Building a Dream

Applewood Builders helps you love where you live, by doing what they love.
Mark and Andrea Olson.

When Mark Olson was in seventh grade, he told his parents he was going to be a carpenter. “Everything I did from that point on, through school and classes, it was kind of my focus,” he says. Today, he owns Applewood Builders, a craft home construction company, with his wife Andrea; together they are known as “the carpenter and the artist.”

The two met in 1977, through a friend of a friend at what is now called Eagle Brook Church in White Bear Lake and they got married in 1980. While today they’re a well-oiled machine of home remodeling and design, some education and practice helped get them there.

Mark Olson attended the Technical and Vocational Institute in Saint Paul (now called Saint Paul College) to study in the two-year carpentry program from 1978 to 1980. After he graduated and the two got married, he got a full-time job with a contractor and did his own carpentry jobs on the side. This continued until 1983, when the contractor went out of business. That’s when Mark turned his side work into a full-time business as Applewood Builders.

Andrea, meanwhile, was in an entirely different field. “While he’s doing construction, I’m following my graphic design career,” she says. In a previous communications and art job, she was doing a lot of marketing work when she realized it could apply to Applewood—“Because we [had] always struggled in trying to get it to grow—there’s so much competition out there.”

So in 2012, she joined Applewood and orchestrated a website redesign with Squarespace, helping give the company the image it is known for today. “Mark wanted the website not to be a typical builders’ site,” she says. Women do most of the contacting, she says, so they wanted to appeal to both women and men.

Her work on the website turned into the blog, Carpenter and the Artist, where she writes about life running a small construction business. The goal is to provide some insight into their lives, but also give potential customers a sense of who they are. “If someone is scoping us out, we want them to feel, ‘Oh, I like them,’ or ‘I would be comfortable with them,’ ” Andrea says.

That goal has been achieved, according to customer Dave Jungkunz, who, along with his wife, Julie Feierabend, has become friends with the Olsons. Jungkunz and Feierabend had an addition put on their home, updating their 1950s-style kitchen and living room. “Me being an engineer, we’re exacting kind of people, and Mark was very good about working with us,” Jungkunz says. “When he didn’t have an answer [to a question] he made sure he found the right answer.”

Andrea also offered her services. “We were able to ask Andrea to come in and help with color selection,” making the after-construction process easier as well, he says. “[Mark] is very good about sitting down and talking things through. Not all builders are like that.”

An example of their work can be seen on The Blue House, which they purchased in 2006 and remodeled over the following year, in downtown White Bear Lake, in what is known as the Golden Triangle. “That triangle has a majority of the older, original houses of downtown White Bear Lake, built anywhere from the mid- to late 1800s,” Mark says. The house was falling apart so, while keeping the foundation, they built new. “You can see the lake from the living room of that house, and you can see the park and gazebo where people get married,” Andrea says. “It’s just like Small Town USA, just like a Norman Rockwell [painting].”

The two put their heart and soul into every remodel. In 2015, they completed 10 remodels, and aim for 10 to 12 jobs each year to ensure they can devote the right amount of time to each one. And even though Andrea didn’t see this as her future in seventh grade, it’s just as much a dream for her as it is for Mark.

“We just love everything to do with the house,” she says. “It’s been that way since the beginning. We used to sit and watch This Old House together.”

“We say, ‘We’re helping you love where you live,’” Mark says. “And that’s what we really want to do.”

Andrea Olson uses chalk paint to restore old furniture and will be selling some pieces May 7; head to the website for more information.