Minnetonka couple develops a home history website, which aims to tell the story of every house in America.
Biltmore, Fallingwater, Graceland and Hearst Castle—some of the most famous houses in the United States are home to stories of their own, but they are far from the only ones. Every house has a story, and Minnetonka’s husband-and-wife duo David Decker and Amanda Zielike are intent on sharing those stories with the world. The couple founded HouseNovel, a website collecting user-generated content to build a database of home histories—one property at a time.
“We joke that HouseNovel is what you would get if ancestry.com and Zillow had a baby,” says Zielike, who grew up in Edina fascinated by the historic homes surrounding her.
The duo came up with the idea for HouseNovel after listening to Decker’s mother talk about the parties she used to throw at her old farmhouse before it was lost to foreclosure and torn down. Zielike and Decker, who both have backgrounds in commercial real estate, hated the thought of those stories being lost, so they built HouseNovel as a platform to preserve home histories.
For three years, they developed the platform and aggregated home data from public websites, focusing their initial efforts on the Twin Cities; they officially launched HouseNovel February 2022. By the end of the year, they had amassed over 20,000 home profiles across the nation, and 10,000 in the Twin Cities alone.
“The goal is to get a piece of history for every house in America,” Zielike says. The company is off to a good start. Users have begun to share fascinating nuggets of information about their homes, making the site a treasure trove for architects, buyers and sellers, history buff and real estate agents. “It’s really for anyone passionate about home history,” Decker says.
“The real magic happens when people add their own stories,” Zielike says, noting that they encourage everything from homeowner biographies to remodeling information to those funny quirks that make a house a unique home.
How are those stories vetted? Zielike and Decker have a multilayer security strategy that includes the flagging of inappropriate information and including a report feature the public can use to trigger a review. Their team can also see everything being added to the site on the back end, so they can keep an eye out for questionable content.
With their model off and running, Zielike and Decker now have their sights set on expansion. For their next big push, they have identified 10 primary target markets, including Boston; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago; and Savannah, Georgia. They also hope to partner with local historical organizations. “In addition to our Edina historic preservation efforts, we’re also working with Peter Hitch, executive director of Wayzata Conservancy,” Zielike says. “Our goal is to help the Wayzata Conservancy highlight the historic Wayzata Section Foreman House’s [738 Lake St.] history and restoration project. We’re also collaborating on event opportunities that inspire the local community, especially long-term residents, to share their old family photos and memories at a physical drop-off, so we can digitally preserve and showcase them.” There are also discussions with the Wayzata Rotary Club.
“With so many great events that take place around Lake Minnetonka, we’re hoping to create opportunities that help seniors share their amazing stories and get their children and grandchildren involved in our mission to bridge any technology gaps that seniors face to get a glimpse into the past and experience all of the incredible history that’s happened right in our backyard,” Zielike says.
Virtual Open House
To understand how the website works and learn more about some of these notable local homes, visit the listed sites. Who knows? It might jog a memory or inspire you to contribute historic information to the site.
- housenovel.com/single-property/charles-h-burwell-house-13209-e-mcginty-road-east-minnetonka-mn-usa-home-history (Check out our article about the Burwell House that ran in last month’s issue.)