and a custom barn wood island top for her kitchen. She chose a white-washed gray finish for the mantle, dark stain on the island and a natural wood floor.

When asked why she chose all the different finishes, she stated, “Mixing wood tones works best in my world. My Grandma always said, ‘look at the forest, none of the wood is the same and it’s still so beautiful, unmatched the way it is.”

Tonia later decided she wanted a shiplap accent ceiling in her sunroom and wainscoting on the front porch. She did this on a tight budget by purchasing lumber locally, and with the help of her friends, painted, stained, and installed it on the weekends. A few beers may have been consumed!

The builder and crew of electricians, carpenters, framers and drywall installers were in charge of constructing and bringing Tonia’s vision to life. The excavation crew even accommodated her request to personally break ground with the backhoe, with her four year old sitting on her lap. 287 days of construction later, Tonia was very happy with how her home came together. “Throughout the build there are so many decisions to be made. At times, I questioned whether my choices would all work fluidly, sight unseen. But when it all was done, it t. Never second guess your gut.” Tonia said.

“I have the space in my yard to grow a vegetable garden, trails to hike and room for my kids [to] run and play with the backdrop of simple nature. It’s a little slice of heaven.

Today, Tonia lives with her two children in a 3,587 square-foot home that faces a wild flower preserve with nature trails and protected woodlands. With no streetlamps, the only lights at night are the stars in the sky. The house has a partially exposed basement with a craft room for sewing, painting and drawing for the kids, a cozy recreation room with the home’s only TV, a fitness room and a guest suite. On the first floor she has the kitchen, dining, living, laundry, office and sunroom. It was important to her to have the bedrooms on the same level.

The vintage and repurposed pieces add character to her new home. Tonia still has areas to complete, such as a patio, driveway, and a shed for the backyard, which she plans to finalize this summer, in addition to plans to landscape.

“The decision to build is one that I have not regretted,” Tonia says, “I have the space in my yard to grow a vegetable garden, trails to hike and room for my kids [to] run and play with the backdrop of simple nature. It’s a little slice of heaven.”

Photographer: Matt Haas
By: Danielle Gensburg

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