The city of White Bear Lake recently bought a 50-year-old house that was in foreclosure and sat vacant for a year.

It has battered, faded cabinets in the kitchen and a brown checkerboard floor in the basement. It's a small, boxy and outdated rambler -- the kind of house many young home buyers tend to pass over but is prevalent in older Twin Cities suburbs.

White Bear Lake has more than 3,000 homes like the one the city bought, as well as an aging population. In an effort to show how the homes can be made more enticing to buyers and more comfortable for senior citizens, the city will renovate the house and show off the updates -- and how much they cost -- to the public.

"When we're looking at young couples and young families, the floor plan doesn't meet what their needs are," said Bryan Belisle, a City Council member and chair of the Housing Redevelopment Authority.

The estimated budget of the "Rambler Revolution" project is about $60,000, plus the $117,000 spent to buy the house. The city hopes to recoup the costs by selling the house to a low-income buyer after renovations are complete.

The city is working with Rust Architects of White Bear Lake to put together a new floor plan.

The current layout of the 973-square-foot home (and most ramblers of similar style) is boxlike and compartmentalized, said Samantha Crosby, associate planner for White Bear Lake.

Most of the city's ramblers were built in the 1950s and '60s and marketed as affordable housing to young post-World War II families looking to live in the suburbs. The city-owned rambler was built in 1955.

"Today's families prefer an open floor plan with a great-room feel," she said. "That's what we're going to showcase, how to create that more modern layout."

The updated floor plan calls for knocking out the walls closing in the staircase to the basement, and converting three small bedrooms into two larger ones. It also adds about 150 square feet by expanding the kitchen and dining area.

Project manager Jessica Rust said the final floor plans should be finished soon.

Construction could start in late February, after a contractor is chosen.

Serving as an example

Of course, most residents won't be able to afford a total home renovation.

"We're hoping that residents will be able to do smaller projects within our total makeover," Crosby said.

The open houses will also highlight ways for residents to do the projects on a budget. Each room in the rambler will have pricing details, and some of the building materials will be recycled or purchased from salvage centers.

Crosby said there has been a recent shift away from new building permits for single-family homes, but the city has seen more permit applications for renovations.

"We feel this is what our residents are interested in," she said.

The city also is hoping to create a loan program similar to one that Ramsey County offers to low-income residents to do home improvements.

Belisle said he was inspired by a similar project in Coon Rapids last year and introduced the idea to the community development staff and council.

But his ties to the rambler project are a little more personal: His first home in White Bear Lake 30 years ago was a rambler, which he later renovated with an addition.

"I just think that the timing is right," he said. "Because of the economy and competition in the building trade, I think we're going to be able to accomplish quite a bit within our budget."

Emma L. Carew • 651-735-9749