After a first-time home buyer yearned for more light in his 1960s St. Paul rambler, a whole-house transformation gave him that and more without adding expensive square footage.
The Twin Cities area is full of midcentury houses with cramped floor plans that don't serve today's families very well. What to do? Some people move to newer exurban houses, while others invest in whole-house transformations.
The house: A classic 1961 rambler in Highland Park. If the house were a flavor, it would have been vanilla. It had three bedrooms and one bathroom upstairs, a tuck-under garage and a big yard with lots of privacy.
The homeowner: Steven Copes, a 34-year-old violinist for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra who has a passion for music, books and entertaining friends.
The problem: Too much darkness. The kitchen was cramped and too separate from the living room. "Claustrophobic" is how Copes describes the way it used to look. He wanted a happier place to cook, but without being separated from his guests. And he wanted a more functional three-season porch. Copes called the house "so boring, you could do anything with it."
The architect: Minneapolis-based architect Ali Awad and contractor Jim Koontz of Awad & Koontz Architects/Builders Inc. have seen this problem before. Post-World War II homes don't necessarily need more space, they said, they just need better space.
The solution: Removing several walls and doors, including one that separated the kitchen from the living room and dining room. A cramped front-hall closet was removed to create a welcoming foyer. And the existing windows were replaced with larger ones.
Inspiration: Copes is a fan of Dwell Magazine and of midcentury houses like his childhood home in Los Angeles. His house now has some cottage-style details, including light fixtures and divided-light windows -- enough to give it some personality but not enough to make it feel too traditional. "I didn't want to turn it into a centerpiece for American Bungalow," Copes said.
Bonus room: A porch on the back of the house that seemed like an afterthought became a relatively inexpensive and ultra-cozy family room by opening it up to the dining room and installing a fireplace and year-round windows.
Design trick: To define the open dining room and to help make the 8-foot ceilings feel taller, Awad lowered the ceiling in the dining room to 7 feet. It helps make the dining room feel more intimate.
Budget: Copes considered moving, but found that a whole-house transformation was less expensive. Initially, his limit was $100,000, but ended up spending about $140,000 including new windows, roof and siding. Awad says such projects, cost on average, $200 a square foot.
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376