Photos by Jessica Stoe
For Laura and Matt Murphy, their house on a leafy street in the East Isles neighborhood of Minneapolis had a lot going for it. It had a big front porch, high ceilings, decorative moldings, hardwood floors, stained glass windows, and an extra nice surprise in the backyard: a clear view of Lake of the Isles. The fact that their four-year-old daughter Merritt’s best friend lived across the street didn’t hurt either. But it also had some not-so-appealing features as well, like a small galley kitchen squeezed into the back of the house, only one bathroom in comparison to five bedrooms, outdated mechanical systems, and a tiny garage. Nevertheless, when the couple took notice of the home’s gorgeous views one day after it went on the market, they pounced.
“We knew we liked the neighborhood because we’d spent time here with Merritt’s friend,” Laura recalls, “but when we saw the lake view, we knew we had to snap it up. Matt can just walk to the lake with his kayak through our neighbor’s backyard.”
The house, built in 1904, was going to need a gut remodel to create the open concept the Murphys wanted, but there was plenty of space, the price was right, and the couple had lots of design ideas they had picked up while traveling. To help their ideas come to life, they turned to designer and architect Betsy Vohs of Studio BV. “Betsy got us, and we really liked the fact that she has degrees in both interior design and architecture,” Laura says.
To move the kitchen from the back of the house to the center, they had to tear down most of the interior walls and install large beams and posts to shore up the structure. Vohs hid them in columns and added a coffered ceiling to complement the original architecture of the home. “We were walking a tightrope between maintaining historical character and creating open space,” she explains. “We wanted the house to be modern in function without erasing the past.”
A wood-burning fireplace was a must-have for the Murphys, and thankfully, the house had one, though it needed to be relocated to make room for the kitchen (it’s now the focal point in the family room). They also added a small bump-out to accommodate a half-bath and mudroom that leads to a new tandem garage.
White paint on walls and trim—something Vohs pushed hard for—unifies the space. “The architecture of this house is doing a lot, so I thought it was important to keep the color scheme simple to keep the eye moving,” she says.
Since the couple loves to entertain, Vohs designed a comfortable guest area with the addition of a hotel-like suite on the lower level complete with its own thermostat, en suite bath, and coffee maker. Entertaining was made easier in the kitchen with an extra-large sink and space for an extra recycling bin. The island has a beverage fridge for easy access and an open cubby on the backside to hide messy kitchenware, as well as a cantilevered counter and low-profile stools that tuck underneath for a clean look.
The prized lake view is enjoyed year round—maximized with a set of windows and sliding doors off the family room that create a 16-foot- wide view of the water. “We’re city people and love being in an urban environment, but to have this beautiful lake view is a dream,” Laura says. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”