A Minneapolis couple reinvented their modest vintage home with a modern-style addition that blends the old with the new -- and accommodates their growing family.
Inside their 1930s home, James and Betsy Schwartz freely juxtapose antique framed needlepoints by Betsy's grandmother with modern Eames chairs. "It's fun to mix it up," said James.
The couple echoed that aesthetic by mixing modern with traditional design elements in their home's recent renovation.
"It was a pretty average-looking house from the outside," said architect Bob Ganser of CityDeskStudio in Minneapolis. "But when I saw their eclectic mix of modern and folk art, it set the tone for the renovation."
Overall, the couple wanted to add more space to their cramped 900-square-foot home. Ganser's plan included tearing off the roof and rebuilding the second floor, which would be shaped by a large peaked gable, and building a modestly scaled addition on the rear of the house, giving the Schwartzes more romping room for their two girls, a spacious multifunctional kitchen and a retreat-like master suite.
From the street, the completed home looks similar to the two-story gabled bungalows in the neighborhood. But on the rear, Ganser stacked two boxes, which created a thoroughly modern addition boasting skylights, a glass wall and fiber cement siding with a metal-like sheen.
"We wanted to take the traditional gabled house and transform it into something more modern and current and adventurous -- but make sure it would still make sense with the existing house," said Ganser.
"Bob understood our vision," said Betsy. "We wanted to get as much space as we could out of this house and stay within the scale of the neighborhood."
Betsy bought the two-bedroom bungalow in 2001 when she was single. "It was the right size for me and had a cute kitchen," she said.
Not long after, Betsy met James, they got married and had baby Lucy. The couple were sleeping in the slant-walled dark attic, and their daughter would eventually be alone in the main-floor bedroom. Rather than move, they chose to remodel so they could stay in the Fulton neighborhood in south Minneapolis. "We decided to make this the perfect house," said Betsy.
The couple had admired architect Christian Dean's family-oriented home renovation in Dwell magazine and contacted his firm, CityDeskStudio. A top priority was a contemporary open floor plan, with enough wall space to display art works by family and friends as well as the couple's own creations. James is a professional photographer, and Betsy went to art school before becoming a pediatric endocrinologist.
Ganser opened up two dead ends in the existing floor plan by widening several doorways and removing the door at the bottom of the staircase. Now the main floor feels more spacious, has better flow and its circular layout is fun for the girls. "They just love running around the big circle," said Betsy.
The home's original dining and living rooms weren't touched except for small but high-impact improvements, such as new larger windows above interior "window boxes" for storage and displaying collections. The living room's upholstered bench inside the front picture window doubles as a stage for the girls to put on shows.
The back-of-the house addition houses the sleek, modern kitchen. "It's clear where the old part ends and new part begins, but that was planned," said Ganser. "We weren't trying to fool anyone, just tie it all together."
In the center is a crisp white Corian-covered island, surrounded by warm oak floors and wall-to-wall chocolate-brown alder cabinets, which match the original dark woodwork in the house. "James is the great cook, I'm the sous chef," said Betsy. "Now the girls help me with dinner -- it's so easy for them to be with us."
Their mod Knoll tulip table, butter-yellow Herman Miller fiberglass chairs and a George Nelson bubble lamp complete the adjacent eating area. "We both like modern style and the simplicity of it," said James, who grew up in Michigan and once toured the Herman Miller factory. "I've always like that style of furniture."
Bungalows from this period often have small windows and dark interiors, but Ganser devised several ways to draw in more natural light, even in the home's existing staircase. "I've lived in a bungalow, and the staircase is always the darkest area in the house," he said. His solution was to install a glass wall on the side of the staircase facing the dining room. At the top of the stairs, he placed a row of three skylights, which brighten up the entire second floor, while streaming light down the steps.
The second floor, a clean composition of white walls and cream wool carpeting, originally was to house two bedrooms and two bathrooms. In the middle of construction, the Schwartzes got some surprising news -- a second baby was on the way. On the fly, Ganser reconfigured the floor plan to accommodate a nursery. The couple lost some storage space and an alcove office, but gained a tunnel-like closet connecting the girls' bedrooms, which is illuminated by skylights. Big sister Lucy's bedroom is inside the rebuilt gable, the slanted walls creating nooks and crannies for dollhouses and toys. All three bathrooms -- two upstairs and a powder room on the main floor -- were designed using the same reclaimed marble vanity tops and gray and white tile.
"We have a lot going on with mixing the old and the new," said Ganser. "We calm it down with a consistent palette of simple materials so each room feels cohesive."
The Schwartzes tapped into their creative backgrounds and were involved in every step of unifying their modern taste with the original bungalow charm.
"I really enjoyed the planning and designing. We pretty much collaborated on everything," said James. "I'm kind of sad it's over."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619