First impressions count, whether it’s a blind date or welcoming guests into your home. But it’s not easy to make a good first impression when the highlight of your foyer is a massive dated light-blocking staircase.

That’s why Peter Jacobson, owner of Lake Country Builders, and designer Alethea Sadowski were hired to make over the entry of a 1980s contemporary multilevel in Minneapolis.

Their first order of business was to turn the clunky staircase into a welcoming entry. They also were tasked with replacing a ho-hum cabinet bar next to the stairs with an eye-catching entertaining center from which to serve food and beverages.

The completed night-and-day transformations helped revitalize and refresh the home’s nearly 30-year-old interior.

“Updating the front entry was especially a key component to making the home feel light, open and modern,” Sadowski said.

For details and photos on how they did it, go to page H3.



The challenge: The homeowners were in the middle of enhancing their 1986 soft contemporary home, including adding a deck off the master bedroom and replacing foyer tile with wood. But they weren’t sure how to fix the heavy, angled staircase covered in tired taupe carpet, which made the foyer feel dark and closed off from the rest of the house. A white painted cabinet that doubled as a bar felt out of place in the living room at the bottom of the stairs. How could they create an airy and inviting foyer and update the bar nook while staying true to the home’s contemporary aesthetic?

The team: Peter Jacobson, owner of Lake Country Builders, Excelsior,, and Alethea Sadowski, A. Sadowski Designs, Minnetonka,

Through the looking glass: While Jacobson was working on the home, he realized that the drywalled carpeted staircase was an ideal candidate for an update. “It really jumped out at me,” he said. “I suggested adding glass and wood to make it different and more open.”

Sadowski agreed. “The two-story foyer lacked any personality.” She and Jacobson designed a new staircase combining glass panels, ebony-stained oak handrails and steel vertical posts airbrushed for a pewter finish. The design draws your eye toward the new oak stairs, stained a dark hue, rather than the angled walls.

To keep the cost within the homeowners’ budget, they retained the existing staircase structure, but replaced the walls with glass, which allows light to flow through the main floor. “The foyer feels twice as big without adding any square footage,” Jacobson said.

Entertainment central: As long as they were tearing down the staircase walls, the homeowners decided to build a new bar in the same spot. “They entertain quite a bit, so we wanted to give them a bar that was useful and a conversation piece,” Sadowski said. The new bar, which is built into the living room wall, is equipped with a sink, beverage refrigerator and wine rack. It echoes the glass on the stairs, with floating shelves supported by stainless steel rods, a recycled glass countertop and a reflective glass mosaic backsplash. The flashy color scheme includes metallic silver and bronze. “It’s more visually alluring,” Sadowski said. “And when it’s not in use, it looks like a nice piece of furniture.”

Light switch: In the foyer, Sadowski traded out the outdated crystal and brass chandelier for a sleek Robert Abbey gunmetal orbit fixture. “We wanted to have some fun with it,” she said. “You also can see it through the transom windows from the street.”

In the details: The white painted wood trim on the outside edge of the staircase was designed as a crisp and clean transition between the glass panels and wood steps.

Tie it all together: The two-story foyer soars to the second-floor hallway, which can be viewed from below. “When doing upgrades, you have to look at the space around it,” advised Jacobson. Instead of doing a whole house remodeling, Jacobson and Sadowski made a few less costly changes to blend the old with the new. They added new Shaker-style doors to all the rooms on the second floor and tore out the upstairs hallway carpet and replaced it with a wood floor, which matches the staircase.

The result: The 1980s foyer looks like it belongs in a house built today, said Jacobson. And with the new living room bar, the homeowners are hosting even more family gatherings. “The new staircase really opens it up, and design features connect the living room, foyer and the upstairs hallway,” he said.