This renovated home pays homage to its past life as a Girl Scouts lodge

Although they’re no strangers to the great outdoors, Jeremy and Simona Ebner didn’t set out to buy a campground for a home.
open kitchen space with an island
Photo by Nikki Hansen

Although they’re no strangers to the great outdoors, Jeremy and Simona Ebner didn’t set out to buy a campground for a home. The couple met while attending the University of Wisconsin–Madison and moved to Milwaukee, where they lived in a high-rise apartment for six years. “We loved living there,” recalls Simona Ebner, “but we wanted some acreage.”

They had been looking for more space to spread out and perhaps something with side-gig potential. “The campground was listed as a commercial property,” Jeremy Ebner explains. “So we didn’t really know it was there, but Simona drove by it one day. It had been on the market for four or five years and was starting to get run down. We had been looking for an investment and a home.”

Simona and Jeremy Ebner sitting and standing on the deck

Simona and Jeremy Ebner renovated a former Girls Scouts lodge in East Troy. What once housed happy campers is now the Ebners’ modern farmhouse residence decorated with vintage touches that are a reminder of its past life. Photo by Nikki Hansen

The property had belonged to the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland from 1967 until 2019. When the couple finally got the chance to see it for themselves, they experienced an “aha” moment. “How many times in life are you going to have the chance to buy a decommissioned campground?” Jeremy Ebner says with a laugh. “So, we thought, ‘What if we fix up the lodge and live in it and combine our two goals?’ ”

The lodge had solid bones but needed some TLC. But the campground could work as an income project the couple enjoyed on the side, carrying on the space’s rich history, but with a new twist. “We moved into the lodge in June 2019 and we started on the renovations right away,” Jeremy Ebner says. “It’s a fairly open-concept floor plan. The main room is where the Girl Scouts would lay out their cots, and they would all sleep inside here.” That was a little too “open” for master bedroom purposes, so the couple relocated the original kitchen and turned that room into their new, more private master bedroom.

Overall, much of the space was lodge-like, meant to house happy campers. “The lodge had big restrooms with six toilet stalls in it, a nurse’s office and a cafeteria. We cut the big bathroom in half, making it two full bathrooms — one for guests, one for ourselves. There were a few storage rooms that became bedrooms. It’s been a really fun project,” Jeremy Ebner says. They painted the inside a welcoming white to brighten up the space and warm up the concrete floors. “We kept the original fireplace,” says Simona Ebner, “and we centered everything around that to keep a warm ambiance.”

The couple loved the openness and communal vibe of the lodge’s kitchen, which lent itself well to upgrades. Throughout the lodge, they tried to preserve some of the history while updating to a more modern farmhouse style. The shiplap wall panels were original to the space but received a bright refresh with paint. Shiplap may be on trend now, but it is also a classic style made more so when adorned with 100-year-old cast-iron skillets and traditional tools highlighting the lodge’s more rustic undertones.

Likewise, design meets function in the kitchen’s open shelving, made from beams salvaged from a demolished Milwaukee business. “I tried to save as much as I could,” says Jeremy Ebner. The wood countertops were stained to match. “Jeremy has great vision of seeing the diamond in the rough, but when we first saw the lodge, I thought, ‘How are we going to live here?’ ” Simona Ebner says. Now, the couple likes to host friends and family in their updated home.

inside of the home with a big fireplace with wood stacked

Photo by Nikki Hansen

“Right after we closed, we came into the lodge and found a note from a Girl Scout that used to stay there, and it said, ‘Please treat this place with kindness and respect. We made many memories here.’ And that is what we did,” says Simona Ebner. “We honored this place by enhancing it and really keeping the history.”

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