Some call it the house of welcome lights.
The lights, from electric candles, burn in the windows much of the year, but especially at Christmas. Inside the home has ties to family traditions from holiday celebrations of years past.
Decorating touches tie rooms together with soft color from paint and wallpaper. Entering the home on a cold winter day elicits a mix of senses from the burning candles, soft holiday music and festive decorations.
The white cottage-style house was built in 1952 and had the same owner until just six or seven years ago. Jan Almquist first spotted the cottage on a drive by along South Sixth Street. She thought it was a cute house then, and when it came up for sale they made an offer. Jan and Jim Almquist finalized the purchase on Feb. 14, 1997.
Warmed by a gas fireplace, the living room has a cozy seating area and includes several versions of father winter -- created by a daughter -- on the mantle.
Both Jim and Jan Almquist are now officially retired. For Jim Almquist, a visitation pastor at nearby Trinity Lutheran Church, the home is the first one he's owned after growing up in parsonages as a child and later as an adult.
A few things changed since the couple moved to the corner lot in south Brainerd. A wind storm blew down or destroyed 26 trees. The Almquists planted a few trees again and have displayed gardening interests from a wild flower garden to an heirloom garden with traditional plants like peonies.
And the Highway 371 bypass more recently reduced traffic along a busy South Sixth Street. This fall, the couple updated the house's siding and windows with the help of Town and Country Exteriors. They added space to an upstairs bath and put in a full-size stacked washer and dryer on the second floor.
Nutcrackers line up like marching figures on the stairway leading to the birch-floored second floor with a spacious master bedroom that includes a sitting area with a wooded view.
One of the front rooms is reserved for Jan Almquist's creative efforts -- doll making. Almquist creates, collects and restores dolls. A wallpaper border reflects the room's theme.
"We are kind of a little island to ourselves here," Jan Almquist said.
Their home is a combination of furniture from their respective families. An end table is from Jim Almquist's great-grandfather's kitchen table. It was made into an end table for his mother's wedding in 1925.
Ornate dishes, with Victorian scenes and gilded edges called a crest of gold, came from a service for four that a pre-teen Jan Almquist saved for and then purchased for her mother. Now she has lamps that match the dish scenes and a larger collection of pieces from years of collecting.
Other items came from hard work and careful shopping, such as a $25 garage sale item that was -- beneath corrosion -- a 1929 Simmons brass bed. Jan Almquist also restores and creates dolls from soft clay that is painted and fired and put together with cloth bodies.
When I get up to the Pearly Gates, the Lord is not going to say, Janet, you forgot to do that. So if it looks interesting, I try it.
The holidays can be bittersweet for the Almquists. The two were married 11 years ago on Dec. 26. But Jan Almquist also lost a son and two grandchildren at Christmases past. But she said at the holidays you press forward and realize the season can be hard for many people - often because of great expectations that cannot be met.
Both of Scandinavian descent, the Almquists officially begin their holiday celebrations Dec. 13, the feast day of Santa Lucia. Centuries ago in Sweden, King Canute declared Christmas would last a month, from Dec. 13, the feast of St. Lucia, until Jan. 13, or St. Canute's Day.
And this year the home is again decorated and ready for baking and other holiday traditions with its most recent renovations.
We havent done a lot of changing, Jim Almquist said of their home. We just upgraded what was here.
A familiar cottage house on South Sixth Street in Brainerd gained considerable attention from passers-by this fall as workers updated the home's siding and put in new windows. The house was built in 1952.
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