Handy homeowners turned their ‘50s rambler into a romantic retreat using vintage architectural finds — and tons of stone.
Extreme makeovers don’t get much more dramatic than the one Jeff McCloskey and Barb Rose undertook in their home.
The couple bought a basic 1950s rambler and turned it into an Old World cottage with stone-covered arches, pillars and walls, inside and out.
“I wanted something that looked European,” said Rose.
“I just did what I was told,” laughed McCloskey, who installed the stone with help from his son, a skilled friend, “Jason the Mason,” and other handy helpers.
Rose and McCloskey were uniquely qualified to tackle a massive DIY home makeover together.
She’s a floral designer and owner of Lexington Floral in Shoreview, who used her design savvy to rework the rambler’s floor plan, choose architectural antiques, fixtures and finishes, then paint and texture the walls herself, in addition to serving as general contractor.
He’s a fabricator at Twin City Brick & Stone in Savage, with construction know-how and access to resources, equipment and materials, including scraps from other projects that he used to create a unique stone accent wall in their entry and stairwell. He’s also a cabinetmaker who works on custom pieces for boats and planes in his workshop — now that he’s done building and installing their kitchen cabinets, closet built-ins and wine bar.
It was McCloskey’s search for workshop space that first led them to the house. He was searching online for listings with five-plus garage stalls when he discovered the rambler on 2.9 acres of land in Mendota Heights. Its owners had run a landscaping business out of the home, and there was a large outbuilding in addition to a three-car tuck-under garage.
The house, which had an indoor pool, needed work, but Rose and McCloskey thought it had potential and liked its large site, with mature trees, on Rogers Lake.
Most of the house hadn’t been updated in years. It still had vintage pink carpeting and a small kitchen with layers of linoleum. The couple intended to remodel the house slowly, in stages. “But when I started pulling permits, it made more sense to do the whole thing,” Rose said.
So they tackled the entire house, gutting it and rebuilding it to create a modern open floor plan filled with architectural antiques and other salvage materials, in addition to tons of stone. It took almost a year and a half, during which the couple lived in the house, grilling food and eating out when they had no kitchen, and taking showers at a health club and using the Porta Potty in the park next door when they had no bathroom.
Their first project was renovating the lower-level family room and bar, installing brick on the walls and staining the existing concrete floor a warm reddish hue to complement the brick.
Some of the alterations were driven by necessity. The cedar walls of the room housing the indoor pool had started to rot, so they dismantled the walls and saved what cedar they could for reuse inside the house.
“Tearing down the pool house was the best thing that ever happened,” Rose said. It turned their indoor pool into an outdoor pool, and opened up the area for new decking and landscaping. The master bedroom now has sliding doors that open to the pool, with a view framed by an arbor hung with wisteria and grapevine.
The couple, who enjoy browsing antique stores and estate sales, incorporated many vintage pieces they’d collected into their remodeled home, including ceiling beams, decorative columns, iron grillwork, chandeliers and sconces. “We used everything we had saved, salvaged and found,” McCloskey said.
One of the unique features is their kitchen island, made from carved butternut altar panels they found at Architectural Antiques in Minneapolis, then stripped, stained, cut and refitted into their kitchen.
They also added two stone fireplaces and replaced every window and door, striving for a vintage European aesthetic — so distinctive that the home was used in scenes for “Matthew 18,” an indie thriller shot earlier this year. “They liked the Gothic look,” McCloskey said. (The couple knew someone connected with the production; photos of the cast and crew in the home appear on the film’s Facebook page, “Matthew 18 Movie.”)
Transforming their three-bedroom, 2,150-square-foot house from the studs up wasn’t easy. “There was one problem after another,” McCloskey recalled. “The steps were too steep, so we had to rebuild them to make code. And it was unbelievable how difficult it was to get the floors level.”
The process gave Rose a new appreciation for professional architects and interior designers and what they do, she said, such as figuring out how to transition from one space and one material to another. “It’s the details that kill you.”
But after all the sweat and stress, they’re happy with the results. “Sometimes I look at it and pinch myself — Can you believe this?” Rose said. “Not to give ourselves credit, but all the stone, all the materials we were able to use.”
After five years of living in their home, McCloskey and Rose say they’re ready to downsize. And this time, Rose isn’t interested in another fixer-upper. “I used to love to look at [home and design] magazines,” she said. “But I’m done. It was so intense.”
The home is for sale by owner. Contact Barb Rose, 651-983-1818, or at email@example.com
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784