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Homeowners Susan Marie Swanson and Tom Hysell talk with architect Christine Albertsson, left, in the kitchen area.

David Brewster, Star Tribune

Tom Hysell and Susan Marie Swanson's St. Paul home, after remodeling

Feed Loader, Star Tribune

Tom Hysell and Susan Marie Swanson's St. Paul home, before remodeling

Feed Loader, Star Tribune

"Just right"

  • Star Tribune
  • March 5, 2009 - 6:00 PM

By Lynn Underwood

Tom Hysell is a registered architect, but doesn't have experience with residential design.

So when it came time to build an addition to the St. Paul house he shares with his wife, Susan Marie Swanson, he sought an experienced residential architect who could bring something special to the project.

"I didn't want to experiment on my own home," said Hysell, an executive for Mortenson Construction. "I wanted someone with the right skill set."

That's why Hysell and Swanson hired Christine Albertsson, a Minneapolis-based architect who shares their passion for their Scandinavian heritage.

"We just clicked," said Hysell.

The partnership worked largely because the couple had an appreciation for Albertsson's grasp of a Scandinavian design sensibility called "lagom." That's a Swedish word that means "just right." Practically speaking, it means efficient, sensible-sized rooms with a simple, timeless design.

Albertsson embraced those ideals in remodeling the couple's 1927 Colonial-style house, which they bought in 2001 in St. Paul's St. Anthony Park neighborhood.

The couple and their two sons had planned to live there a long time and make improvements slowly.

Still, they wanted a larger, modern kitchen to replace their tiny, inefficient galley-style space. They also wanted to revitalize a dilapidated three-season summer porch and add a third bedroom upstairs.

They also wanted to make it easier to get from the kitchen to the sunroom, and improve access to the back yard.

"It was a dead end at the back of the house," said Hysell, referring to a refrigerator that partly blocked the back door and the inconvenience of having to go outside to enter the sun porch.

Albertsson designed a 350-square-foot, two-story addition that includes a new kitchen and bedroom. She transformed the porch into a four-season sunroom with two walls of floor-to-ceiling double-hung windows that make the room feel like a screened porch when the windows are open. French doors lead to the back-yard patio.

The new kitchen has a circular path that allows better flow to the sunroom and living room. And because it has doubled in size, it's easy for two cooks to navigate at the same time. Plus, there's a gathering space for the family.

Albertsson's goal was to capture the spirit of the original home, not replicate it.

"It feels like an extension of the old house, and ties all the pieces together," she said.

In order to make the two-story addition compatible with the original structure, Albertsson removed a dormer and built a new steep-pitched roof over the new kitchen. A new dormer connects the new part with the old.

"A home from this period would not have a kitchen like this," she said, referring to the black slate countertops, Italian porcelain and Travertine stone backsplash, red birch center island and white poplar cabinets. "We want to allow the new piece to tell its own story."

Hysell and Swanson, a children's book author who works from a second-floor home office, appreciate the everyday livability of the alterations. And though they wanted to embrace the notion of "lagom" by not creating rooms that were too large, they recently discovered how well they function for large groups.

They held an open house for 150 people to celebrate the Caldecott award that Swanson's book, "The House in the Night," won.

"The old house would have been a complete disaster," Hysell said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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