El Rancho Comes to Life

A whimsical renovation by two creative new owners turns a 1950’s ranch-style home into an artistic masterpiece

Photos by Steve Henke

A new 1,400-square-foot second-level addition was designed to blend seamlessly into the existing roofline of the home, which features unique live-edge siding on the exterior.
El Rancho’s exterior (before)

In the center of St. Louis Park sits a log cabin-style house, tucked away on two-thirds of an acre—a rarity for the city’s bustling urban setting. Built in 1949 by artist Martin Fowler and featuring painted concrete floors and a two-story fieldstone fireplace large enough to roast a pig in, no one quite knew what to do with the unique structure known as “The Wagon Wheel House.” That is, until Steve and Margo Henke came across it.

“We were actually looking for a small fixer-upper for our daughter when we saw the house listed for sale online,” says Margo, who remembered being intrigued by the structure during previous drives through town. “I would always think to myself, ‘What a crazy house—it’s like something out of time!’ and wonder who was living there.”

Wood elements were also salvaged from the original home to be used in the interiors.
The great room (before)

The couple were eager to take a peek inside the interesting house, and although conditions weren’t exactly livable at the time, the two were fascinated by the spacious main floor and the obvious thought Fowler had put into the original design. Both artists themselves, the Henkes envisioned transforming the home into a more modern living space while maintaining the character the original owner created—particularly when it came to salvaging existing materials and textures.

However, they knew they’d need more space than the single 2,000-square-foot level could afford them, and they had no desire to live within the dark confines of eight-foot-tall ceilings. Plus, the ranch-style building’s entry opened directly into the dining room, bedrooms were small and branched off a long, shadowy hallway, and the kitchen, which had been remodeled in the ’90s, no longer fit with the rest of the house.

To remedy the problems with the layout, the couple collaborated with Edward Eichten, founder of ERE Architecture, to remodel the main level into the open floor plan they desired and add a 1,400-square-foot second-level addition to provide more space.

A wall of oversized white porcelain tiles helps anchor the new welded steel staircase.

“They didn’t want to change the character of the house or affect the surrounding trees by pushing an addition out onto the landscape, so we worked within the parameters of reusing existing footing,” explains Eichten, who designed the new addition to live within the home’s original roofline by making it deeper (and the chimney larger to match).

The stylish guest suite’s modern vibes and wall mural mimic the master bedroom’s open design (pictured below).

Two bedrooms were combined to form a large guest suite on the main level, and another was converted into a mudroom. The second-level addition made space for a new master suite, laundry room, and studio space. An open stair now connects the two levels and allows light into the center of the home, and ceilings were moved up, doors removed, and archways between rooms widened extensively to open the layout.

“I liked the idea of clear areas you can see through that create a kind of maze-like effect throughout,” Steve says. “I think our previous home had about 40-50 doors with all our closets. This house has around eight.”

Playful wallpaper and pale pink and gold encaustic cement tiles make stunning statements in powder and bath rooms.

While Eichten and Steve handled the floor plan, Margo was in charge of the interiors. She designed their new home to be both relaxing and fun, evident through plenty of colorful tile, quirky murals and playful wallpapers in bedrooms and bathrooms, and opting for Semihandmade super matte door fronts on customized IKEA frames when it came to cabinetry choices.

“The house is definitely made for entertaining and a laugh here or there,” Margo says. “Like the master bedroom—Steve said I couldn’t have de Gournay wallpaper, so I made that fun mural instead.”

The master suite is an airy retreat, quiet and private with an open design accented by lofty ceilings, a stunning mural in the bedroom, and shimmering Moroccan blue tile in the bathroom (pictured below).

The kitchen in particular is one of her favorite spaces, boasting black Ionic steel porcelain tile installed over heated floors, Cambria countertops, a sleek black Hallman oven and custom brass vent hood, and a glimmering Moroccan tile backsplash—a luxury Margo was determined to have.

A custom island, featuring table legs from the couple’s old dining room table, takes center stage in the kitchen.
The kitchen (before)

“The tiles were from Cle, and I knew they would be expensive, but I visited their website every day and they finally had a flash sale,” Margo says. “I remember being up at one in the morning; Steve’s measuring the wall to figure out how much we’d need, and I’m sitting there on my laptop, yelling, ‘We have 15 minutes left!’” (Luckily, she made the purchase in time, and her beloved tiles now create a striking focal point on her kitchen wall.)

Salvaging and reusing existing materials was a main goal of the remodel, with the most prominent being the rough-cut, live-edge exterior siding.

“I was bound and determined to save the live-edge siding. It’s such an unusual feature—the bark was still on in some places! When I saw it, I thought, ‘Well, we’re just going to take it off and put it back on,’” Steve reminisces, before adding, “Of course, nothing in that house gave up easily.”

The new screen porch features white shiplap walls and a lovely wood ceiling.

Undeterred, the couple began carefully removing and reinstalling the exterior siding, a painstaking process that involved storing the pieces in their garage during the renovations and then trimming pieces to fit new windows, water-sealing the backs, staining the fronts, and then re-attaching each piece—tedious work the Henkes carried out on their own front lawn. But the months of effort paid off when their new home was finished and finally unveiled to the world.

“The neighborhood watched the transformation over a year and a half, and when it was all done, we had so many people tell us how the home still fits in with the neighborhood, how it still looks like the original house,” Margo says. “And that was our goal: It is the original house, but at the same time, it’s not!”

Floor Plans (1 Second Level After, 2 Main Level After)

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