The neighbors took notice when Steph Walters and Ryan McGary’s drab 1950s army green rambler morphed into a sleek streamlined swan.
“It’s the only modern house and really unique to this block,” said Walters.
That dramatic “before” and “after” exterior transformation was only a fraction of the changes the couple made to their retro residence with a tuckunder one-car garage in St. Louis Park.
Walters and McGary chose the three-bedroom rambler in 2010 because it was in decent condition and had potential to expand for their family, they said.
It was nestled into a ridge and delivered treetop views of woods across the street. Lastly, it was in their top-pick neighborhood just south of Excelsior Boulevard.
After moving in, cosmetic improvements included replacing high-maintenance white carpeting with hardwood floors and painting the eggplant-hued walls.
However, the U-shaped one-cook kitchen remained “as tiny as an armpit” said Walters.
And with two young children, the couple were sleeping in an uninsulated three-season porch that doubled as their bedroom so that their two kids could have bedrooms on the same level. Mornings were hectic for the family of four with only one main-floor bathroom.
Although the couple had previously lived in a 1920s Arts and Crafts home, their taste had “evolved to sleek, modern and open,” said Walters.
As they contemplated updates to the dated rambler, they became enamored of architect Eric Odor’s own re-imagined metal-clad Dutch Colonial in Minneapolis named “Farm Flight,” which they spotted on the SALA Architects website.
“It was small, quirky, warm and cozy,” said Walters. “And we liked the modern elements.”
They enlisted Odor for their revitalization project, and explored adding a second story for bedrooms in order to open up the main floor. But the final plans turned out to be more house than they wanted to finance.
With the original 2,300 square feet, including the basement, “They didn’t need more space — just quality space,” said Odor. “If we could grab the garage and porch, that would give them plenty of square footage to work with.”
Walters and McGary were on board. “Why not make the one-story rambler the way we wanted?” said Walters.
Odor’s subsequent design involved keeping the exterior shell, staircase, gabled roof and foundation.
“Anytime you keep the existing envelope, it’s more cost-effective than tearing down and building new,” he said.
By repurposing the three-season porch and tuckunder garage, Odor created 550 additional square feet of finished space on the main level and walkout basement.
But that basement was still dark with low ceilings. The only time they ventured down there was to wash laundry. “It had a creepy basement feel, and no one wanted to hang out,” said McGary.
The solution was to “jack up the house 8 inches and put in another course of concrete block to raise the ceiling to 8 feet,” said Odor.
It also made sense cost-wise, since they had to redo the plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems anyway, he added.
Today the expanded bright and cheery basement is a comfortable “kid zone” with a family/TV room, playroom, two bedrooms and a bathroom.
“The kids have privacy and a place to bring friends — without being buried in a dark basement,” said Walters.
A new welcoming front-entry porch also was at the top of the couple’s must-have list.
The steel-cable railing gives it a modern flavor. “Now we can watch the kids leave school across the street, and people always walk by and wave,” said Walters.
Inside the home, Odor converted a former bedroom into a flex room used for reading, practicing music or a guest bedroom when needed.
A sliding barn door closes it off for privacy and noise control. The other bedroom is the new laundry room, relocated from the basement. The family dogs Wednesday and Kevin snooze in their beds in the new adjacent mudroom/dog bedroom.
Once separated by walls, the living room, kitchen and dining area all flow together. “Opening up the floor plan made the house live so much larger,” said Odor.
He also maximized views in the front and back of the house by installing expansive picture windows inside two big bump-out bays. The built-in window seats are ideal for daydreaming and reading. The bays are an innovative way to add 32 square feet — and more storage drawers.
The couple sip coffee at the window seat in the morning, and the kids do homework there at night, said Walters.
“Since it’s not a huge house, it expands the space in a big way,” said McGary.
A glossy-finish Douglas fir panel spans the ceiling, “unifying the two bays, which are mirrors of each other,” said Odor.
In the living room, Odor took out the brick wood-burning fireplace and replaced it with a “flick-a-switch” gas fireplace with a minimalist plaster surround.
In the adjacent kitchen, the couple chose cost-saving Ikea white enameled cabinetry and an induction cooktop, so that they could splurge on the wood-trimmed bays. Handblown blue glass pendants by Hennepin Made are suspended above the dining area.
Walters and McGary finally got their “bedroom for grown-ups” within the footprint of the former three-season porch.
There was enough space for a walk-in closet, an attached bathroom with heated floors and a soaking tub under a big picture window.
Behind the home, they built a new detached two-car garage off the alley, which matches the architectural style of the redesigned rambler.
A new metal roof wasn’t feasible within their tight budget, so they compromised by re-shingling the existing gabled roof, “but tried to keep it as elegant and clean as possible,” said Odor.
After going through an extreme remodeling, which was completed in 2017, the couple have advice for others considering how to make their home better — without making it bigger.
Be open to ideas on ways to use space that you already have, said Walters. “We didn’t want or need a big house,” she said. “Just a warm, accessible modern style.”