When newlyweds Charlie Simmons and Sandy LaMendola decided to buy their first home together, a 1929 French Burgundy Tudor in St. Paul, they had many things working in their favor. Chief among them the fact that they both make a living creating beautiful homes. Charlie is the design principal and founder of Charlie & Co. Design, and Sandy is the principal designer and founder of Twist Interior Design, both based in Minneapolis.
Perhaps the biggest challenge? The fact that they both make a living creating beautiful homes.
Two different professional opinions. Two separate lifetimes’ worth of carefully curated stuff. A budget smaller than either one of them typically works within. Plus, sometimes, when you spend the entire day making design choices, the last thing you want to do is come home and make some more.
They dove into the project clear-eyed and were, really, very lucky. It was 2015, and they’d just gotten married and started house-hunting when Charlie spotted it. Their home. Well, his home, kind of. Charlie grew up in Highland Park in a French Burgundy Tudor that was Better Homes & Gardens’ 1929 House of the Future, always knowing that a few blocks away sat essentially the same house with a mirror-image floor plan. They called it their sister house, and Charlie recognized it there on-screen the day it went on the market. He emailed Sandy: “Why don’t we take a look at it over lunch?”
They appreciated how much was original, including hardware, plaster walls, and a stunning slate roof; as well as the simple, livable foursquare floor plan Charlie remembered from childhood. But it was hard to miss less desirable characteristics, including an original electrical system, stained exterior stucco, and the fact that the water was turning all the porcelain brown. “It was essentially a time capsule,” Charlie says. “That no one had touched it was the best and worst thing about it.” Sandy agreed. “I could tell that it could be easy to make the house ours.”
They made an offer, it was accepted a few days later, and then the two designers set about doing just that. Sandy sold her South Minneapolis home, and she and her youngest moved into Charlie’s bachelor pad condo on Western Avenue in St. Paul for six months while they dug into the big, messy work—replacing plumbing and electrical, refinishing and repairing flooring throughout, and gutting the attic, and then reimagining it as an industrial loft for Sandy’s son.
One immediate industry perk: They didn’t have to shop around. Between them, Charlie and Sandy knew exactly which companies, tradespeople, and artisans they wanted to help make the house their home. “It was important to us that the people we’ve developed relationships with over the years, people we love and trust, were involved in some way,” Charlie says.
Charlie’s longtime client John Kraemer & Sons, for example, tackled the renovation, including the kitchen, during this first phase. Though torn down to the studs—“We basically threw a hand grenade in there, closed the door, and walked out,” Charlie says—the layout was functional, so they simply put the room back together as it was, but updated it with custom cabinetry, white marble countertops, and a Charlie-designed range hood built with wide boards that lend a French-countryside feel. He gave it a subtly curving profile and asked for an archway where a kitchen wall had been, to add softness. A wall-mount counter at window-height overlooks the backyard.
Kitchen done, they moved in. While Sandy instinctively began creating a color palette and observing how they lived in the space, officially, the focus was on the home’s exterior and landscaping. They repainted the stucco and trim, a blue-gray drawn from the multi-toned slate roof. The mahogany doors were too beat up to salvage, so they went with reproductions, outfitted with the originals’ rondel glass and bullet hinges. In front of the house, Charlie’s client-friend Scott Ritter at Topo landscape architecture installed two groups of bushes trimmed into disk-shaped topiaries and surrounded in catmint, and 8-foot arborvitae for privacy, as well as classic pewter pots holding circular boxwoods flanking the home’s distinctive pair of main floor-to-ceiling windows.
Back inside, Sandy started putting together the puzzle of all things his, hers, and theirs to create comfort and cohesion. Sometimes, it was as easy as following a whim that ended up working. Other times, moods and opinions clashed over furniture or color choices like they only can between two dedicated designers who also happen to be married. But a shared love of Asian antiques and artifacts, pieces with a strong personal connection, and quality art helped. “When we go to anything art related, it’s like grocery shopping for us.—‘I’ll take this, and this, and this,’” she says. (They’re early-bird regulars at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s annual art sale in November.) And Charlie insists admiration for his wife’s work always wins. “I say, ‘I love what you do. Just do it.’” He calls their home her “lab.”
Sandy’s experimenting played out beautifully on the main floor, where she deferred to the home’s original charm, commissioning an artist to embellish a formerly white grill piece in the dining room, topping the living room’s stone mantle with a happy mish-mash of art and keepsakes, and leaving the entry hall’s 1929 telephone nook intact. Original plaster walls and rope trim were painted in light colors to brighten the home’s core, save for the window-lined sunroom, with deep navy vertical plank walls that keep the focus on the view.
Sandy expertly mixes modern and traditional, and allows items as varied as a gold-painted bamboo bar cart handed down from Charlie’s parents and a handmade designer cocktail table found at a consignment shop “for a mere hundredth of a percent of what it’s worth” to mingle and shine. In fact, treasures found through fortunate connections are everywhere. The giant silk-wool blend rug in the living room, for example, had languished in a corner of a favorite rug designer’s studio for years after a client veto, and it turned out to be a perfect fit. LightWorks in Minneapolis adapted a reproduction candelabra fixture that formerly hung in Minneapolis’ Kiernan’s Pub for the dining room. Sandy set it against a dark wallpapered ceiling, a budget-friendly alternative to hand-painting.
And then, the basement—a space that Sandy refused to even look at during the initial walk-through, saying, “Do what you want. I’ll never go down there.” Then Charlie decided that, in a nod to his heritage, it should be a Scottish pub, with reclaimed wood beams and rough-sawn pine paneling, and Sandy couldn’t resist.
She played with vintage finds, setting a salvaged bookie pay station on top of a church altar and calling it a bar. She aimed for comfort, too. Her old-standby sofa, re-upholstered for the umpteenth time, and Charlie’s Eames chair sit ready for hockey-watching in front of the fire. His father made stained-glass inserts in an old Scottish pattern and color set. Sandy filled the walls with portraits and landscapes, many they purchased together, and personal artifacts, including a sword that had belonged to Charlie’s great-great-grandfather and Sandy’s vintage clock-face and coin collections, plus a large framed antique map of Scotland.
It’s his original vision, carried out by her, to create something they both use and love. You might call it a wonderful marriage.