By 1960s standards, Bernice Dalrymple's lifestyle may have been antiquated, but the Kenwood house that she built was ahead of its time.
After her husband, John Dalrymple, died in 1958, Bernice, at the age of 70, enlisted Robert Bliss, a University of Minnesota architecture professor, to design a light-filled modernist home for her. Bliss created an unusual glass and brick structure, which boasts a striking circular skylight and curved brick walls.
The young architect also fulfilled Dalrymple's unconventional request for sleeping quarters for her live-in maid and chauffeur, a luxury from a bygone era.
Fast-forward to 2010 when a Minneapolis couple fell in love with and decided to buy the Dalrymple midcentury modern home, a flat-roofed standout among the stately Queen Annes and Tudors in the Kenwood neighborhood.
Like Dalrymple, the new owners were attracted to the one-level open floor plan, with spaces large enough to hold their grand piano and the 18-sided spaceship-shaped glass skylight in the middle of the living room. They were impressed with the ahead-of-its-time connection between indoor and outdoor spaces.
But the tiny maid's kitchen, a servant's wing and the outdated "mistress suite" were among several elements that didn't fit the new owners' day-to-day lives. Before moving in, the couple collaborated with their friend and architect Thomas Meyer of MS&R in Minneapolis to update the home -- yet stay true to its cool, minimalist '60s style.
"It's a unique house and a really significant piece of modern architecture," said Meyer. "We wanted to be careful and have a light touch and not overdo it."
While the extensive renovation updated specific spaces, Meyer made sure he preserved the home's most unusual feature -- curved interior and exterior walls composed of glazed brick. Bliss' original curved-wall design was dictated by three 100-year-old elm trees that Dalrymple wanted to save on the site.
"It was innovative in 1961 in how the home merges with the site," said Meyer. "The design alternates indoor rooms and outdoor courtyards."
Meyer didn't touch the living room, with its minimalist gray-speckled brick and terrazzo marble hearth fireplace. But he opened up the existing oak-clad wall between the living room and kitchen, which previously held only a swing door for the maid. Carpenters painstakingly matched the oak slats to the original millwork. This opening connected the kitchen to the rest of the home, expanding the sightlines so the homeowners can see their gardens through the living room's wall of windows.
'Warren of rooms'
The original kitchen, which had room for only one cook, and the adjacent maid's bedroom and bathroom were a "warren of tiny rooms," said Meyer.
He converted this large space at the back of the home into a new kitchen and TV room, warmed with a ribbon gas fireplace. Sleek Valcucine glass cabinets and a Futuro stainless range hood contrast with the warm oak walls in the well-equipped chef's kitchen. The anchoring centerpiece is the soapstone-topped island, where the homeowners prepare meals and entertain.
"Hanging the Valcucine cabinets on the curved wall was a challenge," said Meyer.
He also combined several other spaces in the home to create what most owners want today -- a spa-like master bathroom.
To gain space for that bathroom, Meyer gutted the guest bathroom and the mistress' bathroom, and bumped out a back wall a few feet, to create a serene retreat that reflects the color palette and clean aesthetic of the original home -- white and gray Carrera marble, white oak cabinets and clerestory windows above a Japanese-style soaking tub.
"The windows give a connection to the sky, but they still have privacy," said Meyer.
The last project was modernizing the chauffeur's quarters, which previous owners had converted into a laundry room. It was located in the garage wing and separated, by a lockable door, from Dalrymple and her maid. Meyer turned the space into a private bedroom-bathroom suite to house guests, including the couple's grown daughter and grandchildren.
Meyer's modern makeover gave the 1960s home 21st-century functionality, while seamlessly blending the new with the old. And the homeowners can still admire eagles soaring over the skylight and unwind in outdoor courtyards, thanks to Bliss' original design.
"I wanted to create the feeling that the new spaces were always here without just mimicking detailing from the 1960s," said Meyer. "It's almost like the original architect came back 50 years later and he brought his same sensibility to the project."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619