One-of-a-kind homes, from a tile showcase to a retro wallpaper shrine, will open for Docomomo’s Minnesota Modern tour Oct. 13.
‘Case study in tile’
Modernist architect Carl Graffunder is known for his church buildings, including Normandale Lutheran in Edina and Bethany Lutheran in Minneapolis.
But he also designed houses, including an unusual one for his sister and her husband, William Dale, who owned a tile company. It was 1955, and Dale wanted the house to demonstrate tile’s versatility, so Graffunder filled the house with tile — on the walls, floors and fireplace surrounds. Photos of the home appeared in a marketing brochure, “Carefree Living With Tile,” that Dale published to showcase uses for ceramic tile beyond the bathroom.
Six decades later, Missy Wilson and Chris Bierbrauer were looking for a house in a great neighborhood when they discovered the Dale Tile house in south Minneapolis near Pearl Park. The couple decided to take a look — and were blown away. “It was like a modern cathedral,” said Wilson. “Super tall, with no right angles. And tile just everywhere. A case study in tile.”
There were Arts & Crafts-style tiles, and Italian tiles and even a tiled shuffleboard court on the lower level. “You might think it’s overwhelming, but it’s like being part of a piece of art,” she said.
The couple now live in the house with their young twin daughters. “It’s such a fun house for them,” said Wilson. “Their room has a whole wall of mosaic. There are great hidden built-ins. We keep finding little surprises all over.”
Wilson’s favorite feature is the living room with its round, tiled cantilevered fireplace. “It’s stunning, the centerpiece of the room. In winter, it’s lit all the time. We do s’mores in it.”
Wilson and Bierbrauer, only the third owners of their tile-covered house, see themselves as “trustees” of its uniqueness. “It was important to [the previous owners] that the next owner would be dedicated to preserving it,” Wilson said. “We share the same goals.”
Lucy Kozub was house-hunting with a friend when they walked into a 1958 rambler in north Minneapolis’ Shingle Creek neighborhood — and into a time capsule of ’50s decor.
The home had a classic pink-tiled bathroom and a basement rec room with a wet bar. And “every square inch was covered with cool patterned wallpaper,” said Kozub. There was bright-colored floral wallpaper, and bold geometric wallpaper and even wallpaper with narrow stripes of metallic gold in the living room. “I like that style. It was absolutely everything we were looking for. My friend, who also likes vintage, said, ‘If you don’t buy it, I will.’ ”
Kozub and her husband, Cy, bought the house last year and learned its history. Their urban neighborhood was farmland until 1955. When the land was platted and developed, the owner saved the Kozubs’ lot, which was kitty-corner from his own, for his daughter. She hired a professional to help her decorate the home — with all that wallpaper.
The Kozubs pulled up the carpet to reveal pristine wood floors, and replaced the basement flooring with carpet squares. But they have no intention of removing the wallpaper. “It would be a shame to buy it and cover it up,” Lucy said. “We’re preserving that little piece of history.”
It also works with their retro furniture, she said. “All of our furniture comes from thrift stores, the side of the street or Grandma’s house. It’s 100 percent ’50s and ’60s.”
The couple plan to be on hand during the tour to share what they know about their house. “We will be pretty excited to show people our home,” Lucy said.
Palm Springs North
Sam and Natalie Soulek fell hard for their 1960 California-style ranch house in Golden Valley.
“We wanted a unique home, and there are not a lot like it,” Sam said. “The design is really clean and clear, reminiscent of an Eichler house in Palm Springs.”
When the house hit the market in 2013, there were so many offers that it took the owner a couple of weeks to get through them all. The Souleks’ offer was below asking price. “It was all we could afford,” Sam said. But he added a letter pouring out how much he loved the house and pledging to preserve its integrity while making it a home for his wife and son.
That was what the owner/architect Thomas B. Hendrix was waiting to hear. “He wanted a young couple, who would live there and maintain it,” Sam said. “Our Realtor said, ‘You guys made the lowest offer, but they loved your letter so much, they want you to have the house.’ ”
Hendrix, then 96 and in a wheelchair, gave them a guided tour, and handed them a thick binder with 50 years of receipts and brochures.
“He took immaculate care of it,” said Sam.
The home’s distinctive features include a two-level granite fireplace, “cool hidden storage,” an open courtyard and a St. Charles kitchen with maple cabinets that open to reveal interiors of powder-coated steel in robin’s egg blue.
The Souleks have made a few updates to the kitchen, redone the landscaping and undertaken a major renovation of the sunroom. Outside, they updated the home’s color scheme from retro white and minty green to a darker, moodier palette of charcoal and light gray.
“We’re not time-capsule midcentury,” said Sam. “We like a mixture of midcentury and modern.”
The Souleks have started an Instagram blog, MidcenturyMinnesotan, to document their renovations and share resources. “We want to be a hub for midcentury enthusiasts,” Sam said.
In 1958, a 3M executive built himself a walkout rambler in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. “He built it as his retirement home,” said current owner Ann Wilson. Many of the houses in the neighborhood are older and traditional in style, but the executive wanted a contemporary home. He hired architects Fasth, Hillstrom & Horty to design one with an open floor plan, sleek walnut paneling and a kitchen with St. Charles metal cabinets. “They were very popular in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” said Wilson, who bought the house with her husband, Kent, in 1976.
“The first thing we loved was the location,” she said. It was convenient for both of us and our jobs — and the neighborhood itself,” with its wooded lot and wildlife. From the street, “you can barely see the house,” she said. When the trees are bare in winter, she can see downtown St. Paul. “And we loved the flow, and the open-concept” floor plan.
After more than four decades in the home, it still looks much like it did when the couple moved in. “We haven’t done much to it,” said Ann. The walnut paneling in the main living areas is well preserved, and the kitchen still has its original metal cabinets, although they’ve been repainted. The Wilsons also replaced the original stainless-steel countertops with granite, and converted a screened porch into a three-season room.
“It’s well built,” said Ann of their longtime home. “My favorite thing is all the windows. It’s so open to the outside. We’re well into retirement age, and my husband says we should move someplace with long hallways, but I’m not ready. I’m totally used to these windows.”
Minnesota Modern Tour Day
What: Tour five Twin Cities homes, all midcentury time capsules that showcase distinctive modern architecture and design. Presented by the Minnesota chapter of Docomomo (International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement).
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 13.
Where: Homes are located in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley and St. Paul. The homes in St. Paul, north Minneapolis and Golden Valley will be open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the homes in St. Louis Park and south Minneapolis will be open 1 to 3 p.m., followed by an after-party, 3 to 4 p.m., at 340 E. Diamond Lake Rd., Mpls. Tour-goers are responsible for their own transportation.
Cost: $50 ($30 for Docomomo members, $15 for students with valid ID). Tickets can be purchased online at eventbrite, or on the day of the tour (check or credit card only, no cash) at any of the three homes featured on the morning tour (656 Montcalm Pl., St. Paul; 4949 Queen Av. N., Mpls.; 5055 Bassett Creek Dr., Golden Valley).