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Phases of the room

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2010 - 6:22 PM

Patience and perseverance drove the reinvention of a mid-century ranch house that now combines 1960s architecture with Asian influences.

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Most home renovations take less than 12 months.

Stephanie Shopa's Golden Valley home took 12 years.

Granted, she did take breaks between the four remodeling phases, which started with rebuilding outdoor decks and ended with adding a master suite.

"There would be periods of contemplation followed by periods of activity," said Shopa, CEO of the Thymes company in Minneapolis. "And I had to save money for each project."

It all started in 1995 when Shopa bought the 1960s California-style ranch house in the architecturally diverse Tyrol Hills neighborhood. Shopa described the house as "pretty funky with dark wooden slats on the walls and fluorescent lights," but said she was drawn to its midcentury style that offered an open floor plan and mod corner picture window. The two-level home also was oriented toward the outdoors and had a balcony that overlooked a tree-lined pond. Plus it was only 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis.

Shopa, who was single then, lived in the house for two years before she enlisted SALA architect Wayne Branum to help her figure out how to make the house her own.

"I'd never worked with an architect before," she said. "But I knew I wanted a continuity to anything I would do to the house."

Neither Branum nor Shopa thought that the project would take shape in four distinct phases over more than a decade.

"In the beginning I had no idea what the whole would be," said Branum, lead architect on the job. "The remodel was an evolution and I wanted to make sure it would be consistent with the existing home and site."

Porch retreat

The first room Shopa wanted to tackle was the kitchen, which was dated, cramped and blocked her view of the pond. But she decided to put the kitchen on the back burner and focus her finances on a more urgent project: tearing out a crumbling cinder-block retaining wall at the base of a steep hill and building a new one with boulders. Next, Branum wanted to capitalize on the woodsy outdoor setting, so he designed a sun-filled screened porch off the dining room so Shopa and her husband, Mann Hawks, could enjoy summer evenings without being chewed by mosquitoes. "We leave the doors open to the dining room when it's warm," she said.

Must-do cosmetic fixes included tearing off the living room's funky but confining dark paneling, and replacing it with wallboard and paint. Branum also had the contractor cut a hole in the wall between the kitchen and living room to open the views.

Touch of tranquility

Shopa, who was an Air Force brat, had lived in Japan as a young child. Her first visual memories were of Japanese gardens and shoji screens. "In small ways, it informed what I find visually appealing," she said. "It feels serene to me."

So she infused an Asian aesthetic into the lower-level makeover. That includes a Japanese spa bathroom with a soaking tub and an enclosure-free shower.

Kitchen magic

It wasn't until 2005 that Shopa finally got her new kitchen. Ribbon-stripe sapele mahogany cabinets, a horizontal band of windows and wood panels to conceal the refrigerator give it the clean-lined style Shopa was looking for. Although the new kitchen is only 8 inches longer than the old one, it feels more spacious. "No geegaws, no curlicues," said Shopa. "I just like right angles and clean lines."

Branum went on to expand the home's tiny and unwelcoming foyer by taking space from an entry deck obviously designed for a California climate. "When you entered, you didn't know which way to go -- up or down," said Shopa.

The larger split-entry has a steel-cable railing that allows views into the living room and beyond. "Now the new entry gives you glimpses of what's inside," Branum said.

Final fix

Shopa saved the most extensive makeover for last: the bedrooms. The three existing bedrooms above the tuck-under garage were small -- the typical 10-by-10 rooms found in many 1960s homes. To create a spacious master suite, Branum designed a 190-square-foot addition and renovated the existing rooms. Asian-influenced shoji sliding closet panels brighten the master bedroom. Branum also integrated a vaulted ceiling with triangle-shaped windows to connect it to Hawks' "man cave" across the hall.

Shopa and Branum are pleased with the way the new bedroom wing turned out. And the one-phase-at-a time approach worked well for Shopa's budget and Branum's evolutionary design.

"With little nudges here and there, we enhanced the basic fine qualities of the house," he said. "The goal was just to make it a little better."

As for Shopa, she relished every stage.

"I loved each project and seeing the changes every day," said Shopa. "My husband just wanted it to end."

  • about this series

  • The Home of the Month program is a partnership between the Star Tribune and the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It features architect-designed houses selected by a jury of experts. The houses represent a range of prices, styles and locations.
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