With a second chance at life, Mary Haugh is doing the same for houses — just don’t call her a flipper

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The 1926 Colonial on Palace Avenue looks as if it might have been imagined for a vision board of the American dream.

Or, reimagined.

The fresh white exterior contrasts with the crisp black shutters and flower boxes. A child’s swing hangs from a tree, a tree that also provides shade for two Adirondack chairs positioned on a circular patio of bluestone. Under the portico, a doormat welcomes visitors with the message, “So happy you’re here.”

As she opens the front door to the home in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, Mary Haugh’s smile is just as welcoming.

It’s not really her home, though; she’s an investor who is selling the property after buying it to update in a way that honors the vintage charm (including sourcing period hardware and doors at architectural salvage shops) while applying modern elements (such as removing the boiler and adding ductwork to install forced-air heating and cooling).

Just don’t call her a flipper. Through her company, the Second Stripe, she’s more like the Queen of Second Chances.

“I much prefer to think of it as revitalization,” Haugh said. “We call them ‘Second Stripe Revival Homes‘ — it’s a revival, a restoration and renovation to bring joy and life to a 100-year-old house.

“Our focus is on houses from the 1920s in St. Paul and Minneapolis because there are so many of them, and there so many that need revitalizing.”

Second chances

The Second Stripe is not only a second chance for the houses; it represents a second chance for Haugh, too.

“I grew up watching my mom always changing things up in our house and it was something I was interested in studying at college,” Haugh said of home design and renovation. “I got counseled out of it, though: ‘No, get your business degree. Do this as a hobby.’”

In a way, it worked out thanks to her career in marketing and advertising.

“I got really lucky,” she said. “I could follow my interests over time, because I worked with home brands for 20 years, including Marvin Windows and pro services for Lowe’s. So I was in and out of job sites, working with architects and remodelers, and was always close to it.”

Then, in 2018, life changed.

Cancer, then fire

“So in the fall of 2018, I had my mammogram,” Haugh said. “They said, ‘You need a biopsy.’”

It was an aggressive form of breast cancer, with two tumors. She sought treatment from the Mayo Clinic.

“And then, four weeks later, we had a house fire,” she said.

Haugh and her family moved out of their home in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis and into an apartment while their 1923 Craftsman — which sustained heavy smoke damage — was being remediated.

“So I’m going through my cancer journey and the remediation was taking so long,” she said.

After conferring with two of her brothers — both general contractors — she decided to make a change.

“So I called the remediation company and said, ‘I’m taking over because this process is too slow and too expensive,’” she said. “It became my ‘cancer journey project,’ something else to focus on.”

Another crisis

Another crisis followed her cancer and the fire — in addition to the pandemic.

“A year in, the sewer line collapsed and my basement flooded,” Haugh said. “So I’m managing another remediation. But after I got through cancer and a fire, I thought, ‘You know what? I can do this.’ That was the kick-start.

“It all came together — a life-long interest, cancer and circumstances — and I realized I had the core skills, I could project-manage, lead a team and set a vision and get people excited about it.”

She also saw opportunity all around her.

“In Longfellow, there are houses being torn down and replaced with big, new, suburban-style ones,” she said. “It makes my heart sad.”

These homes, she decided, also deserved second chances.

Leila’s house

Haugh believes there are people out there who share her vision — buyers who would prefer to live in older homes in the city, but would feel better about purchasing these properties if the typical “old house” issues had been addressed, such as replacing old wiring and plumbing in addition to using finishes that respect the era in which a home was built, like finding period-appropriate bathroom tile.

“I believe there’s a place for what I do,” Haugh said.

She tested her theory with her new company’s pilot project.

“The first one was a Craftsman, a block away from my own, in Longfellow, with an almost identical layout,” she said. “Since I had been researching Craftsman houses for 25 years, I knew about tile and woodwork and other features, so it felt natural to take this one as my first professional project.”

The house had a story behind it, too.

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“It belonged to a woman named Leila whose daughter, Jennifer, was selling it after Leila had died,” Haugh said. “Leila had left notes all over the house, like when she changed the furnace filter, when she had replaced the batteries in the smoke detector. She would do projects on the house when she could, but I could step in and do everything that Leila would have loved to have done herself.

“I talked to Jennifer throughout the process. In a way, it felt like I was finishing out what her mother had always wanted to do. I’m getting choked up right now, just talking about it. It felt like we were honoring what Leila had done to this beautiful house, while doing all the mechanical things that needed to be done to a 100-year-old house.

“So that was the first one and then we moved on to the next.”

After Leila’s house sold in April 2023, it was time to head across the river to give a house in St. Paul — Haugh’s hometown — a second chance.

