Last year, with her 55th birthday approaching, JoLynn Johnson found herself musing about the future. She still loved her job as a designer and president of Crystal Kitchen + Bath. She still loved her house, a lakeside two-story that she’d built 18 years ago in St. Michael, Minn.
But she was growing weary of her 25-mile commute. “Can I do this drive for 10 more years?” she wondered.
One day she spotted a house for sale, just three blocks from her office. “I could live there,” she thought.
The 1961 rambler in New Hope was structurally sound, but the layout and decor were outdated.
“The ad said ‘Move-in ready’ — that was if you wanted to live in the ’80s,” she said.
But as a remodeling pro, Johnson could envision how to transform the house to suit herself and her husband, JH Peterson. She resolved to set the stage for their next chapter — a smaller house with less yard work, and aging-in-place features built right in.
“My thought was, this would be my last house — the next address would be a nursing home,” she said.
Serving as her own general contractor, Johnson decided to start from scratch.
She gutted, and completely reconfigured, the floor plan. The only room that remained in the same place was the master bedroom.
The kitchen was relocated to the rear of the house, in the former family room, to gain more space and be closer to the deck. The kitchen, dining and living rooms were opened up to create a large great room.
Originally, the rambler had three small bedrooms on the main floor. Johnson repurposed two of them to create an owners’ suite, creating a big walk-in closet and a luxurious bath. The original bathroom became a main-floor laundry room.
“My Realtor almost choked when I eliminated two bedrooms on the main level,” said Johnson. But one bedroom was enough for the couple, and Johnson had vowed not to waste space on rooms that they wouldn’t use every day.
“I don’t have kids. I didn’t need a guest room,” she said. “My goal was to make this house work for me now — not a family or resale in the future.”
However, she did add egress windows on the lower level to create space for two more potential bedrooms, and an office for her husband.
For herself, Johnson created a small office at one end of the laundry room.
“In the other house, my husband and I shared an office,” she said. “It wasn’t working for me. It’s easier to have our own spaces.”
Being a pro has its advantages when undertaking a whole-house remodeling. Johnson had a stable of skilled subcontractors to call upon, and her four staff designers helped with selections and “calming my nerves,” she said.
She also had access to remnants left from other projects, such as the Caesarstone she used as a vanity top in the lower-level bathroom, and the Cambria she used as bench tops in the steam shower.
Typically, the kitchen is a challenging space for homeowners because there are so many choices to make. But it was a relative breeze for Johnson.
“The kitchen was easiest,” she said. “I work with it every day. I pretty much knew everything I wanted.”
What she wanted included a contemporary look and a chocolate brown and white color scheme — not the grays that dominate so many of today’s new kitchens. The palette started with the tile that she chose for their fireplace, which faces the kitchen.
To complement it, she chose black honed granite countertops, a textured mosaic tile backsplash, and contrasting cabinets — white gloss enamel on the lower ones (“it’s like a car finish — very durable”) and horizontal-grained walnut for the upper cabinets.
The long center island was topped with wood, with a natural edge on both sides. Johnson originally wanted walnut, but her supplier, Wood From the Hood, didn’t carry it in the 123-inch length she needed, so she opted for ash, stained to match the cabinets.
The kitchen also includes a “pantry wall,” 15 inches deep, with separate cupboards for small appliances, food, china and cleaning equipment.
While designing the kitchen came easily to Johnson, redesigning the home’s exterior presented a challenge.
“It’s not something we do all the time,” she said. So she turned to John Kosmas of KK Design, Minneapolis, who had designed her previous house.
Johnson wanted to add some visual interest to the plain-Jane rambler, which Johnson described as “boring as all get out.”
A new roofline, set at “a fun angle,” and new brick columns added contemporary curb appeal to the home’s basic ’60s facade.
Johnson also wanted a covered front porch, where she and Peterson could relax and visit with their new neighbors.
Wired for tomorrow
The remodeled home is packed with technology, including a multiroom audio system, and chromatherapy and aromatherapy features in the master bath.
“I wanted this house to be as technological as possible,” said Johnson, in part because she was seeking firsthand experience with the technology, to better advise her current and future clients. “The baby boomers aren’t asking for it, but millennials are,” she said.
While Johnson drove the design decisions for most of the house, Peterson, a professional marine photographer, also had his say.
“I got input on the basement,” he said, where there’s a darkroom, an office, storage for slides and photos, and even space for his model trains. “It’s all in one place. I can hide down there.”
Upstairs, Johnson had some very specific requirements of her own. In the great room, she designed floating shelves with puck lighting and individual electrical outlets to showcase her extensive holiday village collection.
“I’m really into Christmas,” she said.
Her husband had built scenes for the individual pieces, to help streamline setup. The new shelves were designed with each scene in mind, including one removable shelf to accommodate an extra-tall vignette.
Even the rambler’s outdoor spaces got a makeover. The yard was re-landscaped, and the deck was expanded to make room for a hot tub, fire pit, seating and built-in gas grill.
“The one thing that was reused was the fence,” said Johnson, which keeps their two Shih Tzus, Emmy and Oscar, confined to the backyard.
Now that Johnson and Peterson are settled into the remodeled home, they’re adjusting to life in the urban core, which is very different from life on a 1-acre lot on the exurban fringe.
“People are closer,” Peterson noted, but friendly and welcoming. “It does seem like a good neighborhood.”
Johnson misses her lake view, but otherwise welcomes the transition to their next chapter. “I love every part of it,” she said. “The grocery store is just a block away. I do a lot more with friends. We entertain more here.”
Best of all, losing her long commute has gained her up to two more hours each day, she said. “I’m home more to enjoy what city life has to offer.”