Growing up, Ruth Harvey didn't choose Edina. Her parents did. When she grew up, she left suburbia to make her home in the city. But years later, when she and her husband, Barry Murphy, were looking for more room for their growing family, they stumbled across a '50s rambler in the heart of her old hometown.
"I never thought I'd move back to Edina," Harvey recalled. "But when I saw it, I said, 'That's it.' It reminded me of something. It just felt right."
The couple and their two young children moved in without making changes to the house. But after a dozen years, it no longer felt so right. The kids, now teens, didn't have a good spot to hang out with their friends. The home's formal living and dining room were rarely used. And Harvey, who loves to cook, was increasingly dissatisfied with her cramped, dated kitchen.
"It never felt like my kitchen; it felt like the people-before-me's kitchen," she said. "Over time, the things that weren't me really started to irritate me."
Then her old electric stovetop gave out. "I thought, 'If I'm going to get a new stove, I might as well get a new kitchen,'" she said.
So she called designer Cy Winship, whom she had met at a friend's party. "I said, 'Do you remember me?' He said, 'Of course. You have dreadlocks,'" Harvey recalled with a laugh.
Winship started to design a functional new kitchen, with built-in banquette, that reflected the couple's preferred aesthetic: clean-lined and contemporary, with bold, quirky art and accents. "They love modern," Winship said. "The house was so far away from what their actual style was."
But something happened that radically altered the game plan. An architect they consulted suggested they remove the wall dividing the kitchen and the hallway and run an I-beam through the attic to provide support instead.
"That was a magical moment because it changed everything -- the way we could think about the house," Winship said.
Eliminating the wall not only expanded the kitchen, but increased light and flow throughout the first floor. "Before, the living room had one entrance and no connection to the rest of the house."
That was a big reason it was rarely used. And like most rarely used spaces, it didn't look its best.
"When it was all closed off, she [Ruth] could just kind of ignore it," Winship said. "She never went in there. She'd drag her book club down to the basement."
Now the sleek new kitchen had an open sightline through the foyer and into the living room. "After we opened up the kitchen, Ruth said, 'I can't look at that stuff' [in the old living room]," Winship recalled. So the makeover expanded.
The couple were able to make dramatic changes in that room relatively inexpensively, by changing surface details such as wall and floor color and fabrics on their existing furniture. (Winship also does upholstery.)
With more light now filtering into the living room, Winship encouraged the couple to select some dramatic, dark colors. The original wood floors were sanded and stained deep espresso, while the walls were painted charcoal, set off with white trim and white and silver furniture.
White couches might sound impractical for a household with kids and pets, but Winship assured them that the snakeskin-stamped polyester would be family-friendly. "Cy says I can hose it down if I need to," Harvey said.
The formal dining room also got a radical makeover. Because it was rarely used for dining, the family decided to turn it into something more fun and functional -- a hangout spot. "As we did one beautiful thing, she felt other parts of the home deserved it, too," Winship said.
A large sectional became the dominant piece of furniture. They ordered the body from the manufacturer, then began looking at fabrics for the cushions. They gravitated to bold patterns in vivid colors, but with 300 samples to choose from, they were having trouble deciding on just one. Then, while looking at a book with photos of African women in native garb, Harvey had an inspiration. "Everything was different patterns and colors, but so smashing," she said. She decided to have cushions made of several favorites, so they could mix and match them on the sectional.
As the makeover expanded from room to room, even the kids got into the decorating act.
"I picked out what's on this side, the zebra print and purple stuff," said Lulu, 14, pointing at one of the sectional pillows.
"Lulu became Cy's muse," Harvey noted.
Winship incorporated many of Lulu's opinions into the design. "She's young, and with each generation, new aesthetics develop," he said. "Teens look at things differently, wear clothing differently. It keeps it fresh and new to get her input."
Lulu played a big role in fabric selection throughout the house, Winship said. "The yellow couch downstairs -- she picked that. We were looking at orange. And when she said, 'Ooohh!' when looking at the silver metallic fabric that we ended up putting on a chair, I knew it was good glam."
Murphy, on the other hand, ceded most of the design details to his wife. "I didn't make a single decision," he said. "Really, what I wanted was for Ruth to have her kitchen. Then this [the rest of the project] happened. But I'm happy it happened."
Revamping their home has changed the way the family lives.
"I have friends over more often," Lulu said. "We have more fun because there's more places to go and more cool stuff to show them."
And Harvey finally has a kitchen she loves. "I have a gas stove; I can actually cook well. When I'm cooking, Barry can be in here on his laptop or watching TV. When book club comes over, they're all in the kitchen, hanging out. It's just a whole different vibe."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784