Photos by Spacecrafting
When buying a house, you’ll often hear the phrase, “Location, location, location!” Because while you can change almost everything else about your new home, the one thing you won’t be able to tweak to your liking is the address.
That’s exactly what interior designer Leigh Hull, of Leigh Hull Designs, and her husband thought when they drove by this 1910 home for sale in a charming Minneapolis neighborhood. The couple were living in Manhattan at the time, but had both grown up in Minneapolis’ western suburbs and were back visiting for a friend’s wedding.
“We were ready to make the move back home to settle down and start a family, but we weren’t quite ready to give up our city lifestyle and take that leap into full-on suburban life,” says Hull, laughing. “The house was exactly where we wanted to be, so when we flew back to New York, we just couldn’t get it out of our minds.”
After taking a look at some photos online—and sending parents over to scope it out for them in person—the two ended up purchasing it as their starter home, rescuing it from the potential of being torn down by developers interested in building a larger house on the property. Although the house hadn’t been updated in decades, its 1,400 square feet and three bedrooms made it seem like a mansion compared to the 350-square-foot apartment to which they had grown accustomed. Plus, to Hull, the great-great-granddaughter of renowned Minnesotan architect Clarence Johnston, the idea of breathing new life into the old home and tailoring it to her family’s needs was an added bonus.
“Living in our tiny apartment in New York taught us the importance of taking advantage of every single square inch, and that stuck with us as we started the renovations,” says Hull. “We wanted to make the space as functional as possible without compromising on design.”
Almost everything was gutted down to the studs. The couple partnered with Mike North of Mike North Construction, reworking the kitchen (which was outdated and closed off from the rest of the house) and bathroom, replacing the main level’s tile drop ceilings with new drywall, pulling up carpet and refinishing original hardwood floors, and painting doors, trim, walls, and ceilings. The entire home was also completely rewired.
“We added central air and did a lot in terms of lighting since there were very few overhead light fixtures,” Hull says. “We found old gas lines as we tackled all the rewiring and plumbing, and it was so cool to be able to see the history behind the walls.”
A monochromatic color scheme, enhanced by clean lines, creates an easy flow throughout the open floor plan. A dark finish was chosen for the floors to contrast with the bright white interiors, and a mix of modern and vintage pieces adds interest throughout. As the home was designed for a growing family, materials were also chosen for durability and family-friendly qualities.
“We wanted something that felt comfortable, not super formal, that could hold up to kids and dogs,” says Hull, who opted for sturdy quartz countertops and performance fabrics for furniture.
Although there was plenty that needed to be changed, preserving the integrity of the original home was another goal of the remodel. The couple kept the original built-in china cabinet in the dining room—sprucing it up with a fresh coat of paint and filling it with their wedding china and glassware—and used it as a model when designing their kitchen cabinetry and other built-ins.
“There was originally only one bathroom upstairs, and when we started demoing it, we found the original tile flooring that had been covered during a previous remodel,” Hull adds. “We loved the idea of keeping the original floors, but it had pretty significant cracks. We ended up replacing it, but we kept that 1-inch white hex design as a nod to the original.”
Over the next several years, the house evolved alongside the budding family. When the couple found out they were having a son, a guest room became a nursery. They also decided to finish the lower level and transform it into a cozy family room.
“We had to keep spaces flexible as our lives changed,” explains Hull. After the arrival of their daughter, an office space was then converted into a bedroom for their son, and plans for a powder room began to finally take shape. “We realized we really needed a main-floor bathroom since our son had started potty-training,” she continues. “The trek from the basement to the second floor was beginning to have its challenges.”
After five years of hard work—and updating every last inch of the home—Hull and her growing family were ready for more space. The designer recently moved into a larger house after selling her thoughtfully updated first family home to a neighbor, and is ready to bring her personal experience to both new clients and her new home.
“I’m my own worst client, so it was a fun challenge and gave me the opportunity to delve deeper into aspects of interior design I hadn’t had the chance to explore before,” says Hull. “And now, I have a new project to work on: Dream Home, Round 2!”