When Andrew Khosravi and his longtime friend bought their house, it was ripe for a makeover.
The century-old foursquare had a great location, in Minneapolis’ Lowry Hill neighborhood. But the house itself had lost whatever original charm it once had, thanks to a series of previous makeovers.
Still, the friends thought it had potential to be a great investment. “We planned to live in it a number of years, then sell it,” Khosravi said. “We bought it to fix it up.” But not right away.
At the time, the two men were in their 20s. “We wanted to live near the lakes and the great Uptown social scene,” Khosravi said. So they moved into the five-bedroom house in 2008 and brought in roommates to help cover expenses.
Then the real estate market collapsed, and the friends were faced with a decision: Should they try to sell the house as is, or improve it? And how much more money should they invest, given the state of the market? One real estate agent advised them to make a few quick cosmetic enhancements and then “dump” the house, Khosravi recalled. But instead, he and his friend opted to make more substantive improvements.
“We decided to do the whole thing and hang onto it,” Khosravi said. “We wanted to put the character back.”
They looked for a collaborator who could help them bring the house into the 21st century, while paying respect to its original era.
“When picking a designer, we were looking for that in their portfolio — experience with older homes and bringing them back to that authentic look,” Khosravi said.
Their search led them to architect Eric J. Hansen (www.ejhansen.com), who has updated many older homes in the urban core.
“It had been badly remodeled over the years,” Hansen said of the house, to the point that it resembled a “tired boardinghouse” rather than a gracious home. Many of the “improvements” clashed with its original style and era. In the dining room, for example, the original built-in buffet had been moved into another room — and replaced with an enormous picture window facing the garage. “That, in particular, felt weird,” Hansen said. Being in the room “was like being in a diorama.”
As with many older houses, the kitchen was small and inefficient by modern standards. But instead of designing an addition, Hansen and his assistant Jim Kuipers chose to work within the home’s original footprint.
“I was skeptical — I thought we’d have to push it out,” Khosvari said. But the architects came up with a plan that added functionality without adding square footage.
The redesigned kitchen feels much more spacious, thanks to a new cased opening into the dining room, which integrates the two spaces.
“One of the design challenges was to have an open concept without it feeling contemporary,” Khosravi said. Hansen “found a happy medium.”
Keeping the kitchen compact also allowed the architects to add a modest mudroom — with hooks for coats and hats, and a bench for removing boots — in place of the existing cramped back hallway.
The kitchen finishes continue the traditional look. They include dark-stained cabinets of quartersawn oak, a granite-topped island that looks like dark-veined marble and a marble tile backsplash in a Roman brick pattern. “It’s very linear, and looks like something you’d see in an older home,” Hansen said.
New ceiling beams in the kitchen match those in the dining room. The original wood flooring was sanded and re-stained to mesh seamlessly with new birch flooring. The existing millwork was preserved and refinished whenever possible, and new trim was carefully reproduced in the original wood.
The architects also designed custom leaded-glass panels for the cabinets in the kitchen and dining room that were based on historical patterns, and reproduced an art-glass motif in the existing bay window. They also incorporated that motif on the new front door.
In the living room, the fireplace had been remodeled with paneling that didn’t match the rest of the home’s woodwork. “We took the skin off and designed a new mantel,” Hansen said.
Upstairs, previous owners had converted a sleeping porch into a bedroom. That space, along with an outdated bathroom, was transformed into a master bath and walk-in closet, along with an additional bath to serve the other upper-level bedrooms. A half-bath squeezed into a storage closet in one of the bedrooms was turned back into a closet, restoring much needed storage space.
The lower level was little more than a cellar, with exposed foundation walls and a tangle of pipes and wires, Hansen said. By lowering the floor to increase ceiling height, reconfiguring the pipes and wires to run above the ceiling and relocating all the mechanical equipment into one room in the corner, the space is now fully finished into an apartment with a separate entrance, so it can serve as a suite for guests, a returning college student, a nanny or a renter.
Hansen assembled a team of craftspeople who could reproduce period-appropriate features. “Period details help a newly remodeled house feel old,” he said. “It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. There are small shops that do it.”
Turning Point Woodworks installed custom double-hung windows, complete with weights and pulleys, in the dining room to match existing windows. Countryside Wood Products crafted the cabinets, millwork and doors, while Jeremiah Kunde did the finish carpentry.
Glass Art Inc. created the custom leaded-glass panels for the doors, and new handblown glass shades, using a process that “pops and puckers so it looks like old glass,” Hansen said.
Several original light fixtures were refurbished and reinstalled, with assistance from Lightworks, Hansen said. “They helped us rebuild old broken fixtures that were lying in the basement and garage,” and also supplied additional fixtures consistent with the style of the early 1900s.
The attention to detail paid off. The remodeling won the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Award for single-family residential projects last year.
By then, Khosravi, who had been personally invested in every detail of the project, had moved out, to a house in Minnetonka. He’d gotten married, and he and his wife were expecting their first child.
“Life happens. Things change,” he said. “By the time we finished the project, we wanted our own place. It was hard to turn it over to somebody else.” (His friend still lives in the house, now in the apartment on the lower level, and they rent out the upstairs.)
To Hansen, the house makes the case for a sensitive update, rather than a teardown, when dealing with a historic home that needs some TLC.
“You can fix up these old houses,” he said. “You don’t need to be knocking them down. This will be good for another 100 years.”