Tour focuses on modernist homes in the Twin Cities

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2013 - 11:05 AM

A preservationist group is offering a glimpse inside seven unique homes, to show off their timeless appeal.

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In 1962, the year that architect Ralph Rapson was finalizing details on the original Guthrie Theater, he was also designing a modest home for the Cashman family.

Veryl Andre and her husband, Paul Cashman, had saved for years for a down payment on their first house. Since Cashman was an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, his family could live in University Grove, a U of M-owned development in Falcon Heights created for faculty.

A number of modernist architects had already designed one-of-a-kind homes in the neighborhood. While house-hunting in the Grove, the couple were attracted to a Rapson home for sale. “We liked the openness and feeling of spaciousness,” said Andre. “We were impressed with how Rapson utilized the trapezoid-shaped lot, and all you could see was nature, even though it was close to other houses.”

But that house was too small for their growing family, so the Cashmans claimed a corner lot on which to build their own Rapson home. Luckily for them, the sought-after architect, who was the head of the U’s School of Architecture, was available.

“Ralph Rapson liked the idea of providing an architect-designed home for a family not on a large budget,” said Andre, recalling that their four-bedroom home cost $31,500.

Rapson’s flat-roofed composition of glass, redwood and stucco is “shaped like a square doughnut,” she said. “The living area is wrapped around an open courtyard.”

The Cashmans raised four children in the house, and its simple, efficient spaces always felt open and roomy, said Andre. “It never seemed cluttered. It was a good design to keep neat.”

Fans of modernist architecture can tour the Cashman home and six others during the Minnesota Modern Tour on Oct. 5 organized by the Minnesota Chapter of Docomomo (the name is shorthand for the group’s mission: documentation and conservation of architecture from the modern movement). Homes on the tour were designed by noted architects and built in the 1950s and ’60s, with one from 1981 — a bold-colored James Stageberg creation.

“It’s a chance for the public to see midcentury modern homes, some in original condition — and others respectfully restored — and promote conversation about the preservation of these great pieces of architecture,” said Karen Rue, a Docomomo board member.

The Cashman home remains a 1962 time capsule — with its original floor-to-ceiling glass, painted white-brick fireplace and a no-frills birch-cabinet kitchen. The only major change Andre made over the years was replacing and repositioning the staircase down to the basement, which was designed with a metal railing. “The railing was artistic and attractive looking — but it was not functional,” she said. “It was wobbly.”

Over the years, Rapson would stop by to show clients and students the clean contemporary design, Andre said. Paul Cashman died in 1983, and Andre is selling the Rapson house to live with her new husband. “It’s been 51 years and many chapters,” said Andre. “It’s been a very good house.”

Modern movement

The design pendulum has swung, with more people appreciating modernist architecture, according to Minneapolis architect Tim Quigley, a Docomomo founding member and a docent on the tour.

Midcentury modern design is “hot, hot, hot,” he said, crediting the popular TV drama “Mad Men,” Dwell and Atomic Ranch magazines as influential factors.

Craftsman was all the rage 15 years ago, but now there’s a revival of interest in 1950s and ’60s modern architecture, he said. “One indicator of how cool it is — you see thirty-something couples in front of midcentury modern homes in car commercials.”

Two not-to-be missed modernist homes on the tour are a 5,300-square-foot beauty in Edina, designed by John Polivka in 1959, and an L-shaped brick residence by New York architect Philip Johnson (who designed the IDS Center) on Lake Minnetonka.

“John Polivka’s creations are bold, dynamic and anything but ordinary,” said Quigley. The interiors feature “floating” stairs, a main-floor stone fireplace with radiating beams, and massive windows to connect with the outdoors. The house is currently on the market for $849,900.

  • MINNESOTA MODERN TOUR DAY

    What: Fans of modernist architecture can tour seven homes designed by innovative architects such as Ralph Rapson, Elizabeth and Winston Close, Philip Johnson and Thomas Ellerbe, presented by the Minnesota chapter of Docomomo.

    When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 5

    Where: East metro homes are open in the morning; west metro homes are open in the afternoon.

    Special event: An after-party with refreshments from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Philip Johnson-designed home in Wayzata.

    Tickets: $35; $25 for members. Tickets are sold online or on the day of the tour at the homes. Go to www.2013modernhomestour.eventbrite.com.

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