Jan Stromberger enjoys saving money and doing the home remodeling projects herself

While some boost their mood by spending money, Jan Stromberger finds the opposite to be true – she finds saving money to be “peaceful.”

In fact, she has found great delight in remodeling and furnishing her current and previous homes with her husband Ralph. Now, they live in Charbonneau and have done many of the updates themselves.

She doesn’t need to feel guilty about spending too much on items; she loves to be in and enjoy her home.


For example, she recently refurnished her living room for only $1,200 and breaks it down like this: The sofa ($510), pillow ($47), bolster pillow ( $42), orange pillow ($50), coffee table ($123), orange chair ($228), chair pillow ($19), pouf ($96), rug ($65), rug pad ($20).

By setting a budget and staying disciplined, she was able to get everything she wanted.

“They aren’t top-of-the-line, but I don’t need them to last for the next 125 years,” Stromberger says.

For just $409, she updated the fireplace by keeping the marble, but replacing the doors and adding a floating shelf. The new

Above, Jan Stromberger loves to ride horses and this is her favorite saddle. At right, her copper kitchen sink. Opposite page, some decorative features in her courtyard. look “transforms the room,” she says. Above the fireplace she hung an enlarged photo of her father-in-law when he was a young boy standing next to 23 horses hitched to a combine.

Carrying on a legacy

Stromberger, a bookkeeper/accountant, was raised by a stay-at-home mom who taught Jan homemaking skills and how to be frugal. Stromberger’s father was a traveling salesman, but the parents were able to save enough to send their three children to college.

She recalls, in learning how to sew clothes for the family, that she disliked sewing similar clothes that also included the family dog, and then being asked to model the matching outfits — in everything from ski clothing to bathrobes.

“I didn’t like it,” Stromberger says. “I remember I was 12 to 15 years old, and I thought it was silly, but my mom didn’t care.”

Her mother taught Jan at an early age to save money. She taught her to enjoy counting her pennies so she could change her babysitting money into dollars bills. She still enjoys counting money in her professional career.

Later, Stromberger opened a savings account with that money and says she never spent it.

Her husband Ralph grew up on an 8,000-acre cattle ranch in eastern Washington. He learned fix-it skills by working on the broken farm equipment.

“His family worked all the time,” Stromberger says.

As a married couple, they bought a 1913 fixer-upper in Portland’s Laurelhurst neighborhood. Together, they did the woodwork and welding, rebuilt furniture and used power tools to get it all done, finally restoring their home to its old-time Portland roots.

Those early years under the tutelage of their parents, and the hard work ethic, had paid off. In fact, Stromberger’s parents were able to buy themselves a cottage on Mount Hood and create a cozy place of their own.

Now, Jan and Ralph live on the golf course at Charbonneau. They’ve downsized from their Laurelhurst home, which was 3,400 square feet, to a much-more manageable 1,200 square feet.

They don’t play golf, so they still enjoy spending their time on remodeling and decorating their home with a modern farmhouse aesthetic.

Some of the remodeling has included:

  • Replacing all the molding
  • Decorating with both antique and modern touches
  • Refinishing old furniture finds, some brought to her by her late mother.
  • Painting the white walls a khaki color and removing the old white carpeting.

Stromberger also remodeled the kitchen and saved money adding new hardware to make the cupboards look like new. She installed a copper sink and new laminate countertops. She hired a professional to install no-seam flooring that doesn’t harbor bacteria.


A realtor told them about an insurance policy with warranties that, for a yearly cost of $400, allowed them to replace the old furnace, stove and washing machine at no extra cost.

In her office, Stromberger has a custom-built desk made of solid wood she bought from a friend for only $350 after that friend was unsuccessful at selling it online.

In one of the bathrooms, the couple found it needed quite a bit of work.

“The sink’s faucet leaked and the floors were two levels of linoleum,” she says. “The closet doors were unattractive, too.”

It would have cost $4,000 to build new doors. Instead, she and Ralph bought three doors for $50 each. Ralph installed wheels and chiseled the doors so they would have handles. Then they installed a mirror.

Someday she hopes to install a walk-in shower.

Some other fun décor in the home:

An old, rusty ice cream stool that once was used as a plant holder, is now refinished, powder-coated, and has a colorful button top.

They restored an old crank wall phone from the farm that once was used for party lines. They put the phone in their kitchen.

Old headlights from a 1950s Ford truck are now on top of a credenza in the bedroom. Ralph changed the knobs on the credenza, removed a wall of mirrors and repainted it. The look is much more modern.

They updated their old, heavy front door by replacing the hardware, changing the threshold and painting it a bright yellow.

They also added a new light fixture next to the door.

In the front of the house they spread out seven inches of earth and rock. They also replanted the entire yard and put in pavers themselves to create a small courtyard. By doing it themselves, Stromberger estimates they saved approximately $400 in labor costs.

Her next project: Update the laundry room that adjoins the garage with ample storage and better appliances.

These days, Ralph supervises more than pitching in because of a back issue.

“I ask him to just be there when I do it,” she says. “I am really good at delegating now.”

When she’s not working or fixing up their home, Stromberger enjoys riding the two horses she boards in nearby Woodburn.

“I love it so much I don’t want to go home,” she says.

But of restoring fixer-uppers, she’s also very clear: “I would do it all again in a minute.”

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