Mixed metals in the kitchen.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Mixed metals

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD
  • Star Tribune
  • April 5, 2010 - 9:33 AM

It's easy to pick out architect Geoffrey Warner's St. Paul home: It's the only one on the block with a plastic awning over a perforated steel deck rail.

That's just the first sign that this is not a conventional bungalow update. Inside, Warner continues the mix-and-match metal applications, which include a steel-clad staircase, a curved metal ceiling and a kitchen wall sheathed in burnished copper. Although they're a twist on tradition, the metal accents complement the 1911 home's original craftsman oak woodwork and hardwood floors.

"I like the look of copper and galvanized steel mixed with wood and Venetian plaster," said Warner, founder of Alchemy Architects in St. Paul. "I like to play with the four elements and have fun."

But Warner and his wife, Dawn De Keyser, did more than just give their 1 1/2-story home a heavy metal makeover. They re-envisioned the space within the original walls.

When they first toured the house in St. Paul's Mac-Groveland neighborhood, Warner decided it could be updated to fit their family with a few floor plan modifications. De Keyser wasn't so sure.

"I walked in the door and said, 'Who would buy this house?'" she recalled.

The fixer-upper had a tiny galley kitchen, sloping floors and chopped up rooms. But it showed promise, in the form of a partially finished second story that was roomy enough to house three bedrooms and a bathroom.

"With my architect X-ray vision, I told Dawn, 'We can save it and make it better,'" joked Warner.

And they did make it much better -- without adding a single square foot.

Better, not bigger

Because they were committed to retaining the home's shell rather than adding on or simply tearing it down and starting from scratch, they had to reconfigure space.

First, they removed several interior walls to create an open floor plan, then converted three main-floor bedrooms into an office and a TV room. Next, they removed a ramshackle back porch, which had blocked natural light from flowing into the kitchen. Finally, they tore down the wall between the dining room and kitchen. They had to give up a built-in craftsman-style buffet, but the space they gained was invaluable.

While the rebuilt kitchen is about the same size as the old one, it has four times the countertop space, a long breakfast bar topped with a sanded acrylic panel and plenty of Ikea cabinets. A skylight and new windows draw in plenty of light.

"Now the kitchen is connected to the rest of the house," De Keyser said.

Metal accents -- such as joists wrapped in galvanized steel and stainless steel cabinet doors -- give the kitchen a contemporary look. "Metal pulls together the old and new elements," De Keyser said.

Warner's favorite feature is something he built himself: a plate-steel staircase, visible from the front entry.

"It looks organic," said Warner. "It creates a waterfall effect."

The staircase leads to the second-floor master suite, the girls' bedrooms and a mod cobalt blue-steel bathroom. On the upper level, they put up walls with energy-efficient spray foam insulation and installed new windows and two skylights, which brighten the once-dark space.

Seven-year fix

Because they were on a tight budget, Warner and De Keyser worked on the renovation in stages over seven years. They also saved money by using recycled materials and doing some of the construction themselves. Warner replaced the stucco exterior with fiber cement siding, installed the cabinets and built the breakfast bar.

The project continued outdoors when the couple tore down the single-car garage and built new twin garages. The two structures offer more space than a traditional double-car garage and better fit the scale of the city-size back yard, Warner said.

Warner and De Keyser said tackling those projects one at a time allowed them to do the renovation right. "It was our chance to make it ours and work for us," De Keyser said.

Their daughters may not agree. Allie and Laurel Warner are clearly glad the job is done.

"It was really noisy and Dad was always asking for help," Laurel said.

But the girls said they like hanging out at the breakfast bar or doing their homework in the office. And Warner and De Keyser are pleased with their modest, metal makeover.

"It's a nice demonstration of how old houses can retain their character and still be creative and modern at the same time," Warner said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619


The Warner-De Keyser bungalow renovation will be part of the Minneapolis St. Paul Home tour April 24-25. Stayed tuned for details about the tour.

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