Back from the '50s: Redoing a ranch home

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 18, 2013 - 11:36 AM

In St. Louis Park, homeowners create the ranch of their dreams — with help from a family pro.

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When Ed Charbonneau and Erica Berven decided to buy their first home, they had a vision in mind: Atomic Ranch, as in the Space Age-era houses that have become the height of retro chic to a new generation of homeowners.

“I had a subscription to Atomic Ranch magazine,” said Berven, who also remembers admiring the interiors on TV’s “The Jetsons” and “The Brady Bunch” and thinking, “That’s the coolest thing ever.”

The couple found their own Atomic Ranch-style house in St. Louis Park. Built in 1954, it had some distinctive original features, including a butterfly roof with dramatic eaves and a tapering stone fireplace in the living room.

But the house also retained some not-so-desirable relics from the ’50s, including a tiny kitchen — “the size of a twin bed,” Berven said. (That’s typical of the era, when kitchens were built just big enough for one housewife to do her work and were separated from the main living area.)

The couple’s kitchen had been updated over the years but it was far from functional.

“It had been fixed so many times it was permanently broken,” Charbonneau said.

After living in the house for several years, the couple decided it was time to make some major improvements. Fortunately, they had an expert in the family: Charbonneau’s Uncle Daryl is local architect Daryl Hansen (

Charbonneau, a muralist and instructor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, had collaborated with his uncle on art projects in the past and had commissioned one of Hansen’s distinctive custom rugs, in pastel hues inspired by ’50s tiles Berven had collected. “The opportunity to work with Daryl was something I dreamed about,” Charbonneau said.

Hansen appreciated the vintage home’s quality construction and ’50s aesthetic. “I’m more of a modernist, and that was the beginning of modernism and open floor plans,” he said.

The couple had a large lot, with plenty of space for a big rear addition, but decided against it. “I didn’t want a gigantic kitchen,” Berven said. “I wanted to work within the existing footprint.”

Open to change

Fortunately, ranch-style houses lend themselves to creative reworking of space because their floor plans are more free-flowing, less compartmentalized than houses from earlier decades, said Hansen. He developed three different schemes for remodeling the house.

“I didn’t know how far they wanted to go,” he said. “They picked the most open of the three,” which included removing two interior walls. “That changed the relationship of everything.”

Hansen decided to “bring the dining area out into the living space,” by designing a custom table and built-in bench. To produce it, he turned to woodworker Chad Johnson, a trusted longtime collaborator. With Johnson on board, Hansen felt confident adding detail to his design, including inlays of decorative leopard wood.

The cabinets are “customized Ikea” — stock beech cabinets to which Johnson added curved corner pieces for displaying some of the couple’s colorful Fiestaware and vintage collectibles.

All in the family

Placement of the microwave — “the much-discussed microwave chamber,” according to Charbonneau — became a hot topic within the extended family. “The uncles and cousins spent hours talking about how to make this shape,” he said. “We moved it around like a jigsaw puzzle,” finally finding a space by borrowing from the bathroom closet behind it.

When it came time to install the millwork, Uncle Daryl came over with his toolbelt. “I knew where every piece went,” he said.

“He’s so precise,” Charbonneau said.

Hansen also added a skylight in the work area to bring light into the kitchen, and designed a modernist metal railing to replace the wall that once separated the living area from the stairs to the lower level.

To complete the updated vibe, the couple added vintage lighting and furniture, abstract paintings by Charbonneau and retro collectibles. “I like the kitschy stuff,” Berven said. (They’ve turned their porch into an exuberantly decorated tiki bar.)

The makeover has dramatically changed the way the couple live in their home, they said. They used to spend a lot of time in their basement. “Now we live here [on the main level],” Berven said.

They cook a lot more often. And their home has become a gathering spot for the extended family, including the Saturday After Thanksgiving Party, a tradition invented by Berven. Even with a crowd, there’s now space to maneuver in the kitchen, she marveled. “Daryl knows exactly how many butts fit into a space.”


Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784


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