Sara Ryan Duffy wanted a home that felt like a luxury hotel. A Minnesota native who grew up in St. Cloud, she had spent much of her adult life traveling the world and working in Los Angeles, where she arranged trips for directors, actors, and others in the film industry. Duffy had lodged and dined at many of the world’s grandest inns and grown accustomed to sumptuous furnishings, chandelier lighting, and high-thread-count sheets.
So when the St. Cloud native moved back to Minnesota in 2014 to be near her mother, she wanted to create a home that would feel as glamorous and swanky as the places she frequented on her travels. After weighing the merits of new vs. old, condo vs. house, she finally settled on a 1903 two-story house in Minneapolis’s Lowry Hill neighborhood in need of updating. She hired Peterssen/Keller Architecture to assist her with the renovations.
The house had several great features, including a unique door and entryway, oak floors and trim, and a fireplace faced in antique green tile. For the most part, the structural bones were intact, but the kitchen was small and the sleeping porch at the rear of the house was beginning to sag. Formerly the owner of more modern dwellings, Duffy saw every crack and warp. “As a perfectionist, living in an old house is a daily challenge,” she sighs.
Above: The antique green tile of the fireplace remained.
Duffy had a clear vision for what she wanted to achieve, says architect Ryan Fish of Peterssen/Keller. But it fell to him to figure out the details—like moving a structural post out of the center of the kitchen, opening the kitchen to the dining room, shoring up a second-story bath that was essentially being supported by its plumbing, and remaking the sleeping porch into an office where Duffy could work. (She still has her travel business, with four employees in Hollywood.)
Duffy also wanted to infuse the home with bold and unexpected flourishes: colored tile, metallic surfaces, mirrors. “Most Minnesota clients want something more subdued,” Fish says. “So it was exciting to work with someone who wasn’t afraid to make a statement.” Duffy also wanted to furnish the place with pieces she’d collected on her travels and art by modern masters like Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Roy Lichtenstein. “I love old houses filled with modern art. I love the juxtaposition of new and old,” Duffy says. “But the key is getting an old house to work.”
Duffy and Fish left the floor plans of some rooms intact, but nearly every surface was touched during the renovation as contractors fixed sags, re-plastered walls, and painted ceilings. In-floor heating was installed in the bathrooms. The sleeping porch was replaced.
The result is a house that feels both grand and comfortable. Finishing the first-level flooring with a dark stain helped focus attention on the home’s original oak features, like a built-in bench in the foyer and oak paneling around the living room fireplace. In the dining room, a long table with an antiqued mirrored top purchased in France forces the view upward, where an immense blue-glass chandelier made in Italy dangles from a pewter-painted ceiling. Duffy acquired the Turkish rugs throughout the house on a series of trips to Istanbul.
Above: A large island is the centerpiece of the newly enlarged kitchen.
Upstairs, three of the four bedrooms are furnished as sumptuously as any hotel room. (The fourth has been turned into an exercise room—also vital in any modern hotel.) In one, the headboard is covered in soft silvery fabric and thick drapes of creamy Belgian linen cascade from the ceiling, pooling at the floor, cloaking the windows, and blocking drafts. Each room features a chandelier that adds elegance to the small space without overpowering it.
The master bedroom has a Parisian feel—again, with mirrored furnishings. In the master bath, cement tile with a Moroccan-style pattern contrasts and harmonizes with the gleaming white surface of a sculptural freestanding tub and the subway tile and Carrara marble in the glassed-in shower. Fish transformed a fifth bedroom—tucked awkwardly between the central hall and the master bath—into a fashionista’s dream dressing room: There’s a drawer for every type of accessory, deep closets, and a cabinet where Duffy’s dazzling collection of jeweled footwear—from pumps to kicks—is on display. “I wouldn’t usually say a closet is my favorite room in the house, but in this case, it just might be,” Fish says with a smile.
Above: A to-die-for dressing room, with loads of customized drawers and cabinets, replaced a fifth bedroom.
As with most houses, however, the central gathering place/workspace is the kitchen. Removing an old pantry allowed Fish and Duffy to insert a large center island, topped with dark-stained walnut. The walls of the room are covered in scalloped turquoise, off-white and gray tiles that reach all the way to the ceiling. Dishware is stored away yet visible in white cabinets with glass panes.
Duffy’s house isn’t a hotel, of course, but like a grand old hotel, it combines the patina of age with all the comforts of modern living. “If you go too far off the deep end with a new style, there’s a disconnect,” Duffy says. “There’s a point where you have to be true to the house, and I’d like to think we remained true even as we remade it.”
Above: The master bathroom features subway tile, Carrara marble, and Moroccan-style cement tile on the floor.
By Joel Hoekstra
Photos by Spacecrafting
Designed by Peterssen/Keller with the homeowner