Jeff Arundel knows his house isn’t for everybody.
His new bride, for one.
“She won’t move here,” said Arundel of the moodily fanciful downtown home he’s created in the shadow of the Metrodome. “It’s too dark for her. She likes French shabby chic.”
Arundel, a musician, producer and restaurateur (www.jeffarundel.com), considered redecorating the place to make it more appealing to Amy Spartz, the human resources consultant he married in December. But ultimately he decided against it. Instead, the couple plan to find a home they can design together. “It’s too set,” he said of his current house. “It’s too what it is.”
What it is almost defies description — not that folks haven’t tried.
“It’s been called an urban castle,” said Arundel. “It definitely has castle-y elements.” The house also has Tudor influences, including Gothic arches, stained glass and beamed ceilings. “Whether it’s the English part of my DNA, I’m drawn to English things,” he said.
But mostly it’s a home that grew out of his imagination — or “Tim Burton meets ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” as Arundel describes it. It’s filled with dreamlike shapes, unusual materials and hand-wrought details, from a copper-clad “twisty troll roof” outside, to beams decorated with sculpted wood busts — “an homage to the Washburn water tower” that looms above Tangletown, the Minneapolis neighborhood where Arundel lived as a child.
Arundel bought the place in 2002. At that time, it was owned by the late John and Sage Cowles, patrons of the arts who had converted an old brick storefront that once housed a blacksmith shop into a residence and dance studio in the 1980s. The conversion had won an architectural award, but Arundel had other things in mind for the space, including building a recording studio and creating a unique dwelling.
“I had a great opportunity. I was single. I had some money, and I got to make it whatever I wanted,” he said.
He gutted the house and added skylights to bring in more light. Some original brick walls were exposed, others were covered with panels of richly colored rusted steel.
Then he set about creating his fantasy home, working with local artist Paul Tierney. “He made all the parts,” said Arundel, combining hand-hewn wood, stone, metal and stained glass to fulfill Arundel’s vision.
After collaborating for 25 years on a handful of other houses and on Arundel’s restaurant, the Aster Cafe on SE. Main Street, near the Mississippi River, Tierney understands Arundel’s aesthetic. “We’ve done so much together, we speak in shorthand,” Arundel said.
Tierney laid the stone for the massive fireplace, with its intricate iron grate in the main “gathering area.” The stones are rough and rustic, still etched with traces of lichen. “This thing grew moss the first year it was here,” Arundel said.
Tierney also crafted the open staircase, with slabs of walnut for treads and wrought-metal rails, that winds up to the large rooftop deck that overlooks the Metrodome. During Vikings games, Arundel can sometimes hear the crowd cheering, foreshadowing the action he’ll soon see on his TV screen. “There’s a delay on TV. You hear a roar. It hasn’t happened yet on TV, but you know it’s coming,” he said.
Parting from a party house
Arundel filled the house with vintage light fixtures and furnishings and custom decorative elements, such as the “framed” pre-Raphaelite-inspired mural he commissioned local artist Kristen Amanda to paint directly on the wall over the dining table rather than on a canvas. “It’s cooler on the wall,” he said.
The home has more than 4,500 square feet, including three bedrooms and 3½ bathrooms. “Every space gets used,” Arundel said. “It’s the greatest party house.”
In fact, his friends and family, which includes three grown children, are disappointed that their days as party guests are numbered. “I’ll get e-mails with two words: ‘Don’t sell,’ ” he said. But he’s ready to move to a house on which he can collaborate with his wife.
Will it seem boring to live in a “normal house” after inhabiting the house of his fantasies? “Who says I’m going to live in a normal house?” he said with a laugh.
He knows that the house’s proximity to the planned new stadium increases the odds that someone will buy it for the land and raze the house. “Obviously, this takes a unique buyer,” he said. “We want someone to treat it like the Gaudi House [a landmark building in Barcelona by architect Antoni Gaudi]. But the reality is, Paul and I could drive past in 30 days and see this sticking out of a Dumpster. We joke about it. But I’ve got to let go.”
Whatever happens, the project was worth it.
“I got to create something with a blank canvas,” Arundel said. “For 10, 11 years, I had an amazing, iconic house. It gives me a lot of peace and joy.”
Jeff Dewing of Coldwell Banker Burnet has the listing, 612-597-0424.