When Dan Voytas was house hunting in 2008, he wasn’t a fan of — or even familiar with — the homes designed by architect Ralph Rapson.
“I am now,” said the University of Minnesota professor in genetics and cell biology. After buying and living in one of Rapson’s mod midcentury creations for seven years, Voytas is enamored of the fun lemon and teal colorblock panels on the facade, the stacked brick fireplace and expanses of glass.
“It feels like you are in this little glass treehouse,” he said. “The home’s connection with nature is incredible.”
Voytas’ residence is known as the William Shepherd House, named after the University of Minnesota professor who enlisted Rapson to design it for his family in 1956 in the University Grove neighborhood, an enclave of 103 architect-designed homes on land set aside for U faculty and staff in Falcon Heights. It’s among eight Rapson homes on the “Modern Residential: Rapson Revisited” bus and walking tour on June 4 organized by the Minnesota chapter of Docomomo (the name is shorthand for the group’s mission of documentation and conservation of architecture from the modern movement) during its National Symposium, June 4-7.
Tourgoers also will be able to go inside the well-preserved midcentury modern Cashman house.
“University Grove is a special place,” said Jane King Hession, who is leading the Rapson home tour and co-authored “Ralph Rapson: Sixty Years of Modern Design. “It shows a range of great design over several decades in a small area.” The neighborhood’s oak-lined streets feature the work of many noted architects, including Elizabeth and Winston Close and Edwin Lundie.
Hession applauded Voytas’ respectful refurbishing and updating of the Shepherd House, which retains the original spirit, yet will last for many more decades.
“These homes are not museum pieces, but are being enjoyed by a new generation of homeowner,” she said.
Modernist architecture is experiencing a revival and being rediscovered because of the way it approaches space, she added. “Easy-to-live-in open spaces, lots of light, expanse of windows and flexibility is the way a lot of people like to live.”
That’s precisely why Voytas invested money and time in fixing up and improving his cube-shaped, glass-walled dwelling, which had water damage and floors made of rotten plywood when he bought it. With the help of plans by local architect Christian Dean, Voytas took down a wall between the kitchen and dining room, put in heated floors and added mod colored glass panels to the original floating wall.
He completely remodeled the 1950s kitchen — replacing turquoise laminate countertops with fresh white quartz and adding state-of-the-art appliances, which he uses for entertaining large groups as part of his job. But Voytas also made a point of giving the kitchen a taste of Rapson by using gray stacked brick in the center island that matches the home’s original fireplace surround.
“I like the historical connection and the Rapson aesthetic,” he said. “This house is like living in a piece of art.”