Palace Avenue

Mary Haugh, left, with her crew at a home on Palace Avenue in St. Paul that they have remodeled and updated on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. In 2022, Haugh created the Second Stripe brand to preserve older homes, updating them in ways that honor their vintage charm while adding modern elements. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

On a recent afternoon in St. Paul, the Davanni’s pizza arrived just in time for lunch at the house on Palace Avenue, and people were cracking open cans of Coke in celebration of a job well done.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a crew to revitalize a house.

“Finding people who care about this as much as I did and do is crucial,” Haugh said. “You need to cherish the relationships with people, because they are the most important.”

Like Juan Pablo Lopez of JPL Painting.

Haugh and Lopez met when Haugh’s home was under remediation; she knew he was someone she wanted to work with when he was willing to take the extra time to paint the ceiling in such a way that it camouflaged the uneven walls of her old home.

By now, Lopez is accustomed to her exacting standards — although sometimes, he does try to tell her she might be going a bit overboard, like when she built stairs now leading to the attic of the Palace Avenue property, where she also raised the roof and finished the space.

“So many times, I would try to remind her, ‘This is not your house, Mary, this house is for sale,’” Lopez said with a laugh.

That’s basically her motto.

“I act like it is my house, that I will be living in it,” Haugh said.

Rare approach

It’s an approach that is as rare as a unicorn, says Michelle Schumacher of Cornerstone Renovations. Schumacher has watched the renovations unfold as she builds a new house nearby (Haugh had reached out to Schumacher to ask about doors or other materials from the house that had been torn down).

“There’s nothing like it on the market,” said Schumacher of Haugh’s venture. “She puts her heart and soul into it, which is reflected in the final product.”

The 1926 Colonial was redone from the basement to the attic: New mechanicals, new windows, new insulation. Opening up spaces and adding built-in, custom cabinetry. Adding a chef’s kitchen. Creating a primary suite. Finishing the attic.

“How I describe it is, it can compete with any new construction on the market,” said listing agent David Noyes Jr. of Coldwell Banker Burnet.

But vintage charms remain, with a twist.

“I want to honor old houses in a way that feels authentic, but with a fresh take,” Haugh said. “You don’t want it to feel old and dusty, you want it to feel fresh and clean.”

Just like in an exhibit at a museum, Haugh has highlighted those fresh takes by placing notes on the walls and other spots with explanations of what has been done. In the entryway, for example, visitors walk in the front door to find recessed, wallpapered nooks on both sides, like a matching set. A note titled “Secret Spaces” explains the story behind the artful niches:

“Old houses always have surprises, and this time it was a wonderfully pleasant one. These sweet little closets were hidden behind the walls for at least 50 years. Who doesn’t want a little more storage?”

‘I hope people follow her lead’

Patrick Thuente grew up in the house on Palace Avenue and has had a chance to see its transformation — his initials, as well as those of his three siblings and their kids, are now on the underside of a new, built-in cubby that is part of a bedroom seating nook.

Family members of a previous owner initialed the underside of a bench in the home on Palace Avenue. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

The siblings sold the house on behalf of their mother; their father passed away earlier.

The family is so glad the house wasn’t torn down, Thuente says, as some homes in and around the Macalester-Groveland and Highland Park neighborhoods have been, replaced with much larger houses.

“For Mary to keep the character, to keep the footprint of the house, that is what is most rewarding to me,” Thuente said. “What Mary is doing is so unique and I hope people follow her lead. This is what people should be doing with a lot of these homes. They still have a lot of life in them.”

‘You have to come see this house’

Cori Johnson can’t wait to start her life back in Minnesota in the Colonial on Palace Avenue.

Johnson, 35, grew up in Shakopee but attended college at the University of St. Thomas before heading to Virginia for graduate school followed by work in New York and Los Angeles for her career in advertising.

But, as many of us know, the pull of family and life in Minnesota is strong, and so she’d been starting to consider listings here. Then, the Palace Avenue property hit the market in May, priced at $997,500.

“You have to come see this house,” she recalls her Realtor, Erin Zosel, urging her. “This house is unlike any other.”

Johnson, who currently lives in California, was busy that weekend, but her parents attended the open house.

“They were blown away, too,” she said. “They couldn’t believe how much love went into it.”

On that Monday, Johnson took a red-eye flight to come and see it for herself.

“I was immediately so charmed and enchanted by all the details, down to the cushions her mother had sewn,” Johnson said. “It’s such a special place. I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’

“It was the first and only house I saw.”

Now that a closing date has been set for later this month, Haugh is starting to look for her next second chance.

The Second Stripe

Learn more about Mary Haugh’s second-chance houses at thesecondstripe.com.

Read more about some of Mary Haugh’s choices for the house on Palace Avenue.

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