As a young teen, Chip Pearson had a favorite house in his St. Paul neighborhood.
It was a large turn-of-the-century Tudor Revival with the classic half-timber exterior of that style.
“I had a friend who lived next door to it,” Pearson recalled. He has a vivid memory of the day he was skateboarding in the friend’s backyard when he first admired the handsome house.
“I like Tudors, and I thought, ‘Someday, I’d like to have a house like that,’ ” he said. “It’s distinctive.”
Years later, Pearson, his wife, Amy, and their young son were living in another house in his old neighborhood, Lexington-Hamline. Their house was on the small side, they’d improved it as much as they could, and they were yearning for more space and a bigger yard.
Moving away from Lex-Ham was out of the question. “Being in this neighborhood was our No. 1 thing,” said Amy. They looked at the few houses that became available, but without finding the right one for them.
Then Chip’s father, a real estate agent, discovered a 1907-built Tudor house just a couple of blocks away. When the Pearsons went to take a look, Chip realized it was his dream home.
He hadn’t seen the interior before, but when he did, he wasn’t disappointed. The living room, in particular, still had its original charm, including a half-moon fireplace and beamed ceiling. Its features reminded him of the house they were living in, only this house was almost twice its size.
“It’s like our other house’s big sister,” Chip said.
The house also had an architectural pedigree. It was designed by Franklin Ellerbe, who worked for the city of St. Paul before founding his own firm, which grew into the large firm of Ellerbe Becket.
“He designed a lot of houses in this part of town,” said Amy. “We snapped it up.”
Although the Pearsons loved their house, they didn’t love everything about it. The galley kitchen was long and narrow and hadn’t been updated since the early 1980s. And a series of earlier additions to the home had left it a “mishmash” of styles, said Amy. “It was not cohesive.”
The family lived in the home for several years before tackling a big improvement project. Their top priorities were creating a bigger, more functional kitchen and adding a first-floor powder room.
They also wanted to make the home feel more cohesive, while respecting its original character and staying in scale with the houses around it. “We wanted to fit into the neighborhood,” said Amy.
They turned to David Heide Design Studio for help. Chip was familiar with the Minneapolis firm and its reputation. But when he happened to run into Heide on an airplane, they chatted about the house and the Pearsons’ plans to update it.
“They knew they wanted to do something with the house, and were figuring out what to do,” Heide recalled. “They wanted to do right by the house and by the neighborhood.”
That dovetailed with Heide’s own philosophy about historic-home restoration, he said. “We like to leave our projects looking as though we hadn’t been there.”
The Pearsons’ house was well built and “beautifully designed” by Ellerbe, Heide said, with tight, efficient use of space. “Good houses are hard to change.”
In the end, the front of the house stayed the same, except for new landscaping and a curved front walkway. In back, a four-story addition created space for a large kitchen, an adjacent breakfast room, a powder room, a second-floor owners’ suite, and a third-floor workout room, family room and office. Even the basement got an update, with big window wells to bring in more light.
“The project grew,” said Amy. “David and Chris [project manager Chris Christofferson] had such great ideas, things to make it into something we could live in forever.”
The addition was carefully designed to look as though it could have been part of the original house. “That was the most challenging — we had a lot of conversations about it,” said Christofferson. “We didn’t want to make it look like a trailer on the back of a beautiful Tudor house.”
By filling in space between walls that formerly jutted out, they were able to increase the home’s square footage without bringing it closer to the lot line.
The breakfast room was designed to look as though it might have been an original porch that had later been enclosed, with big windows and a beadboard ceiling.
Many of the home’s original interior details had been lost in earlier remodeling projects. But the team was able to re-create them, using Ellerbe’s original drawings and blueprints for reference.
Existing brackets and a cutout design on the staircase were repeated elsewhere in the house, to create the cohesive look the Pearsons were seeking. “They were taken from the original Ellerbe design,” said Chip. “It feels like they were all done at the same time.”
Even wallpaper was inspired by Ellerbe’s original vision for the home. “The drawings said burlap. We used grasscloth,” said Christofferson.
In the kitchen, the Pearsons bucked the modern trend of creating an open floor plan. “I wanted to keep that front-of-the-house, back-of-the-house feeling,” said Amy, with a formal dining room separated from the kitchen by a swinging door. The new kitchen includes a peninsula with room for seating on one side, and a small round island.
“It’s meant to look like a piece of furniture,” said Christofferson.
Round islands can be an effective solution in older homes where space is at a premium, Heide said. “A lot of people who want an island don’t have space for an island. A round one is easier to walk around, and still provides a work table, storage and a lot of character.”
With its red birch cabinets and period lighting, the Pearsons’ new kitchen looks completely at home in their old house. So much so that its design recently took first place in the “traditional” category in a global kitchen contest sponsored by appliance maker Sub-Zero/Wolf.
More important, their old, improved home enhances daily life for the Pearson family. “We have room to gather in the kitchen now,” said Amy. “It has really good flow.” She loves their new owners’ suite and bath. “It’s glamorous in a low-key way.”
And the third floor, originally a rarely used maid’s quarters at the top of a narrow staircase, is now inviting, usable space, where family members exercise and watch TV or movies (there are no TVs on the main floor, which adds to the Old World vibe).
“One of my favorite things was opening up the third-floor stairway,” said Amy. “Before, you felt like you were going up to an attic. Now it feels like the third floor of a home.”
Chip is pleased they were able to restore the character of the house that made such a strong impression on him so many years ago. “We’re really happy with all the things that were done,” he said.
“It’s going to last another 100 years,” said Amy.