How do you reinvent a plain-Jane condo awash in mustard-yellow walls?

Artist Harriet Bart and her husband, Bruce, had a great collection of art and artifacts to personalize their new home, a fifth-floor unit inside the Bridgewater Lofts. But they needed places to display their artwork — and spaces in which they could appreciate them.

So Bart brought in her friend and collaborator, interior designer Lynn Barnhouse, who started by flipping the condo’s gas fireplace.

“The fireplace was originally at the far end of the living room in an inexplicable location,” Barnhouse said. “Now it faces the den.” The flipped fireplace, along with a pair of Holly Hunt club chairs, transformed the bare-bones space into a cozy reading and TV-watching room.

The Bridgewater, in Minneapolis’ Mill District, was built in 2006, and the eight-year-old condo had one previous owner. As Barnhouse and Bart masterminded the interiors, a top priority was to create display sites for the couple’s objets d’art from around the world, as well as artwork by Bart, an award-winning conceptual artist who creates three-dimensional works in a variety of media.

Barnhouse and Bart’s many strategic design choices re-use and repurpose what was originally there, while creating an updated setting that reflects the Barts’ style — eclectic with a touch of eccentricity.

The loft-like spaces, with glass walls and 10-foot ceilings, are brought down to earth with a mélange of rustic hand-carved African tribal artifacts collected by Bart, arranged on tables, shelves and pedestals. Her African headrests carved from tree branches “have a lot of soul, and the beautiful organic shapes are unique,” she said. “It’s a great way to balance a contemporary space with warmth.”

They’re also functional — she uses an African wooden stool as a side table in the living room.

“The condo is a minimalist setting without a lot of color,” added Barnhouse, who edited the groupings. “The collections add so much detail, and make it richer and more personalized.”

Bart finds the African artifacts everywhere from flea markets to Indigo gallery in Minneapolis. In fact, that’s how the two women met 18 years ago.

“I was looking for a designer, and Indigo referred me to Lynn,” said Bart, who was first Barnhouse’s client and then became her friend.

“She called me up, and we hit it off,” said Barnhouse, owner of Barnhouse Office in St. Paul.

It didn’t hurt that the women have a “compatible design sensibility,” added Bart. “Lynn knows how to combine old and new, and uses interesting materials and textures.”

Right at home

Last summer, the Barts knew they had found their next abode when they stepped inside the contemporary corner unit, framed by two walls of glass, and basked in the sunlight.

“It was so light and open, and had views of the Stone Arch Bridge and Gold Medal Park,” said Bart. “We thought it would work well as a place for family, art and all the things we cared about.”

The Barts moved out of their La Rive condo and into Bridgewater, for a larger unit that offered more room to spread out and accommodate their growing extended family. Plus a second bedroom and den would give the couple at-home work space.

“My goal was to create private spaces for two people in an open layout,” said Barnhouse, who planned to integrate most of the couple’s classic furnishings to design a comfortable setting that fits their style. “They also wanted to be able to host large family gatherings of 14 people or more.”

When you enter the condo, a repurposed hallway gives a sneak preview of the home’s arty interiors. “The entry was dark and an awkward, dead space,” said Barnhouse. “So we turned it into an art gallery.” She painted the walls gallery white, lit the hall with track lighting, laid down a tribal area rug and installed reclaimed ash shelves to hold books and more pieces from the Barts’ collections.

Guardian sculptures

An African sculpture, placed on a pedestal to ward off evil spirits, greets visitors. “I have two guardian figures — a short and stout fetish from the Congo, and a lean metalized paper sculpture by Mary Walker by the window,” said Bart, referring to another sculpture that can be glimpsed in the living room beyond.

Multipurpose furniture and designated zones are the keys to using every square foot of a condo with an open floor plan, said Barnhouse. For example, the den doubles as storage space, a hot commodity in a home without a basement or abundant closets. Barnhouse found refurbished vintage metal office cabinets from Past Present Future in Minneapolis to hold Bart’s special-occasion dishes and liquor for dinner parties.

“The stacked separate pieces fit perfectly,” said Barnhouse. “And Harriet likes the industrial aesthetic.”

The second bedroom is outfitted with a space-saving Murphy bed and computer desk so it can serve as a guest bedroom and an office.

In the wide-open living spaces, Barnhouse arranged furniture in groups organized by activity, such as dining, lounging and reading. She was careful not to place lamps and chairs in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, blocking the outdoor vista. “People want to walk right up to the windows to see the spectacular view,” said Bart.

The living room’s elegant anchor is a contemporary Ligne Roset French sofa covered in a soft suede-like cloth, which Bart compared to a “little black dress.” “I like the scale, and I adore the slender red legs,” she said. Barnhouse placed two contrasting see-through Harry Bertoia mesh chairs to complete the conversation area. The circular Fortuny floor lamp, a reproduction of the original by designer Mariano Fortuny, provokes a double-take. It was inspired by a photographer’s light, said Barnhouse, who lent it to Bart because the lamp fills the big open space, and the round shape softens the loft’s hard rectangular lines.

Two large area rugs — which are actually FLOR carpet tiles cut and designed into a one-of-a-kind floor tapestry by Barnhouse — define the lounging and dining areas. In loft-like spaces, rugs help with acoustics, add warmth and color, and help preserve and protect wood floors, Barnhouse added. She played with texture, pattern and color to “hide the square shapes and fool the eye.”

In the home’s long galley kitchen, Bart would not have picked the heavy-looking cherry cabinets, but a major makeover wasn’t in the budget. The Barts kept the cabinets, as well as the glittery glass-and-metal-mosaic backsplash and granite countertops. Barnhouse chose a warm gray tone, pulled from the mosaic, to paint the cabinets and walls, for a fresh, monochromatic look. The area rug, also made of FLOR carpet tiles, is in “food colors — brown, rust, oranges and a little bit of green,” Barnhouse said.

Old and new

The color red makes an eye-catching appearance in the condo’s mostly black-and-white palette — for example, in the sofa legs and striped in the living- and dining-room rugs. Bart’s vivid red abstract painting, inspired by the Vietnam War, fills a wall above a massive honed granite and bronze dining table, created by local furniture designer Thomas Oliphant, that the couple brought with them from their previous home. “We used what we already had — but created a fresh look,” Bart said. “We reinvented the new by using the old.”

The Barts’ new home is still a work in progress, but so far, they’ve made it aesthetically appealing — inside and out. “I love being surrounded by our objets d’ art,” Bart said. “And we can watch bald eagles fishing in the river out the window.”