Tradition with a twist

The home: 1928 white stucco, Mediterranean-style home in Minneapolis.

The owners: Julie Mulvahill and Peter Yoo.

The design team: Rosemary McMonigal, McMonigal Architects, Minneapolis,, 612-331-1244.

The mission: Mulvahill and Yoo knew their Linden Hills home would need many cosmetic upgrades when they bought it 11 years ago. "We loved the charming windows in the front living room, and it never went through a bad '70s renovation," said Mulvahill. But they did have to pull up cobalt blue and pink shag carpet and refinish the hardwood floors underneath. Then life intervened, and they waited eight years before addressing other more challenging issues, such as the dark narrow kitchen and airplane-size main-floor bathroom. Plus they discovered their home had little insulation and was always cold and drafty.

"The plan was to retain the overall character but significantly improve the energy-efficiency and sustainability while updating it to a modern aesthetic," said McMonigal.

The domino effect: "We decided to do a comprehensive renovation, rather than do it in parts and pieces," said Yoo. "If you wait eight years … may as well go all the way."

Teardown not their style: With a design plan in hand, Yoo and Mulvahill gathered bids from several contractors. Among the improvements required were heating and cooling systems, insulation, lighting. plumbing and electrical. One contractor recommended that it would be more economical — and even offered a discount — to demolish the home and start over.

"We were shocked," said Mulvahill. "It wasn't the right move for us." They loved some parts of the house, and wanted to retain the original architectural flavor where they could. "I travel to Europe and see homes that reflect what was there before," Yoo said. "But there's no shyness about putting in modern elements."

Staying in character: McMonigal matched the original oak floors, mimicked the barrel-vault shape in the dining room, and the new energy-efficient transoms over casements replaced the original arched windows. "It's a modern version of the three-paneled-window look original to the house," said Mulvahill.

So long, sunroom: The couple converted their 160-square-foot sunroom to a year-around space that was used for the new expanded kitchen. The sunroom wasn't a big loss because it leaked and needed repairs. "They would be spending so much time there — and it would get all the sun," said McMonigal.

Color it beautiful: The home's hues are a refreshing palette of energizing lavender, earthy terra cotta, steel gray and red rhubarb. "Color makes it a more exciting space to live in," said Mulvahill. "And it doesn't hurt to have a daughter who says, 'Let's do purple.' "

Fireplace reboot: McMon­igal tore down the massive brick fireplace, gaining more space for the living and dining rooms. She replaced it with a gas unit made of sleek stainless steel filled with Japanese garden-style pebbles instead of faux logs. The see-through glass opens up the views through the home. "With the large square opening, it's homey, like the wood-burning fireplace I grew up with," said Mulvahill.

Master improvement: On the second floor, the couple took space from one of the four bedrooms to create an expansive master suite with a Zen-style bathroom outfitted with heated floors, soaking tub with red-painted surround, and pebble-floored shower. The large, high, Euro-style awning window opens up for breezes but provides privacy.

Modern Mediterranean: On the exterior, Mulvahill and Yoo removed the wrought-iron railings and had the house re-stuccoed, but instead of white, they painted it deep gold with terra cotta accents. They also added a covered porch on the front. "The new lines feel modern, but the color makes me think of the Mediterranean sensibility," said Yoo.

Going green: The home is LEED-silver-certified and is packed with sustainable strategies and eco-friendly features such as recyclable materials, LED lighting, radon-protection system, low-VOC paints, spray-foam insulation and passive solar design. Ten photovoltaic panels cover the south-facing roof to generate electricity. "We wanted to do something beyond saving money on our utility bills," said Yoo. "We have a 13-year-old daughter, and we wanted to teach her about being conscientious about the environment."

The result: The home is an eclectic style blending old and new. "Visually it looks new and modern, but it still feels like we held onto parts of the old house," said Mulvahill.

What people can learn on the tour: "They can see how you can re-energize an older house and make it modern and energy-efficient," said McMonigal.

Masterful minimalism

The home: A 1970s contemporary multi-level in Edina.

The owners: Howard Bolter and Linda Soranno.

The design team: Architect Lars Peterssen and project manager Carl Olson, Peterssen/Keller Architecture, Minneapolis,, 612-353-4920. Interior design by Andrew Flesher, Andrew Flesher Interiors,

The mission: When Soranno and Bolter bought the house in 2004, they hired interior designer Andrew Flesher to style the rooms. He described the '70s contemporary as "the 'Brady Bunch' house," due to its exposed beams in a vaulted ceiling and retro floating staircase. One of the selling points was that it had plenty of space for their two children. But after the kids moved out, the couple planned to dramatically modernize the tired '70s aesthetic while drawing in more natural light — all within the existing shell. "It was a beautiful house, but very dated," said Bolter. "We wanted to open up the main floor and get rid of the stone fireplace." And after living in their home, "It became crystal clear that we were living in the darkest side of the house," added Soranno.

Four rooms equals one: The main-floor renovation of 1,625 square feet involved knocking down the walls between four separate cramped rooms and creating one big informal area defined only by a new center fireplace wall. "We wiped out what we didn't like," said Peterssen. "And all we put back in was a wall of cabinets, the island, the fireplace and built-in buffet."

Wall of glass: In the rear of the home, Peterssen put in a two-story band of metal windows for a stronger visual connection to the back-yard pool, patio and landscaping. Skylights make sure the homeowners rarely have to turn the lights on.

Kitchen as great room: The 21-foot-long honed Calacatta marble-topped island in the super-wide galley kitchen nearly spans the full width of the floor plan and allows room to prep meals, work on a laptop and function as "the kitchen table." "We both love to cook and both have large families — and it works well for entertaining since everyone always ends up in the kitchen," said Soranno. "It was the biggest splurge." The design team did wonder if the supersized island would "look crazy," said Peterssen. "But it's proportional and comfortable for the space."

Pro pizza oven: Soranno's brother John, who founded Punch Pizza, insisted that the couple put in a wood-fired pizza oven, which is built into the kitchen wall. Although they haven't cooked pizza in it yet, "we'll have a pizza party when the kids come home," Soranno said.

Fireplace takes center stage: Soranno called the existing heavy boulder-faced fireplace "the climbing wall because it was so massive and overbearing. It completely sucked the energy out of the house." The couple requested that the new fireplace be as open as possible, so Peterssen designed a cantilevered, three-sided linear-shaped gas fireplace, which appears to float. The hearth is made of gun-blued steel that will gain a patina over time.

Nook with a view: Peterssen converted a bay window into a modern box bay with a window seat facing east for morning light. "Sometimes there's not a better place on the planet," said Soranno, of one of her favorite remodeled spots.

Cozy contemporary: Warm wide-plank, distressed French oak floors contrast with the white high-gloss lacquered cabinets and monochromatic palette. "Even though there's super white walls, it has a sense of warmth and comfort you can attribute to the design," said Soranno.

What you can learn on the tour: "How a 1970s home can be transformed into a seamless minimalist environment — without adding square footage," said Peterssen.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619