The challenge: Wendy and Bill Brian had decided to move from Pennsylvania to the Twin Cities to be near family. While looking for their next home, the couple fell in love with a foursquare Craftsman-style house in St. Paul’s Summit Hill neighborhood. “When we first walked in, the house hugged us,” said Wendy. They admired the beautiful woodwork, including an original built-in buffet with a stained-glass window in the dining room. But the kitchen was dark, dated and drafty, and the house lacked a bathroom and laundry room on the first floor. “We wanted to make it so we could stay here as we age,” said Wendy.
The goal: The Brians wanted their new spaces to complement the home’s original 1913 character. The kitchen, last redone in the late 1980s or early 1990s, with granite countertops and cherry cabinets, “didn’t match the style of the rest of the house,” said Wendy. “We wanted to bring it back to where it should be.”
Creating space: The new kitchen was designed within the footprint of the existing kitchen, with the exception of a bump-out bay for the sink. Adding a powder room, mudroom and laundry room, however, would require an addition. Mitlyng’s goal was to keep the addition as small, efficient and affordable as possible, while blending it with the rest of the house, all of which required careful planning. The resulting 136-square-foot addition at the rear of the house also created a better transition from outdoors to indoors. “Before, the door led from the backyard into the kitchen,” said Wendy. “It was leaky and made the whole house cold. It didn’t make sense for a house in Minnesota.”
What they uncovered: One corner of the kitchen had originally been a sleeping porch that was later incorporated into the house. As a result, that corner lacked a foundation and was sitting on bare dirt. “We had to redo the footings,” said Mitlyng. But during the excavation, the crew unearthed a cache of vintage soda bottles from the 1920s and 1930s that are now displayed in glass-front cabinets in the new kitchen.
Focal point: The built-in buffet with the stained-glass window in the dining room was on an exterior wall that needed to become an interior wall as part of the addition. “We didn’t want to blow out a beautiful built-in buffet,” said Mitlyng. Instead, the window was incorporated into the back of a built-in bench in the new mudroom, creating a dramatic focal point. “I love it that we saved that stained-glass window,” said Mitlyng. The mudroom also includes built-in shoe cubbies and a pantry, all stained dark to echo the buffet.
Designed for efficiency: Before the makeover, the U-shaped kitchen had an awkward layout. There was an island with a sink, but both were too small to be useful. Mitlyng moved the sink to the exterior wall, and designed a new island, “bigger and more strategic, with a workable zone. It’s an efficient flow of space.”
Period-appropriate: The kitchen didn’t get a lot of sunlight, so the Brians opted for white cabinets to help lighten and brighten the space. The island is topped with a slab of walnut, stained dark to match the dining-room buffet. The cabinets also borrow details from elsewhere in the house. “We took hints from the buffet in the dining room,” said Mitlyng. “It has unique feet, and we mimicked that in the kitchen.” New corbels, crown molding, dentils and ceiling beams also echo details from the original house. “That’s what they fell in love with,” said Mitlyng. The countertops are granite in a dark charcoal hue and matte finish. “A typical house of the period would have had soapstone,” said Wendy. “We used honed granite to mimic that look.”
Artisan accent: Wendy was smitten with the handmade tile by Motawi Tileworks and wanted to incorporate it into the backsplash. She even visited the factory in Ann Arbor, Mich., to select the colors — blues with orange accents. The Brians’ general contractor and electrician mounted outlet plugs under the cabinetry and on the underside of floating shelves. “That way, none of the tile is interrupted,” said Wendy. “I love the backsplash. We have this beautiful art in our kitchen.”
Other details: New wood flooring, 1½-inch oak boards, ties the kitchen flooring in with the rest of the house. “Before it didn’t match,” said Mitlyng. New windows have the same grid pattern as the existing windows. The new sink overlooks the backyard, and new double doors lead to the deck, creating a connection between indoors and outdoors. “They’re big gardeners,” said Mitlyng. “They wanted a connection to the backyard.” Recessed lighting illuminates the space, but the Brians kept the existing glass pendant lights above their island.
Vintage look: In the powder room, a reclaimed vintage sink was incorporated into a base cabinet, also the dark color of the buffet and island. Hexagon tiles lend a period-appropriate look to the flooring in both the powder room and mudroom, while radiant in-floor heat adds modern comfort. “We step on wonderful, warm tile,” said Wendy.
Memories: Wendy, who lost her mother not long before the project, now displays her recipe box, rolling pin and mixing bowls on open shelving in their new kitchen, which she dubbed “Marjorie’s Kitchen” in her mother’s honor. “She was the ultimate hostess,” said Wendy. “She’s looking out for me.”
The result: The Brians have made a smooth transition to their adopted city and neighborhood. “I love it,” said Wendy. “I love being close to everything, to public transportation and to the airport. There’s not much not to like.” And their new spaces blend seamlessly with their charming old home. “It looks like it belonged here all along,” said Wendy.