There's always been a little tension in the fabric of Minneapolis' Uptown, and for a long time, it served the area well. In the 1980s and '90s, punk rockers shared the sidewalk with yuppies eating calamari al fresco at Figlio; the Uptown Theater shared its screen with art house films and midnight showings of the campy "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"; and renters (then and now) shared residential blocks and competed for off-street parking with homeowners.

In the early 2000s, Uptown's fortunes rose even higher with the appearance of national retailers, new luxury apartment buildings and the opening of the verdant Midtown Greenway bike and pedestrian trail along a former railroad corridor.

It was right around this time, in 2005, that Burt Coffin and his partner, photographer Eric Mueller, purchased a top-floor condominium in the Midtown Lofts — the first new residential building overlooking the Greenway.

"Burt and I saw it on a sunny winter day, and the first thing that struck us was how bright it was," Mueller said. We had such a strong emotional reaction that we bought it a few hours later.".

Designed on the cusp of the loft boom in the Twin Cities, the two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit featured an industrial-style open floor plan with exposed spiral ductwork and a cherry kitchen selected by a previous owner who backed out before completion — not exactly what Coffin and Mueller would have chosen, but good enough.

They did make one change after moving in. The couple had their friend and woodsmith Scott McGlasson design a maple wall with pivoting panels to separate the primary bedroom from the living space — an idea they saw 25 years ago at the now-demolished Ralph Rapson house in Wayzata. McGlasson even included a small opening just for the couple's cat.

Doubling down on Uptown

It wasn't until the pandemic that Mueller and Coffin seriously considered remodeling. "We were spending so much time at home, and it became clear that there were things we could do to make our space better," Mueller said. "We're both in our late 50s, and after an honest conversation about what the next 10 to 15 years might look like, and looking around at other available condos, we decided that we wanted to stay."

Their discussion also included a frank assessment of the changes happening in Uptown, an area hit hard by civil unrest and business closures. But the couple loved the area, were connected with their neighbors and had never felt unsafe, so they doubled down on Uptown.

They brought Joy Martin and Laura Cayere-King of Joy Architecture + Interior Design on board to help maximize the floor plan and incorporate finishes that better express Mueller and Coffin's style. At first, the scope of their work was just the primary bathroom and the kitchen but eventually grew to include the whole home.

"Eric and Burt have great taste, and we wanted to make every inch special," Martin explained.

The most dramatic change came from encasing the exposed ductwork with white soffits, replacing the track lighting with small, recessed lights and painting all the maple window trim white to visually streamline the space and allow the new blue and walnut kitchen to be the primary color story.

"That was scary. I was a never-paint-woodwork guy, but having a limited color palette makes the whole place feel more unified and relaxing," Mueller said.

Infusing personality

Before renovating, the couple had placed a couple of Ikea bookcases between the guest bedroom/office and living room for privacy. Now, there's a proper wall and door with a pretty room designed around a bed that Coffin inherited from his Iowa grandparents. Surrounded by built-in bookcases in the same blue as the kitchen, the couple mostly use the room as a den — a place to stretch out and watch TV or read.

Martin and Cayere-King found a new spot for Mueller's home office tucked behind the kitchen. A windowless room, it's ideal for viewing and editing photos on the computer. It also has specialized storage for his camera equipment and a desk at just the right height for Mueller's 6-foot-2-inch frame.

The couple's remodeled en suite bathroom is brighter and has more storage space and function with two sinks and a large zero-threshold shower with grab bars for aging in place. Pretty cherry blossom wallpaper adds a note of whimsy.

Floor-to-ceiling windows and two balconies off the living room give Coffin and Mueller a bird's-eye view of the Greenway treetops. The couple also spend plenty of time outside at ground level — Coffin rides his bike to work downtown most days, and the couple often walk to favorite restaurants, such as Barbette.

They feel optimistic about the future and durability of their neighborhood.

"Uptown is definitely a different place now. I think it might be a while before it's reborn into its next incarnation," Coffin said. "But we believe it will be a thriving place once again — it just might take a little time. We think it will happen!"

Laurie Junker is a Twin Cities-based writer specializing in home design and architecture.