Since the mill district’s resurgence in the early aughts, the area’s historical, architectural, and cultural significance has been celebrated as many once-mighty mill buildings were creatively converted into housing. Panoramic views of the Mississippi River, Stone Arch Bridge, and adjacent mill structures attracted scores of empty nesters and young professionals to these distinctive loft homes—including Annie and Matt Spanjers.
So with two cats in tow and a baby in their future, the Spanjers rented a unit in the Humboldt Lofts with expansive views of the Guthrie Theater and the river. They loved downtown loft living, so when another unit at Humboldt came on the market, they took a look—and were delightfully surprised. “It fully faces the Gold Medal grain elevators, with cool obstructed views of the river and of the buildings next door,” Annie enthuses.
Obstructed views? That’s correct. In other words, views that deterred other buyers thrilled the Spanjers by providing a sense of privacy while offering lots of visual stimulation via color and texture. “The views weren’t for everybody,” says Annie. “Lots of people in the building want sweeping river vistas. But our obstructed views are the beauty and charm of the unit to us.”
They also purchased the unit because the former owners’ recent kitchen and master bath renovations suited them. All of the maple wall paneling and shelving, however? Not so much. “We wanted to strip as much of that away as we could, because it didn’t mix as well with the loft’s polished concrete floors and columns, and exposed duct work,” Annie says. “The maple was also at odds with the colors and textures we enjoyed on the grain elevators and mill ruins through our windows.”
Fortunately, Jodi Gillespie, owner and principal designer of Jodi Gillespie Interior Design, knew just what to do. In the main living space, maple panels were covered with local reclaimed barn wood, which adds a more rustic-industrial feel congruent with the mill buildings outside. Next to the barn-wood wall Gillespie added a blackened-steel fireplace surround that extends to the ceiling and matches the black-metal framing around the condo’s large windows.
A large, low bench from Restoration Hardware is “a piece with lots of flexibility,” