AIA MN Home of the Month: A few subtle shifts transform an “awkward” floor plan in an earlier addition, improving flow and function.
At first, Karl Andreasen and Cynthia Strand believed their home offered the best of both worlds.
In 1999, the couple had found a fantastic Dutch Colonial with well-preserved character, including built-in cabinets, hardwood floors and a fireplace surround made of vintage tile. To add to the 1920s home’s appeal, a previous owner in the 1980s had remodeled the kitchen and built a spacious family room/eating-area addition on the back, an update highly prized in older houses.
“The addition had been done in a style we liked,” said Strand. “And we loved the openness between the kitchen and family room.”
But after 13 years and three kids, the couple concluded that the spaces weren’t working anymore. It was a challenge to prepare meals for five in the narrow galley kitchen, which had minimal storage and little natural light through a small window. “We would bump into each other,” said Andreasen. “The kitchen felt confining, like a dark tunnel.”
The family room, which was a step down from the kitchen, had an awkward arrangement that required them to watch TV sideways because of the placement of a built-in entertainment center. A wall of coat closets blocked light.
“We were unhappy with the spaces,” said Andreasen. “But we weren’t really sure what we could do to fix them.”
Since the family wanted to stay in Minneapolis’ Tangletown neighborhood, they chose to remodel and reconfigure the space they already had — and get some new appliances at the same time.
During their hunt for an architect, the couple looked at the SALA website, where they were drawn to a photo of a crisp white kitchen, accented with natural maple woodwork. The kitchen, which felt light, bright and timeless, belonged to SALA architect David O’Brien Wagner, whom the couple ultimately hired to reinvent their own kitchen and family room.
When Wagner first visited their home, he discovered “an awkward set of zones and seating arrangements, and there was no real centered place in the family room,” he recalled.
Wagner’s design for the home creates cohesion between the kitchen and family room, while simplifying the circulation and improving comfort and efficiency — all within the same envelope.
To accomplish this, the contractor gutted the two rooms, but Wagner retained the shell as well as the large windows in the family room. In the new floor plan, Wagner shifted the doorway between the kitchen and the family room a mere 3 feet. This changed the pathway from zigzagging to a direct route from the front of the house through the kitchen and into the family room. “It’s amazing how small, subtle shifts make an impact,” he said.
Other modifications included carving a bigger opening above a counter between the kitchen and family room to let in more light. Wagner also relocated the refrigerator from the far corner of the kitchen to an adjacent hallway niche and built a big new pantry where the old kitchen doorway once was.
Andreasen and Strand also got their bright white kitchen, which includes glass-front painted cabinets, floor-to-ceiling subway tile and sleek gray-veined Carrara marble countertops. The kitchen is filled with light, thanks to a new oversized, double-hung window. Wagner also used “ribbons” of gray-veined marble to frame the opening between the kitchen and family room, on a window sill and even topping the step down into the family room, to tie the two rooms together.
“I found a way to weave the marble into the fabric of the house,” said Wagner. “Not just use it as a fancy countertop element.”
He designed the upper kitchen cabinets to have an intentional sliver of open space at the ceiling and walls, rather than a tight fit from wall-to-wall. “The cabinets don’t envelop the range hood, giving the perception of lightness and of floating in space,” said Wagner. “This makes a small kitchen feel bigger.”
The couple appreciate different aspects of the completed kitchen. “It’s not just new surfaces,” said Strand. “By changing the flow, it makes everything work better.”
Andreasen loves “being greeted by light in the morning.”
In the combination family room and eating area, Wagner’s thoughtful modifications made the space a more inviting and attractive place where the family can snack, watch movies or work on a laptop.
Wagner tore out the ill-placed built-in storage and entertainment center. He designed two new 4-foot-deep bookcases that frame a niche for the couch, where Strand also displays groupings of her children’s artwork for pops of color.
“Rather than the couch feeling like it’s sitting in open space, we used the bookcases as a way to create a sense of enclosure, and lowered the ceiling plane by putting in an open shelf above it,” Wagner said. The family room has radiant in-floor heat and the couch now faces the TV, which was moved to another wall. “We didn’t redesign the whole room,” said Wagner. “We just shifted the center of gravity.”
At the back entry to the family room, Wagner knocked down two hulking coat closets and replaced them with free-standing furniture-style walnut cabinets that stop short of the ceiling to allow light to flow through.
Andreasen and Strand’s Scandinavian backgrounds drove many of the interior design details, such as an antique chandelier accented with candles found on a trip to Sweden, and Louis Poulsen’s Danish pendant lights. Strand displays and uses her collection of blue-and-white porcelain dishes on a daily basis.
The couple requested some modern design elements, such as sleek stainless cabinet pulls, but also wanted the home to feel connected to its 1920s provenance. Wagner matched the subway tile, hardwood floors and millwork to the originals and even put in old-fashioned push-button light switches.
“It doesn’t feel old and stodgy,” said Strand. “It feels modern and fresh, but still fits with the era of the home.”
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619