Robin Brusman felt confident when she bought her first home in south Minneapolis. But when it came to remodeling it, she was intimidated.
Good thing Robin had her dad, Bill Brusman, in her corner. “He’s super supportive and encouraging,” she said. “He was so passionate that it made it seem attainable.”
Bill guided her through every step of a modern updating of her modest 1908 American foursquare, including a back-of-the house addition, revamped kitchen, new half-bath and mudroom. But Bill’s biggest feat was staying within Robin’s budget of $65,000. And a little do-it-yourself sweat equity by Bill and family members cut several thousand dollars from the bottom line.
After scrutinizing 25-plus homes, Robin chose the cute Linden Hills foursquare for its hardwood floors hiding under gray carpet, chunky oak woodwork, dining room stained-glass window and the original unique wood-burning fireplace. “It just called to me and felt like something I would want to come home to every day,” she said.
Although the home required some cosmetic work and new windows, Bill saw its long-term potential, including a full-height basement that could be finished off someday. “I really liked the design, and it was the right size for her,” said Bill of the 1,400-square-foot home. “And there wasn’t too much yard to mow.”
Right from the start, Robin wanted to add a second bathroom. The home’s one bathroom — which was upstairs — was the size of her dog Hugo’s kennel, she said. After living in the home for a while, she also longed to transform her 1980s oak kitchen into a modern, colorful, light-filled space that really cooked. And she’d always wanted a walk-in pantry like she’d seen in other homes.
Robin, a health care consultant, admittedly didn’t know beans about home construction. But Bill knew plenty. As an independent owner’s representative, he consults with companies and nonprofits during the design and construction phases of their projects.
Bill’s newest “client” was his daughter Robin. He enlisted his friend Sylvia Frank, architect with Carlsen & Frank Architects in St. Paul, to turn Robin’s foursquare into an up-to-date, functional home, without compromising its original character — or her budget.
Like most remodeling projects, the design kept evolving. The initial plan was to build a main-floor powder room inside a porch entry off the back of the house, which was built by a previous owner. But instead, Frank suggested tearing off the skinny, unheated, storage porch that blocked light and back-yard views and made the kitchen feel like a dark dead end. “It was a nasty space that didn’t take advantage of the site,” said Frank. “Robin had a large back yard, and she couldn’t even see it.”
Robin wanted to update her kitchen, as well as create “a gathering place that was super low-key, so people could spread out,” she said.
It made sense to start over with a new addition with big windows, said Frank. The 240-square-foot addition, with in-floor radiant heat, maximizes every foot of space. The mini-mudroom, to hang coats and a dog leash, grew to include a walk-in pantry.
“I was amazed at how many different things can be done within a 20-by-12 foot space,” said Robin.
Frank also designed a flat roof on the addition to accommodate a second-floor bedroom expansion Robin hopes to build someday. “Don’t just think next week,” said Frank. “Think long-term.”
To keep overall costs down, Robin and Bill decided to paint the existing kitchen cabinets rather than replace them, and attached new funky silver hardware. But she splurged on black granite countertops, new appliances and open shelving. Frank’s open floor plan created extra space for a new granite-topped breakfast bar, and transformed the kitchen into an inviting, light-filled room.
The right fit
After Frank had fine-tuned the design, it was time to get bids from three different contractors. However, the bids came in at almost twice the cost of Robin’s initial budget of $40,000. “I got super-dramatic,” said Robin. “I felt defeated because it was financially out of reach. I was just going to live with one bathroom.”
But the fourth bid turned out to be the charm. Frank had recommended Steve Kruser of Kruser Construction in St. Paul. His bid was $56,000 and included an unfinished basement area with an egress window beneath the addition instead of the planned crawl space. Plus he was open to Bill and Robin demolishing the back porch and painting the interior and exterior to shave some of the costs.
“Steve was super patient and told us what was realistic and how much money it would save, instead of discouraging us,” said Robin. “He also listened to all my painful questions.”
Robin was back on track. She refinanced her mortgage to help fund the expansion. Bill tackled many of the DIY jobs, even painting the kitchen three times because Robin changed her mind on the shade of gray. The entire Brusman family sawed and sledgehammered over a weekend to demolish the porch. “I won’t lie — it was super hard work, but worth the money savings,” said Bill.
After four months of dirt and disruption, the Brusman project was completed last fall. Overall, the remodeling went smoothly, said Bill. Robin would call him whenever she experienced anxiety, such as when the floors didn’t line up because the heating coils weren’t in yet. “It all came together so well because everyone worked as a team with the goal of a nice project that was affordable,” added Frank.
The new spaces reflect Robin’s whimsically colorful decorating style — sort of like Jonathan Adler on a budget. She mingles black-and-white chevron-patterned bar chairs with a pink striped sofa and a vintage chandelier with modern globe lights.
“It’s quirky and not for everyone,” she said. “But that’s what I like.”
For Robin, it’s wonderful to have a new “blingy” half-bath and a comfortable room with enough space to throw a baby shower. But she’s also pleased that she accomplished her remodeling project as a single woman.
“I did have so much support — my dad is the best — but at the end of the day, it was my decision to move ahead,” said Robin. “I hope other people feel they can do it, too.”