Photos by Wing Ta
Architecture: Thomas Hendrix
A charming coincidence in the already charming story of how Sam and Natalie Soulek came to live in their dream home is that the same architect who designed the house—Thomas Hendrix—also designed the elementary school Sam attended in New Prague.
Hendrix, who worked primarily on civic buildings, built the home for his family and lived there until a few years ago when, at age 96, he sold to the Souleks, even though their offer wasn’t the highest.
“Our agent called when it went on the market and we knew we wanted it,” Sam recalls. “But the open house was mobbed and we felt a little defeated since it was at the top of our budget. But I couldn’t shake it.” He decided it was worth fighting for and wrote a heartfelt letter expressing their respect and intention to honor the integrity of the house. The letter struck a chord with Hendrix, and in 2013 Sam, Natalie, and their young son Lincoln moved in.
The house, built in 1960, is classic mid-century modern in the style of Joseph Eichler—a celebrated California developer who brought architect-designed, modernist style to the masses with features like glass walls, open floor plans, and minimalist, flat-roofed exteriors. The Souleks are longtime fans of the aesthetic but had been living in a turn-of-the-century condominium that never quite suited them. “Moving into this mid-century gem felt like a fit for the first time. It’s like living inside all the photos we’ve admired for so many years,” says Sam.
Set on a generous corner lot overlooking Basset Creek in Golden Valley, the 3,300-square-foot house has a sturdy geometric form that follows the slope of the property to reveal a walkout lower level with expansive views of the creek.
Inside, the floor plan is open and flooded with natural light. A wide granite fireplace that runs through the first floor to the lower level anchors the space, while a wall of oak cabinetry separates the kitchen from the living area (which comes in handy when Sam wants to listen to music while making dinner and Lincoln wants to watch TV).
The Souleks have tried to preserve as many original design elements and finishes as possible, a task made easier by the fact that Hendrix took impeccable care of the house. But a few changes were in order to keep the home from feeling like a time capsule.
The couple painted the white exterior a dark gray to give it a more contemporary feel and refinished wood panels along the back to add warmth and interest. An unusual glassed pyramid that covered a sunroom was removed and replaced with a box of raised clerestory windows in order to make the space less prone to temperature swings and more functional year-round.
Natalie and her mom carefully cleaned the original grasscloth wallpaper throughout the main level—a pale eggshell color in the living area and cheery mustard yellow in the kitchen. The color scheme looks fresh and allows the natural materials and views of the creek to take center stage.
They pulled carpet out of the kitchen and replaced it with dark Marmoleum (a natural form of linoleum), replaced appliances, and refinished the maple cabinet fronts to bring out their luster. Otherwise, it’s just as it was when originally built—an efficient galley with a built-in desk at one end and a casual eating area at the other.
The Souleks have a few other projects in mind for down the road, including moving the washer and dryer out of the lower-level bar area, a design quirk they haven’t yet figured out. “Not a terrible way to pass drying time, and the bar top is nice for folding clothes, but I think we can find a better place for it,” says Sam.
Laurie Junker is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.