Hair salon owner Denny Kemp compared decorating his midcentury modern home to twisting a Rubik’s Cube. “Once you move one thing, you have to move three more,” he said.
But Kemp doesn’t mind. He loves to eternally rearrange and replace furniture, artwork and accessories in the 1966 retro gem he and his partner, Doug Melroe, recently bought and renovated in Golden Valley.
The house is a dramatic about-face from their last residence, a 1910 Federal-style mansion in Minneapolis’ Whittier neighborhood.
The former house was huge — 13,400 square feet, three stories and 11 bedrooms, plus a carriage house. The new home is 3,800 square feet including five compact bedrooms and a finished basement.
The mansion boasted 12-foot-tall ceilings and Old World character, such as coved ceilings, ornately carved fireplaces and Corinthian columns. The ’60s house offered low ceilings, chopped-up rooms and dark wood paneling of oak and pecky cedar on the walls.
City lovers Melroe and Kemp chose the mansion for its prime walkable spot, just a couple of blocks from Eat Street. Their new abode is densely wooded and suburban.
Still, Kemp and Melroe were intrigued when one of Kemp’s clients invited them to tour her house three years ago. Kemp, an A-list hairstylist, owns Denny Kemp Salon Spas in Minneapolis and Edina.
The men had put the Minneapolis mansion on the market and were ready for simpler living, with an eye to less space, lower expenses, less upkeep and no swimming pool or tenants.
“It was too big and too much,” Kemp said. “What was I thinking?”
When they drove up to the two-story shingle-shake Golden Valley home at dusk, “It was all lit up and had this Hollywood California glamour,” Kemp said.
The entry foyer was glass with double-height windows and a dramatic curved open staircase. “The wheels were turning,” Melroe said. “It had good bones and great potential.”
Kemp was drawn to the midcentury modern vibe — as well as the sprawling tree-filled lot.
He could imagine his Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young music playing on a turntable inside — and envision his life-size fiberglass panther suspended from the foyer ceiling.
So Melroe and Kemp bought the house. Before moving in, they tackled a number of remodeling projects aimed at updating and making spaces feel more open and airy — and infuse their unconventional design sensibility.
“I appreciated its quirky character,” said Kemp of the house. “But it was a little bit too ‘Brady Bunch’ for me.”
The men had experience restoring and renovating two previous old homes. For this venture, they collaborated with architect Christian Dean and Crown Construction on projects ranging from knocking down walls to a complete kitchen makeover.
For the interiors, they chose a black-and-white color palette to create a clean backdrop for their eclectic mix of color-splashed modern artwork and classical bronze statues.
The original tall foyer wall was paneled with espresso-hued oak, which they intended to keep as an authentic ’60s accent. “But it looked tired and old,” said Kemp. Hanging art on the wall didn’t help.
So they painted the massive wall black — as well as all the rest of the woodwork and lower kitchen cabinets — for visual continuity.
They replaced beige carpet with wide-plank ebony-stained oak flooring throughout the main level and upstairs. White paint now covers the original brown bricks surrounding their retro cone fireplace. “It’s classic black and white — and timeless,” Kemp said.
In the already spacious kitchen, Kemp and Melroe improved the flow by tearing out a peninsula and repositioning the center island, now topped with fresh white Corian. The ’60s teal sink was out, and a stainless-steel version was in. A new picture window above the sink delivers backyard views and sunlight.
It looks like a typical remodeled kitchen in a suburban home — except for the marble bust of a Greek god, found at a Lakes of the Isles estate sale, perched at the end of the island. “We have so many statues that we had to put one in the kitchen,” Kemp said.
The couple’s philosophy for designing their glammed-up midcentury interiors is to “live with your favorite things.”
But with a much smaller house, they had to dramatically winnow down their extensive collection of antique marble and bronze statues, sculptures, massive artwork and oversized furniture, which would have overpowered their current rooms. They sold about 70 percent of what they owned, and placed many furnishings in storage.
The combined foyer and living-dining areas are the same size as the mansion’s living room alone.
“Some of the pieces didn’t translate here,” Kemp said.
But that didn’t stop him from hanging a vintage Venini sparkling chandelier above a curved leather sectional in the second-floor living room. A trio of retro Sputnik chrome light fixtures greets you at the front door. “They were fine in the old house,” Kemp said. “But perfect in this one.”
The couple have creatively mingled old favorites in the new spaces, such as their prized Eero Saarinen oval dining table with matching tulip chairs and a looky 1940s Art Deco bookcase.
“I’m not 100 percent this or that kind of style,” said Kemp, a master at mixing modern and classical design. “But I have a soft spot for Empire-style furniture.”
Melroe prefers open space to “allow your eye to rest. … I like eclectic, but I don’t like it too cluttered.”
How does Kemp rein in his fondness for formal elegance? “I make sure to stop short of becoming Liberace,” he said.
Melroe and Kemp eventually adjusted to the quietness of moving from the heart of the city to a suburb. They miss sidewalks to walk their three dogs, but they savor sunsets and the moon making tree shadows at night.
Although Golden Valley is just 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, “When you live here, you forget there’s a busy city going on,” Kemp said.
For now, their suburban house is a good fit because it gives Kemp more time to paint, and Melroe, director of development for the Minnesota AIDS Project and fitness instructor at the Firm, more time for charity work.
As for future home projects, Kemp plans to “make the entry more grand” and turn the basement into a walkout.
“I just want to live in it and enjoy it,” Melroe said.