A 12-year-old Stefani Schaefer was washing the bowl of her betta fish when she dropped the beloved pet down the sink.
She didn't rush to a parent for help. "I got out wrenches. ... I didn't know what I was doing," Schaefer says. "I took apart the entire sink trap."
She not only saved the fish but also reassembled the sink entirely by instinct. "My upbringing has been to try it yourself instead of relying on other people," she says. "I always feel like, I can do this. I'm Type A. It's that determination."
Visit the home of this bubbly Fox 8 morning anchor, and you'll see plenty of examples of her I'll-do-it-myself grit. Schaefer's 3,000-square-foot East Side contemporary home is like a private playground for kids and grown-ups, with delights inside and out that she and husband Roger designed and constructed without professional help.
Stepping into the backyard tucked in the woods of their 2.5-acre lot is like happening upon a secret garden. A meandering pebble path leads to a waterfall embedded in a slope. There's a putting green with a sand trap and an outdoor living room of plush sofas surrounding a fire pit.
But the backyard's centerpiece is a Roger-constructed tree fort lofted high in the air, complete with a basket and pulley to hoist treats up to the kids, a curved staircase leading to a tube slide, a trap door exposing a rope ladder and — the fort's star attraction — a zip line.
It isn't enough for Schaefer to simply wave a hand for visitors in the fort's direction. Instead, she climbs to the top in a short skirt and espadrille wedge shoes and zooms down herself. "It is the easiest way to get down," she adds with practicality.
Fun, to be sure, but all the more meaningful for its DIY charm.
"When we sit out here and look at our yard, we appreciate it because it's our blood, sweat and tears," Schaefer says. "We say it's our little getaway, our little oasis."
Inside, this house is packed with life — in addition to the couple, there's 9- and 10-year-old kids Siena and Race, golden retriever Gunner, three guinea pigs, a rabbit, four cats and an aquarium.
Even the decor seems to be living and breathing. Schaefer can walk through her home and describe a treasured family memory that corresponds to virtually every couch, accessory and wall adornment. Like the vintage-style popcorn popper in the family room that she gave Roger for their first anniversary. Or the photographs of friends and family that pack every surface. Or the crosses she's collected in her travels.
"Cluttered," is how Roger describes the home's decor. "She loves knickknacks. There's not a shelf you can put anything else on."
It's clear the house was once '80s contemporary, with white, low-slung furniture in the living room. But today, it's a mishmash of styles, with a carved, oak armoire just steps away from Asian-patchwork floor pillows and a white leather sofa accented with faux tiger and fur-covered pillows.
The home also has a touch of the quirky, like a cheeseburger telephone in the kitchen, a tiki hut in Race's room paired with a lifeguard-chair-turned-bookshelf, and Uglydolls — think bug-eyed alien plush toys — in the living room.
"That's how we want it," says Schaefer of the home's eccentricities. "It's cozy, it's warm, it's inviting, it's relaxed."
Indeed, no pretension or trend-chasing here. It's a home designed to accommodate little else than family time, a place where Schaefer surrounds herself with friends and family every weekend. They grill out, watch the kids scamper through the tree fort and end the night with s'mores around the fire pit.
"Our hobbies are [the kids'] hobbies," Schaefer says. "They are my life."