Grief can be a powerful catalyst.
It ultimately inspired one couple to completely transform their longtime home.
After Glenn and Cheryl Seefeldt lost the elder of their two daughters, they were devastated.
“There was incredible pain and loss,” said Glenn, a Lutheran pastor. “We wanted to honor our grief of our daughter — and bring tranquillity to our life.”
They chose to create a memory garden at their home in St. Anthony, with soothing water features. “We don’t have a lake home,” said Glenn. “Our deck and pond is our lake home — a place of respite and nurture.”
The problem was they couldn’t enjoy their backyard from inside their home.
“I couldn’t even see the pond; I was too short,” said Cheryl, who stands a petite 4 feet 10½ inches.
“We wanted the outside in. It’s therapeutic,” said Glenn.
The couple’s two-story home was built in 1961, and the kitchen, the room that faced the garden, was part of a 1980s addition at the rear of the house. The kitchen was large, a plus for Cheryl, a nurse who loves to cook and also tests recipes for magazines. But the room lacked a connection to the backyard, and wasn’t well integrated with the rest of the house.
“The flow was a little odd,” said Glenn. “We love bright, open, airy spaces. We wanted lots of windows for winter sunshine and to see the sun and garden views.”
To improve the flow and bring the outdoors in, the couple began saving with an eye to remodeling the home they’d owned since 1993.
Since they planned to stay in the house, they also wanted to lay a foundation for aging in place.
And they wanted to do it sooner rather than later.
“If we’re going to do it, we want to enjoy it,” said Cheryl.
Glenn knew he wanted to work with an architect to help “bring detail into focus.”
After interviewing four architects, the Seefeldts chose to work with Christine Albertsson, principal of Albertsson Hansen Architecture, who shared the couple’s less-is-more, Scandinavian-influenced design aesthetic.
Cheryl was ready to hand the project to a pro.
“I kept thinking I needed to find solutions,” she recalled. “Glenn said, ‘That’s why we hire an architect.’ Christine listened between the lines.”
Albertsson was touched by their story and their desire to highlight the garden that honors their daughter’s memory.
She saw potential for dramatically transforming the main floor.
“A house like this is easy to rewrite, to tell its story a different way,” she said. “It had good bones. It lent itself to reinterpretation.”
There also was plenty of space, even though it wasn’t being utilized well.
“The challenge was to reknit the flow,” Albertsson said. “The kitchen was generous but it had no relationship to any other space in the house.”
The solution would involve removing walls, eliminating long hallways and repurposing rooms without adding any square footage.
“We knit together spaces that had been so separated,” Albertsson said.
The couple’s formal dining room was dark and rarely used. Albertsson proposed getting rid of it and taking the space for a new laundry room and mudroom. (Their dining table now anchors one end of their large living room.)
The new laundry room faces the street, an unusual choice, and one that Albertsson called “an experiment.”
“Who puts a laundry room in the front of the house? Why not? It has great light,” she said.
The room has clever pullout cabinet knobs that can be used for hanging shirts and a pullout ironing board.
“It’s so much more useful,” Cheryl said of the space. (The old laundry room became a pantry and walk-in closet.)
Kitchen as sunroom
Albertsson re-envisioned the Seefeldts’ kitchen as a sunroom, with walls of glass overlooking the garden and double French doors leading to the deck. Tucked in one corner is a built-in banquette, upholstered in soft faux leather vinyl for easy cleanup when the couple’s two young granddaughters visit.
“It’s peanut-butter-proof,” said Cheryl.
There’s a built-in buffet, a baking station for Cheryl with a lower counter height to accommodate her stature, and a window, also with a lower sill.
“She can look outside while she’s baking,” said Albertsson.
The large center island includes abundant storage, reducing the need for upper cabinets.
A white-on-white color palette includes Carrara marble countertops, white painted cabinets and white oak flooring. “It’s simple Scandinavian-inspired,” said Albertsson.
And while white kitchens are currently popular, it’s not a trendy kitchen, she added. “It’s a timeless light-filled room that you can fill with colorful objects. It will age well.”
The family room off the kitchen also got a fresh look. The brick fireplace surround was removed and replaced with a modern soapstone hearth and surround. There are also built-in shelves for the grandchildren’s toys.
A powder room on the first floor was designed so that a closet behind it could be incorporated to accommodate a shower, should the couple need one-level living in future.
“The family room could become a first-floor bedroom without a major reworking of the house,” said Albertsson.
The Seefeldts originally intended to remodel their main floor and update two bathrooms, but the project grew to include the entire second floor and the exterior.
“We remodeled the whole house — everything except the basement,” said Glenn.
An upstairs office with dark ’60s paneling is now a light, cheery nursery for the couple’s granddaughters. It’s also the room where Glenn does yoga in the morning.
The couple’s master bathroom was formerly cold and small, with a door that opened awkwardly into the room, obstructing what little space was there.
Cheryl had wondered about a pocket door. Other architects they interviewed told her there wasn’t enough space for one. But Albertsson said, “Sure, we can. We can bump the wall out a couple inches.”
The shower, which had been placed against an outside wall with no insulation, was repositioned, and the bathroom was warmed with insulation and in-floor heat. It’s still small but much more comfortable, Albertsson said.
The exterior of the home also got a dramatic makeover. It had been clad in white aluminum siding — “a big, white two-story, like a big, white elephant,” said Glenn.
Now it sports deep blue fiber-cement siding and a bright citron front door.
Most of the couple’s windows were in decent shape, so they kept them.
“We ordered different snap-in grids to freshen up the look,” Albertsson said. “It’s a simple low-cost thing and it gave the whole house a different look.”
The Seefeldts live differently in their transformed home.
“It’s an example of how radically you can change the floor plan of an existing house,” said Albertsson.
The kitchen isn’t just a place to cook.
“It’s where we live,” said Cheryl.
The cozy banquette with a view of the garden is where they start the day together. “I take quiet time in the morning to talk, read the paper — it nurtures our relationship and sense of life,” said Glenn.
But the kitchen also can handle a crowd and has become the hub for entertaining. “We had 25 people here for a baptism. Everyone was in the kitchen,” said Cheryl.
For Glenn, their home is now a place of solace.
“There’s a sense of gratitude when we are in this space, a peacefulness,” he said. “I’m grateful for simple gifts, for life.”