When Jayme and Phil Hanson bought their St. Paul home, its location — close to the Mississippi River — was a big attraction.
Phil had grown up near the Mississippi in Red Wing, and both were drawn to "the romanticism of the river and the lifestyle," said Jayme. "The neighborhood has this wonderful feel — very family-oriented."
The 1950 rambler, which been in the same family for decades, was solidly built and had an addition — a large, sun-filled family room with a vaulted ceiling and big windows that overlooked the backyard. "That room sold the house," said Phil.
Just two years after buying the rambler, the Hansons got the opportunity to move to Denmark for Jayme's job. They wanted to return eventually to their rambler near the river, so they rented it to a family whom they trusted to take good care of it.
The Hansons' time in Denmark was revelatory.
"We fell in love with Danish architecture," said Jayme.
They also came to appreciate Scandinavian minimalism as a way of life.
"We went from having all types of clothes to a capsule wardrobe in a small Ikea closet," said Jayme. "It decomplicated our life, and felt cathartic and relaxing."
When they returned to the U.S. in 2018, they wanted to re-create that aesthetic in their St. Paul home.
"Some think minimalism feels empty," said Jayme. "To us it feels clean and free and unburdened."
And now with two young children, the family needed more space than their rambler could provide. There were only two bedrooms on the main level, with another in the basement, and just one bathroom.
To help them transform their house, the Hansons hired architect Kari Nelson, K | Nelson Architects.
The rambler had "good bones," said Nelson. The structure was in sound condition, and "the flow of the main level worked for a family."
The most practical way to get what the Hansons needed — three bedrooms on one level — was to go up and put a second story on the house. That added about 1,100 square feet of living space without changing the structural footprint of the house.
"The only change was a bumpout at the front elevation," said Nelson, which added extra space for seating in the living room and room for a window seat with storage drawers in the bedroom of the owners' suite.
The exterior was updated with fiber-cement siding and panels. Accents of clear cedar add warmth and definition, while a band of dark-stained cedar is cantilevered above the front door. "It adds depth, but not structural costs," said Nelson.
The house was capped with a simple gable. "We didn't complicate the roof," said Nelson.
The Hansons also decided to make some adjustments to the main level to give it a more Danish modern feel, including a kitchen makeover and converting the two original main-floor bedrooms into an office and a mudroom.
The Hansons looked to Nelson for guidance on "where to put our architectural energy," said Jayme.
"One of the key challenges was to do a high design aesthetic on a really reasonable budget," said Nelson, who helped them "find the balance between definite needs versus the wish list."
On the main floor, the kitchen, doors and windows all remained in the same place, but new windows with high-contrast black frames gave the rambler a fresh, modern look.
"A lot of our budget went into windows," said Jayme.
Danish modern design is characterized by monochromatic color palettes and repeated materials, said Nelson, who learned from her clients during the project. "The reduction of materials and color palette pulls texture to the forefront. There are a lot of subtleties in texture, play of light and a lot of different whites."
But white-on-white rooms can feel cold when not balanced with other elements. "There has to be warmth, too," said Phil.
That's why they used light-toned wood to add warmth and definition to spaces.
In the original house, the front door opened directly into the kitchen. "The front entry was not clearly defined," said Nelson, who added oak paneling on the ceiling to delineate the spaces. Rows of wood slats add definition between the kitchen and the stairs to the basement.
A light Nordic-inspired wash refreshed the home's original red oak flooring.
The new kitchen combines white enameled cabinets, quartz composite countertops and a center island topped with a slab of oak. Black pendant lights with a textured matte finish echo the black-framed windows.
Also adding texture are the backsplash and hood, which are finished with tadelakt, a centuries-old plaster technique used in Moroccan architecture.
"It's waterproof. You can spill and splash. And there aren't any grout joints," said Nelson.
Carefully designed storage helps maintain the kitchen's clean, uncluttered vibe.
"Now everything has a home, a place, which adds a huge sense of calm for me," said Jayme.
Once the pandemic is over, the Hansons are looking forward to enjoying their home with others.
"We were lucky to celebrate Jayme's dad's birthday the week before" everything shut down, said Phil. "The only thing we wish we could do is have more friends and family over. We want to share."
But now, when Phil and Jayme are working from home, they appreciate their remodeled home all the more.
"It just flows," said Jayme, who recommends home renovation to others. "Consider the opportunity when you're deciding whether to move or improve. You build a lot of love into your home."
About this project
What: Danish modern-inspired second-story addition and first-level remodel of a 1950 rambler in St. Paul.
Size: About 3,500 square feet.
Design: Architect Kari Nelson, left, K|Nelson Architects.
Builder: EK Johnson Construction.