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Christine Albertsson and Todd Hansen were driving around trying to get their toddler to nap when they decided to explore the Minnehaha Creek area in south Minneapolis.
"We wanted to find out what happened to the creek once it left the parkway," said Hansen.
They discovered that it meandered through different neighborhoods, one of which had a home for sale on a bluff overlooking the scenic urban waterway.
The husband-and-wife architects were attracted to the cottage's no-frills colonial style as well as its history. The original owner, Thomas Malone, hired architect Carl Stravs to design the 1923 home. Malone wrote articles about the design and building process for magazines such as Small Home and Garden and Home (which later changed its name to Better Homes and Gardens).
Still, they knew that the house, which was conceived and built in the 1920s, would require plenty of updating to fit their family. The inefficient kitchen was the size of an elevator, the plain Jane entrance was off to the side of the house and the three upstairs bedrooms were tiny.
"We knew we could do something with it," said Hansen. "We just weren't sure what."
On that hunch, they bought the house and started to sketch ideas, but they couldn't agree on where to place the new kitchen and master suite and how to reconfigure the main floor in the most cost-effective way. So they lived in the unimproved house for three years before coming up with a workable design.
"Suddenly it became clear that we wanted to live on the back side of the house," said Albertsson, "although that was the most daring option because of the technical difficulty of building on a bluff."
That "daring option" became a 1,100-square-foot, three-level addition that juts out from the home to maximize views of the creek and wooded site. The main level of the addition contains the kitchen, the lower level has a playroom/guest room and the second floor has a master bedroom. The main and second floors are cantilevered out toward the creek.
The couple also took an unconventional approach to joining the old house to the new.
"We wanted it to be seamless in the sense that the new piece would work well with the original piece," said Hansen. "But the addition would have its own identity and a more modern feel."
To get that modern feel, they clad the addition in vertical board-and-batten siding and painted it a bold red. They painted the original part of the house white, then built an old-fashioned covered stoop that leads to a new front entry. From the street, the Albertsson-Hansen residence looks like two homes joined at the hip.
Inside, they designed a 50-foot-long hallway to connect the addition to the original part of the house.
From the hallway, you can see through the kitchen and out the large windows on the back of the home facing the creek. The new kitchen, which is four times the size of the original one, doubles as a family gathering spot. It's wide enough to have room for a sofa, where one parent can read to the children, Eva and August, while the other parent prepares a meal.
"Old farmhouse kitchens often had a place to sit," Hansen said.
Their remodeling plan nixed a formal dining room. Instead they placed the refurbished table and chairs, which Albertsson's parents brought back from Sweden, at the far end of the kitchen. The furniture's clean lines complement the Ikea kitchen cabinets they installed above Calcutta marble countertops. Another Scandinavian touch is the use of open stainless steel shelves to display stacks of plates.
There are plenty of Scandinavian design elements sprinkled throughout the home. Hansen lived in Norway as a child, and Albertsson grew up in Vermont with Swedish parents.
"Scandinavian influences resonate with my upbringing and Todd's experiences," Albertsson said.
And their revamped, family-style home also resonates with the past. This spring, the house will once again be showcased in Better Homes and Gardens.
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619See a gallery of photos at startribune.com/homes