Homegazing: Midcentury modern mosaic gem on Diamond Lake

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2014 - 2:35 PM

A tile-company owner built a 1950s split-entry home across from Diamond Lake that still boasts its original tiled interiors. You can have it for $899,900.

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Retro tile covers everything from the three-sided floating fireplace hood to the floors in this 1955 home built by the owner of a tile company.

Photo: Landmark Photography,

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Karen and Bruce Victor felt a connection to the midcentury modern home in their Minneapolis neighborhood, even before they lived there.

With a mod graphic-design exterior of bright yellow tile with teal blue trim, the house undoubtedly stood out among the traditional Tudors and bungalows on the block. Bruce had watched the home being built while he was growing up nearby, and the couple drove past it every day on their way to the freeway.

“It was one-of-a kind, and the setting was remarkable,” said Karen, referring to the pie-shaped lot facing Diamond Lake in Minneapolis. “We called it the Dale Tile House.”

Minnesota architect Carl Graffunder had designed the modernist dwelling in 1955 for his sister and brother-in-law, William Dale, who owned the Dale Tile Co. Graffunder incorporated mosaic tile designs in every room — from a bold block pattern covering the entryway staircase wall to a playful multicolored fireplace surround.

In fact, William Dale published a marketing brochure, “Carefree Living With Tile,” in 1956 with photos of his home’s interiors to laud the qualities and usage of Romany Spartan ceramic tile beyond the bathroom.

“Carl used the Dales’ love for tile, and accented each room with it,” said Karen.

Although they lived nearby, the Victors had never met the Dales or been inside the home. But in 2000, they were ready to move, so they sent a heartfelt handwritten letter to the elderly couple about their admiration for the dwelling. “We asked them to consider us if they ever were going to sell the house,” said Karen.

Less than a year later, the Dales’ son called them. His parents had moved to an assisted-living facility, and the Dale family was selling. “Bruce said to cancel my hair appointment, because we had an appointment to see the house,” recalled Karen.

When the Victors finally got inside, they discovered a 1950s time-capsule homage to Graffunder and mod tile mosaics throughout the house. Just about everything was original and authentic to the period, matching the photos in the 1956 brochure.

“I didn’t know I loved midcentury modern until I walked into that house,” said Karen. “There were so many wonderful things.”

Of course, they bought it. Overall, the interior spaces, including the durable tile, were in good condition. The exterior, however required some repairs and restoration. After they moved in, the couple painted the facade and spent months “sanding down the eaves to bare wood and putting on four coats of finish so it looks like teak,” said Karen.

Inside, the contemporary open floor plan boasts a 30-foot-long glass wall with views of Diamond Lake, with tiled floors warmed by a pecky cypress ceiling (the sought-after wood has distinctive markings).

Every year, the Victors host a winter wiener roast, cooking hot dogs in the funky three-sided floating fireplace in the living room. “The design was very progressive back then,” said Karen. “The person in the kitchen can be part of everything that’s going on.”

The Victors made minor improvements to the galley kitchen, such as a new stone countertop and windows, but preserved the original cabinets and glazed tiled walls. “We bought a larger oven, but carefully cut the tile just to be able to insert the new oven,” she said.

The colorful patterned tiled fireplace wall and a shuffleboard, created with 1-inch floor tiles, are the centerpiece of the lower-level family room. “The fireplace is like a sculpture and has remarkable craftsmanship,” said Karen.

The Victors felt they “were destined to be the caretakers of this house,” but have decided to sell so Karen, who is retiring, can move closer to her family near Marine on St. Croix.

“We’ve preserved it and kept it remarkable,” said Karen. “It’s time for someone else who appreciates midcentury modern design.”

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  • The lower level features a graphic multicolored mosaic tile fireplace, tile shuffleboard and a vintage vibe kitchenette.

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