As a student at Macalester College, Tom Baxter often walked around the Mac-Groveland neighborhood admiring the early 1900s Tudors, Colonials, Craftsmans and foursquares.
“I thought, ‘If I end up in this neighborhood, I would have done all right,’ ” he recalled.
Years later in 1997, it was his fiancée, Aimee Baxter, who would buy a 1925 foursquare with Prairie-style features, while Tom was out of town on business.
The stucco residence is in Macalester Park, a part of Mac-Groveland with curvy roads and deep adjoining backyards that create a common area. When she stepped inside the house, Aimee was entranced by its Arts & Crafts-style oak archways, a wall-length brick fireplace flanked by beautiful built-ins and best of all — a light-filled sunroom in the front.
“It felt homey,” she recalled. “I knew it was a house we could stay in for a long time.” But the market was so hot that she was forced to make an offer that day.
Tom was thrilled with their new purchase, which was structurally in good condition. But the couple agreed it really needed a cosmetic face-lift.
Over the first year, they tore out the tan shag carpet, refinished hardwood floors and scraped off the popcorn ceilings that covered the original plaster.
In the foyer, “someone had installed a plywood unit to show off their album collection,” said Tom. They replaced it with a new red oak built-in unit that fit the home’s period character.
The original chunky millwork luckily had never been painted, but was covered in polyurethane, dulled over time. The couple enlisted Dave Gunderson of Fresh Air Finishers to brighten up the dark wood with a high-sheen gloss.
“We first wanted to bring the formal spaces up to the standards of the original house,” said Tom. “So then it set an example of what we wanted for the home enhancements.”
Those enhancements would include revamping the cramped, dysfunctional kitchen, which had been updated back in the 1970s. Plus the home’s one bathroom probably wouldn’t be cool by the time their two daughters, Helen and Maggie Baxter, became teenagers.
The Baxters took their time and lived in the house for 15 years to figure out what improvements would work best for their family. The couple even built a basic wood deck off the back of the home “so we could imagine the size and feel of an addition and how much yard space it would take,” said Tom.
By 2012, the Baxters were ready to tackle an expansive renovation project. “But we didn’t want to put a big modern box on the back that didn’t fit the scale and character of the house,” said Tom, “and then abandon and never use the rooms in the front.”
The Baxters decided that Dan Nepp and Janet Lederle of TEA2 Architects in Minneapolis were the right fit because “their firm knows the nuances of fine craftsmanship,” said Tom. “And Dan showed us how we could solve our problems.”
That rear wood deck foreshadowed a TEA2-calibrated design plan that included remodeling several areas as well as a two-story addition.
The main-floor addition holds a light-filled sitting room, which flows into a new kitchen.
Upstairs, the addition provided space for the girls’ new shared bedroom and a flex library/guest room with bookshelves, as well as a Murphy bed. French doors open onto a backyard-facing balcony surrounded by a wrought-iron railing.
For Tom and Aimee, the other bedrooms were converted into an expanded master suite, complete with a spa-style bathroom and walk-in closet.
The original house lacked a strong connection to the outdoors. Thanks to a new rear doorway and landscaping, the Baxters now step out to a two-tiered bluestone terrace creating an English-style courtyard in the backyard. When they entertain, guests can spill out to the outdoor spaces.
“The character, flow and light transform an older house into modern living without feeling like a boxy addition on the back,” said Lederle.
Another benefit of TEA2’s floor plan is that it doesn’t isolate the addition from the older parts of the house. A transitional sitting room connects the old formal dining room to the new gourmet kitchen.
“It’s a wonderful sequence of formal and family spaces,” said Nepp. “Layering them creates vistas and depth. A big open box is deadly — there’s no mystery.”
TEA2 also devised a smart use for the old kitchen space. First, they created a new sheltered side entry so the Baxters’ muddy dog can run straight down to the basement. The entry opens to a tiled mudroom with a bench and coat closet. Next to that is a new powder room, a valued feature seldom found in old houses. For added authenticity, Aimee bought salvaged oak wainscot at Architectural Antiques and had it stained to match the rest of the woodwork.
By taking cues from the Arts & Crafts details of the 1920s house, Nepp and Lederle created period character in all the new spaces. “The transition from the old to the new is seamless and is equal in spatial comfort and flow,” said Nepp.
The contractor, Dale Berns of Metro Homes, meticulously replicated the red oak woodwork, including the Gothic-look arched opening between the old dining room and new sitting room. New energy-efficient windows match the divided windows in the front sunroom. The new corner bar’s style echoes the vintage dining-room buffet. And it’s easy to imagine the Baxter girls reading on the old-fashioned window seat under a coffered ceiling — a scene that would be at home 90 years ago.
But for the Baxters, who are avid cooks, the kitchen — where vintage charm meets modern amenities — was the best investment. The new kitchen is triple the size of the old one, with designated workstations and easy pullout drawers storing everything from spices to pots and pans. The island is topped with a massive slab of granite, sans a sink or cooktop, to serve as a handy kitchen work table.
Aimee feels a tinge of nostalgia when she’s rolling out pie crust at the marble-topped baking station. “Some of our friends think it was all part of the original house,” said Tom. “That shows success.”
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
What: A 1925 Prairie-style foursquare’s addition and renovation deliver modern functionality while enhancing the original character.
Size: Two-story addition is 450 square feet on the main floor, including a new sitting room and gourmet kitchen. The 500 square feet on the second floor include two new bedrooms, with one used as a library/flex space. Existing bedrooms were remodeled to create a master suite with a bath and walk-in closet. Outside, a terrace doubles as an outdoor room.
Design team: Architect Dan Nepp and project manager Janet Lederle, TEA2 Architects, Minneapolis, 612-929-2800, tea2architects.com.
Contractor: Dale Berns, Metro Homes, Golden Valley.