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A small house that lives large

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2011 - 3:43 PM

The renovation of a Cape Cod preserves the period charm but ramps up functionality.

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Kate Grussing didn't care that the 1941 Cape Cod home had a kitchen the size of a broom closet. It was the original vintage Roper range that caught her eye.

"I appreciated its design elements and how well it was made," she said. "And it's fun."

Grussing bought the St. Louis Park home not just for the Roper, but also for the other period features -- the gracefully curved archways, the classic glass doorknobs, the old-fashioned screen porch. "The house still felt like the 1940s because it hadn't been touched," she said.

So when she decided to build a kitchen addition, her top priority was to emulate that aesthetic. She kept that her priority even when the scope of the project morphed into a major renovation.

"I knew from the start that I was going to do a new kitchen and mudroom," said Grussing, a single mom with 12-year-old twin boys. "But then we had the space above and below it, and I planned to stayed there a long time, so I decided to go ahead and use it."

Grussing's college friend, architect Jean Rehkamp Larson, of Rehkamp Larson Architects in Minneapolis, designed a 1 1/2-story addition that would make the best of the house from the half-finished basement to the overcrowded upstairs. By the time the nine-month project was complete, the house had grown by about 755 square feet, and some of the existing space had been renovated. But the front of the house remained essentially unchanged.

"Kate wanted to keep the character and scale of the Cape Cod home, but create spaces that function like a modern house with a combination of old and new," said Rehkamp Larson.

Main floor makeover

In the old kitchen, Grussing, an avid cook, had so little counter space that she was limited to heating up meals on the stove. Now the kitchen is her favorite room in the house. "It's perfect for making coq au vin for my family," she said.

While it kept its vintage look -- with marble subway-tiled walls, a scalloped-edge range hood and the beloved Roper -- the generously sized room offers expansive CaesarStone quartz countertops and plenty of eat-in space at the butcher-block-topped center island.

In fact, Rehkamp Larson wrapped a beadboard soffit around the ceiling to bring down the scale of the room. But she didn't hold back when it came to placing the refurbished Roper and the new retro-look appliances: They're the stars of the show.

"It's a nod back to the days when appliances were objects rather than built in, sleek and hidden," said Rehkamp Larson. "They have their own personality."

The new mudroom keeps the boys' snowy boots out of the kitchen. And with hooks and cubbies to store jackets and shoes, the family spends "less time cleaning and looking for stuff," Grussing said.

Upstairs, downstairs

Before the renovation, the boys shared a bedroom in the knotty pine attic and Grussing slept in the main-floor bedroom, which is on the noisier street side of the house. She wanted to move upstairs, where it was quieter.

To accommodate three bedrooms and an updated bathroom, Rehkamp Larson gutted and renovated the second floor.

Grussing's bedroom suite has a big walk-in closet and two shed dormers, which make the room feel brighter and twice as big. "It would have felt tunnel-like without the dormers," Grussing said. The boys also have dormers in their bedrooms.

Rehkamp Larson renovated the basement as well, adding 260 square feet to create a family room and home office for Grussing, a textile designer.

The revamped basement also has in-floor heat, a bathroom and a TV/game room, where the boys can hang out with their friends.

Although the family had to move out for nine months for the three-level renovation, Grussing said she's glad she "thought big and long term."

She offers this advice to anyone thinking of remodeling: "If the plumber is there, put in the bathrooms you want," she said. "Get the footprint the way you want it, and you can finish parts like the basement later."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

BEFORE

AFTER

  • 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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