Jeff and Linda Warner were fascinated by the regal Queen Anne house decades before they lived in it. Jeff grew up in the 1970s in a home two blocks away from the Como neighborhood landmark built in 1902 by architect and inventor Karl Wessel. He would walk or bike past on his way to Lake Como, gawking at the gothic turret and huge circular porch facing the lake.
“It was so much bigger than anything in the neighborhood,” Jeff said. “It was so cool and mysterious.”
When they were dating, Jeff and Linda would often stroll by and wonder what it was like inside, recalled Linda. The Warners not only found out, they eventually became the owners — and stewards of the house.
In 2007, Jeff and Linda were content in their suburban Roseville home where they raised five children — until Jeff heard from a business associate that the St. Paul Queen Anne was going on the market. Now that they were empty-nesters, Jeff could imagine himself and Linda moving back to the city and possibly living in the home that touched him as a boy.
The couple arranged a showing. When they walked through the front door, “our jaws just dropped,” recalled Linda. They marveled at the well-preserved interiors — from the untouched, pristine rich oak woodwork to the Art Nouveau stained-glass windows in the foyer. The cozy library walls were covered with painted murals depicting scenes from Lake Como, Italy. The charming details from yesteryear were endless — there was even the original call button in the dining room to summon the maid.
“It just kept getting better and better,” recalled Jeff. The biggest surprise was a three-tier concrete fountain in the center of a glass-walled conservatory at the rear of the home. “I couldn’t wait to sit in there,” said Linda.
But they also discovered that the 4,000-square-foot structure had been neglected and needed a lot of maintenance. The tiny, dingy kitchen screamed “1960s.” The back yard resembled an untamed buckthorn forest.
Plus, many of the rooms smelled like cat urine.
Still, “we looked at each other and knew it was our house,” said Linda. A bidding war ensued for the property, so Linda promised the seller, “no one would love and care for this house as much as we would.”
The Warners kept that promise by completing a two-year respectful renovation. They restored and revitalized the original architectural beauty, as well as building a two-story addition that met the Warners’ desire for more functional living spaces, including a new kitchen. Tom Klein of Klein Design & Build seamlessly melded the old with the new by replicating the wood moldings and diagonal patterned oak floors and hanging authentic period light fixtures. He took cues from existing rooms and old photos from historical archives. They also rescued many items, including heavy paneled doors, that had been removed for demolition.
It’s one of two historic “Dream Homes” on the Remodelers Showcase, which opens Friday, demonstrating how old homes with loads of character can be restored as well as updated for how we live today.
“We made a big investment to restore it back to its original splendor,” said Jeff. “We are trying to be good stewards of what we feel is an iconic home in the neighborhood.”
Klein partnered with Kurt Baum Architects for the project, doing extensive cosmetic work such as refinishing hardwood floors and repairing plaster walls. But the biggest challenge was solving a back-yard drainage problem before they could build a partially underground three-car garage beneath the kitchen addition.
“It was tricky putting an attached garage on the back of an old house,” Jeff said. The Warners also planned for the future by installing an elevator that travels from the basement up to the attic to make the home wheelchair-accessible — and easier to haul groceries upstairs. “We’ll really appreciate it as we age,” said Jeff.
With the 1,000-square-foot addition, the home now has a period-inspired butler’s pantry for storing silver and prepping food, plus a dressy main-floor powder room, outfitted with an ornately carved oak cupboard that Linda found in a dumpster.
The spacious crisp white kitchen, with a six-burner Wolf stove, still has a vintage aesthetic, thanks to design details such as thick Carrera marble and egg-and-dart wood detailing. A 21st-century touch is a center island as big as a hotel bar, which the Warners needed to accommodate their large family gatherings.
“We wanted to make it modern for today — but keep the feeling that Karl Wessel created when he designed the house,” said Linda.
Meant to be
On the second floor, Klein turned an old water-damaged sitting room into a cheery sunroom/TV room with views of the re-landscaped back-yard pergola and fountain, which is surrounded by perennial gardens designed by Linda, a Master Gardener. Linda filled the sunroom with antique board games and cameras from her many collections.
In fact, one of the tour highlights is the drool-worthy vintage and antique furnishings in every nook and cranny — from the conservatory to an upstairs sewing room. A former antiques dealer, Linda has been poking around thrift stores, garage and estate sales and antique shops for decades — and finally found the perfect setting for her finds.
When it was time to re-tile the conservatory walls, Linda dug out her collection of antique English botanical tiles.
“I had just the right number,” she said. “We were destined for this house.”