Little by little, Susan Frye and Michael Kienzle are putting their own stamp on the old Frye place. Here are some of their projects.

  • House: Several rooms in the American Foursquare-style brick farmhouse built by Susan Frye's grandparents about 1920 have gotten makeovers. The kitchen was a year-and-a-half project that tapped the skills of several Iowa craftsmen.

It's a striking space, with two walls covered in tiles that were hand-dyed 17 different colors. The other two walls are covered with Asian grass cloth, chosen because it doesn't show the multiple nail holes the couple makes to hang artwork. The floor is the original red oak, while the cabinets are new cherry and the countertops are black granite. New plumbing and electrical systems also were part of the work.

"This all started only because I wanted an extra light bulb," Kienzle wryly says. He does most of the family cooking, and the kitchen had only one light in the middle of the ceiling. Then, as many a homeowner has said, "One thing led to another."

Upstairs, Frye's former bedroom has been turned into a library painted bright red, including the shelves. Another bedroom salutes her parents and grandparents, with framed photos and displays of their belongings, including her great-grandmother's wedding blouse, dolls, hatboxes and hats.

"It's just fun to put these things out, you know," Frye said.

Chicken coop: Built at the same time as the house, this brick building has been turned into a spa. Yes, here you'll find a dry sauna, steam sauna, shower, toilet and bidet, a yoga wall and a large whirlpool tub with a view of the farmstead. The whirlpool sits in an area where Frye's dad had a side business selling farm supplies such as grain and motor oil.

Adjoining rooms include Kienzle's art studio and a gathering room with skylights.

The chicken coop was the first building they worked on, even before Frye had retired from practicing the law. A violent storm had torn off the deteriorated roof, and she and Kienzle — although not certain of their of their future plans — had a new roof put on with skylights. Whatever the future use, they knew they wanted more light.

The land: To become certified as an organic farm, the land must be chemical-free for three years. The first year, land that previously had been planted in corn or soybeans with the help of chemical inputs was turned over to oats. That was followed by plantings of alfalfa and clover.

In time, the organic portion of the farm has grown. Today, 40 acres are chemical-free, including some organic row crop acreage farmed by Frye's second cousin.

The length of the Community-Supported Agriculture, or CSA, season varies. One year the weather warmed early so that produce was available in early May, and temperatures stayed warmish into November.

"I was so relieved when it snowed in December and I could quit," Frye said. But until then, she was still harvesting and supplying root vegetables and various kales.

Walking through the gardens on a recent day, Frye picked ripening eggplant, zucchini and peppers. Also in the garden: tomatoes, carrots (white, red and yellow), kale, potatoes, watermelon, chard, garbanzo beans, soybeans (edamame), strawberries and raspberries.

"It's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates," Frye said, referring to the movie in which the title character repeats his mother's old saying that compares life with a box of chocolates: "You never know what you're going to get."

"And they love that," Frye said of the surprise aspect. "This is only our sixth year. People will say, 'Have you tried this?' "

The garden also contains flowers — bright zinnias, nodding sunflowers and towering cosmos.