As a child, Don Gruber knew his St. Paul house was special. Although built in the 1930s, the high-style architectural design boasted inventive use of materials and new technology.

The all-steel structure was clad in metal panels, and a gold-leaf finish covered the foyer hallway. “People always wanted to touch the walls,” recalled Gruber.

The home’s first owner, Emmett Butler, was an iron ore businessman. He hired the Steel Projects Construction Co. to build the unique two-story residence in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood.

It was a model for the “Home of Tomorrow,” designed to showcase the latest in windows, kitchen and bathroom design. In 1946, Don’s father, Francis Gruber, bought the home where Don and his sister grew up. A year after Francis died in 1985, Don and his wife, Rosemary, moved in and raised their two daughters inside the four-bedroom residence, which sits on a third of an acre.

“After the closing, my mother handed me the keys,” said Don. “She said ‘Now redecorate the place.’ ”

Over the past 30 years, Don and Rosemary have made the home their own, with cosmetic updates including fresh paint and wallpaper, and adding a gas fireplace to the living room.

Unlike wood-framed homes, the steel walls are as square as the day the home was built, said Don.

“Our wallpaper guy is the happiest man in the world,” added Rosemary.

The Grubers preserved the 1930s mix of chrome, porcelain and Vitrolite colored glass tile in three of the original bathrooms. The compact “Pullman-style” bathroom on the first floor is clad in brilliant royal blue Vitrolite.

The Grubers’ only major modification to the home was a remodeled kitchen by Belle Design+Build in 2008, which left the original footprint intact.

The existing “service” kitchen felt like a White Castle restaurant with its stainless-steel cabinets and countertops, said Don.

“It was cramped, with no counter space or a place for the microwave,” added Rosemary.

The sleek remodeled space is outfitted with modern German Leicht cabinets, Silestone countertops, stainless-steel Miele appliances, and warmed by a heated wood floor.

With their grown daughters gone, the retired couple have decided to downsize to a smaller house or townhouse in the St. Paul area.

The feature they’ll miss the most is not the innovative steel frame or the unique ornamental portico. It’s the old-fashioned screen porch facing the backyard.

“We eat breakfast, lunch and dinner out there from spring to fall,” said Rosemary.

Tom Edelstein of Coldwell Banker Burnet has the listing, 651-695-4300,


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