A midcentury modern house in Minnetonka has been updated for today, while honoring its ’50s roots.
California-style ranch houses are relatively rare in Minnesota. So when Gary Huls spotted one for sale five years ago, he rushed right over.
He found himself in Minnetonka’s Sherwood Forest neighborhood, a wooded enclave developed in the late 1940s and ’50s, with expansive lots and a pond. Huls loved the setting — and the home’s exterior.
“It looked like an Eichler house,” he said, in reference to California developer Joseph Eichler, who built ranch-style houses all over the Southwest in the 1950s and ’60s.
The house had strong horizontal lines and wide roof overhangs — “very midcentury modern with Frank Lloyd Wright influences,” Huls said. It reminded him of houses he’d seen and admired while living in California years earlier, and he decided on the spot that he wanted to buy it. “I didn’t even have to go inside,” he said.
Still, he arranged a showing for himself and his partner, now his spouse, Gabriel Backlund.
Even though the house, built in 1958, needed considerable work, Backlund was on board. “There was a lot of deferred maintenance,” Huls said. “When we walked in, the agent said, ‘Omigod!’ ”
Where the agent saw pitfalls, Huls and Backlund saw potential. The house had been neglected, but its midcentury modern character was intact, with unpainted woodwork, cedar plank ceilings with Douglas fir beams and its original fireplaces, including one faced with Roman brick, the style Frank Lloyd Wright used on his iconic Robie House in Chicago.
“They hadn’t mucked up the original house,” Backlund said of the previous owners. That’s not to say there weren’t things the couple wanted to change, including the original ’50s bathrooms (one pink, the other yellow), a dated kitchen and dark wall paneling.
Backlund and Huls got to work turning their ’50s find into a dream home. Both are design pros who collaborated on their previous house. Backlund is an event and theater set designer; Huls designs and sells visual merchandise products.
Each specializes in different aspects of DIY. “I’m the demo guy,” Huls said.
“I’m the finish guy,” said Backlund. “I have good carpentry skills.”
Room by room, they transformed all 1,880 finished square feet, installing new flooring — hand-scraped oak upstairs and black slate in the lower-level family room, where Backlund also paneled one wall in Brazilian cherry.
They gutted the kitchen and gave it a modern look, with reeded-glass door panels, furniture-style cabinets with mixed woods and oversized hardware that evokes the 1950s. “Our goal was to make change that was not too noticeable,” Backlund said.
They also gutted both baths, replacing the pastel ceramic tile with neutral-hued onyx and marble and new built-ins.
The couple amped up the midcentury vibe by adding retro lighting and distinctive decorative metalwork to accent the wide door frames between the living room and kitchen. “We designed it and had an ironworker make it,” Huls said.
Now that the house has been restored to its California-style glory, Huls and Backlund are ready to tackle another project.
“It’s hard for us to stop,” Backlund said.
Rather than over-improving their current house, they’ve decided to focus their energies on another house in need of some TLC. “We’ll probably look for midcentury modern again, although they’re hard to find,” Huls said.