When Eric and Kari Brandt bought their walkout rambler in 2010, they were sure they’d soon be adding on to it.
The Golden Valley house was a showcase of ’50s cool, with an airy open floor plan, a vaulted, beamed ceiling, cherry-paneled walls and a breezeway linking the home to the garage.
“We loved the architectural style,” said Eric.
They also loved the location, on a quiet street overlooking Bassett Creek and a golf course.
But the house had only two bedrooms, and the Brandts, with two young daughters, needed more space.
They were willing to wait, as long as they had the option of adding on later. So, before making an offer, they embarked on a rapid-fire search for an architect to advise them.
“I got on the Internet and looked at portfolios,” Eric recalled. After admiring some midcentury modern projects on the Peterssen/Keller Architects website, they decided to give the firm a call.
“By afternoon, Gabe [Keller] and I were here with a builder and a surveyor,” said architect Lars Peterssen.
Assured that they would be able to put on an addition once they were ready, the Brandts bought the house — and learned its back story.
The home was the work of Donald Davies, a commercial artist who had designed and built it for his family, after designing and building a similar house next door. More than five decades later, Davies was still living in the second home, which had changed very little over the years.
The house was so stylish in its day that Better Homes and Gardens magazine sent a photographer to capture the Davies family in their new digs. Those black-and-white photos showcase many of the features that remain in the home today, including the stereo console in the living room, the brick grill in the sunroom (now a screened porch) and the unique movable closets that Davies designed for the large bedroom that was shared by his three daughters.
Other original ’50s details included the pink sink in the master bath, the atomic-patterned countertops in the kitchen and a vintage NuTone door chime. “Even the doorbell is cool,” Eric marveled.
Making an entrance
When the Brandts moved in, they weren’t ready to expand the home’s footprint, but they did want to make a few updates.
Inspired by Davies’ original design elements, including a teal-and-yellow color scheme, they enlisted the Peterssen/Keller team, who transformed the breezeway into an insulated formal entry with a sunny yellow front door, a mudroom lined with storage closets and a new transom window into the porch.
While the Brandts loved the vaulted ceilings and post-and-beam construction, the open design meant that every sound was audible throughout the main floor. To solve the acoustical challenges, the architects added insulated glass between the living spaces, bedrooms and hallways.
The kitchen still has its original cabinets and countertops, but now with new appliances and a more open sightline into the living room, to connect the spaces visually. The Brandts kept the original stone fireplace wall, but added a new insert for a sleek, updated look. They also upgraded the plumbing and electricity, and added new lighting.
On the lower level, they converted Davies’ former studio into a laundry room, and added windows on the street side walkout, to make the most of the creek view.
Outside, the Brandts added a back-yard patio and replaced some of Davies’ gardens with lower-maintenance evergreens. “Don was a legendary gardener, but we are not gardeners and could not maintain it,” Eric said.
The biggest design challenge was to exercise restraint, according to lead designer and project manager Kristine Anderson. “The goal was not to disturb the cool design that was already here,” she said. Instead, they made subtle changes that enhanced livability, but without interfering with the style that had captivated the couple in the first place.
“It was about respecting the design. They love it so much,” Anderson said.
That approach preserved the home’s unique character, according to Peterssen. “We didn’t have to do anything huge and major that would have changed it from a midcentury gem to something you’d see anywhere,” he said. “Fortunately, Eric and Kari were happy with the spaces here — they just needed some tweaking. The scale of this house is part of its charm.”
The home’s 1950s scale also works well with the vintage furniture the Brandts have collected.
Some is original to the home, including the Davies family’s coffee table — a thick circle of ash wood on hairpin legs, that sits in the same room it did when the house was photographed in the 1950s. The Brandts have furnished the house with other period-appropriate furnishings, including Craigslist finds and restored pieces from Danish Teak Classics.
The couple are frankly surprised they haven’t yet felt the need to add square footage. “When we bought it, I’d have told you we’d add on within two years at most — it’s now on year five,” said Eric.
“We’re trying to find ways not to add on,” Kari said.
And although they do sometimes fantasize about an addition, a master suite with a walk-in closet, or maybe a “fun box,” with a music and art studio for their hobbies, their house functions pretty well.
“It’s a smart house,” said Kari. “The kitchen is small but has so much storage. It’s perfect.”
Don Davies, who died in 2013, didn’t live to see the fully completed makeover. But his daughters came for a tour. Jean Nordlund of Madison, Wis., the middle Davies daughter, admitted she was at first apprehensive to see how the new owners had changed her childhood home.
But she and her sisters, Diane and Donna, are all delighted with the results.
“We absolutely love what they’ve done,” Nordlund said. “My dad would be very happy.”
That the home remains so livable 60 years after Davies designed it is a testament to his vision, according to the architects.
“Good design endures,” Peterssen said. “This house is living proof.”