The kitchen’s makeover included new appliances, cabinetry with a high-gloss Italian finish, Caesarstone countertops, and Heath Tile backsplash.
The house was compact—just 2,300 square feet. The bedrooms were practically dollhouse-scaled; the bathroom sinks almost as small as those found in airplane lavatories. But the home also had charms: It occupied a half-acre lot in a wooded subdivision of Golden Valley and overlooked a small park.
What’s more, the house, designed by Minneapolis architect Richard Babcock in 1961, was a model of midcentury modernist construction—split-level, flat-roofed, with a wide-open floor plan, and several floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Less than 24 hours after they first toured it, Brian Duis and Todd Miller, returning to Minnesota after several years in New York and Colorado, sealed the deal and bought the property. “It was unlike anything else we looked at,” Duis says.
Babcock and his wife, Dorothy, had lived in the house for decades, eventually passing the property on to their daughter. She and her husband, architect Jeffrey Scherer, a founder of the Minneapolis firm MSR, sold the property to another couple—but allegedly only after the couple wrote an essay promising that they would treat her father’s house with honor and respect. Duis and Miller weren’t required to put their commitment in writing when they got the deed in 2015, but it was clear that they had been entrusted with a beloved legacy.
Respecting design rules
Nearly 60 years old, the house was nonetheless structurally solid: no cracks in the terrazzo floors, no sags in the post-and-beam construction, and no problems with the bleached-redwood siding on the exterior. The kitchen appliances and interior finishes were in need of updating, however, and Miller and Duis knew they’d have to initiate a handful of changes to make the place more hospitable to modern living. The couple hired Peterssen/Keller Architecture and Marsden Building and Remodeling to oversee the modifications.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more thoughtfully laid-out home,” says Brent Nelson, the architect who managed the project for Peterssen/Keller. “There were rules everywhere, and the designer kept to them.”
The updated family room.
The architect and clients likewise sought to respect those rules while remodeling. Structural elements were painted charcoal, while nonstructural trim was upgraded from oak to walnut and stained gunmetal gray in keeping with the original design. The new kitchen was designed to incorporate the adjoining sewing/laundry room with the same cabinetry surrounding the refrigerator, washer, and dryer. This way, the dark crown molding that runs throughout the house remained unbroken. The lighting over the dining table was recessed and enhanced with a chandelier, and a range hood over the stovetop was tucked into the ceiling, making the clean uncluttered lines of the design even more apparent.
New house, new habits
Miller and Duis made a few changes in the layout: A solid-core door and frosted glass panel at the entry were replaced with glass, adding light to the front hallway. A wall of cabinets dividing the kitchen and the living/dining area was removed, resulting in a large space that accommodates entertaining and facilitates conversation at the end of a long day. A small storage room was converted into a compact but beautifully appointed bathroom with Hans Grohe and Duravit fixtures, Mir Ceramic tile, and a small sauna trimmed in Canadian hemlock. But otherwise little was altered in the floor plan. The basement was reconfigured to allow for an office that blended with the family room through a wall-cabinetry system designed by the architect.
A small storage room was transformed into a bathroom complete with sauna.
No square footage was added, but the house certainly became more livable—in large part because the clients chose to make sacrifices. “I can’t imagine many other clients who would be willing to live with just 8 feet of hanging space in the closet in the master bedroom,” Nelson says. “What made the project work was the client’s level of compromise, their willingness to accommodate the midcentury design with their minimal lifestyle.”
A wall cabinet separates the office and family room.
Babcock’s careful design ensured that the house would survive in the 21st century, but the recent renovations ensure that it will perhaps be usable for another 50 years. “The house was so unique,” Miller says. “We just wanted to bring it more into how people live now.”
Architect: Peterssen/Keller Architecture
Builder: Marsden Building and Remodeling
Interior Designer: Amy E. Haglin Interior Design
By Joel Hoekstra. Photos by Karen Melvin