Exterior and garage of architect Gordon Olschlager's home in Minneapolis.

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Twin Cities homeowners open doors for urban tour

  • Article by: Kim Palmer
  • Star Tribune
  • April 19, 2014 - 3:25 PM

City living means different things to different people. It might mean a shorter commute to work, or a short walk to a park or the coffee shop. It could mean living in a historic structure, a remodeled house or even a brand-new condo. For more than 25 years, the Minneapolis St. Paul Home Tour has invited visitors to tour a selection of the cities’ residences, to explore new neighborhoods and to see real-world examples of how old houses have been updated. Next weekend, more than 50 city homeowners will open their doors to share their homes and experiences. Here are a few highlights:


Modern design statement

House #6: The house that architect Gordon Olschlager designed for himself last year is ultra-contemporary. Inside, one wall is essentially a 20-foot window, while interior walls are made of a translucent polycarbonate material. “They let daylight penetrate through the house,” he said.

Yet outside, Olschlager made sure his house wouldn’t overpower the modest 100-year-old homes around it. The house is two-story height at the rear, but the roof slopes lower in front — “so the scale is similar to other houses on the street,” he said. “It fits in so well, but is totally unique.”

It’s also energy-efficient. The exterior walls are a foot thick, made of an insulated concrete form (ICF) wall system.

Then there’s his garage, which also has translucent polycarbonate walls so it can do double duty in spring as a greenhouse for organic gardening. “It’s a cool-looking object — you can actually see the car” from the outside, he said.

Olschlager, a Twin Cities native, had been living and working in California when he decided to return to Minnesota. He wanted to build a house, and buildable lots were scarce in Los Angeles. He found his lot — in Minneapolis’ Standish neighborhood — on the Internet. “It was property where a duplex burned down in 2011,” he said. “It’s a good location, near the light-rail line and the Chain of Lakes.”

Olschlager sees his new house as a continuation of the work he’s done during his career. While in California, he helped restore several modernist 1950s-built homes that had been part of an experimental program to demonstrate that middle-class homes could be innovative. “I wanted to build on that legacy,” he said.


‘Folk Victorian’ restoration

House #37: DIY enthusiasts Kim and Dean Hyers found their current fixer-upper about four years ago. It was an 1884-built house in St. Paul’s Little Bohemia neighborhood and its style was “folk Victorian,” or what Kim Hyers calls“Victorian without the frills.”

The house, which had been in the same family for more than a century, was long overdue for updates. But that was a plus, according to Kim: There was no bad remodeling to undo. “Nobody had tried to make it a ’60s house,” she said. So they were free to remodel their way. “I’d rather not pay for somebody else’s kitchen.”

The couple tackled an exterior makeover first, stripping off the aluminum siding and restoring the original clapboard. For color, they chose a greenish-gray, which, to their surprise, turned out to be the original color of the house, judging from the paint chips they later unearthed. They hired help with the exterior, but have done almost all the interior work themselves.

In addition to updating the kitchen, the Hyerses also have remodeled two baths, added a second-floor laundry room, refinished all of the hardwood floors — in a variety of wood species — and installed a marble floor in the entry, in a custom pattern created by Kim.

They also reopened their enclosed front porch, which has helped them connect with their neighbors. “We sit out there all the time,” she said. “That’s how you build a neighborhood.”


Finding community

House #22: After Eric and Angie Whitman started a church in north Minneapolis, the couple, who have two young children, decided to leave suburbia and move there. “We wanted to be right in the community itself,” said Eric. Their search for an active, close-knit neighborhood led them to Old Highland, an enclave of Victorian-era homes that was named a “Best Old House Neighborhood” in 2012 by This Old House magazine.

“We could tell there was a sense of community; it seemed like a great fit,” said Eric. And the house, a 2,400-square-foot foursquare built in 1900, was move-in ready, having been converted from a rundown duplex and rehabbed by Neighborhood Housing Services of Minneapolis.

The Whitmans love their home’s hardwood floors and original woodwork, plus all the recent updates. And their new neighborhood has lived up to their expectations. “In Woodbury, it took two or three years to get to know our neighbors,” Eric said. “Here we met them as soon as we signed the purchase agreement.” Old Highland is close to downtown, which is handy for Twins games or holiday visits to Santa, Eric noted, but there’s also a lot going on right in the neighborhood, from progressive dinners to spring cleanup days. “National Night Out is right on our corner,” Eric said. “The Family Day Parade goes right by our house. We love the location.”


Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784


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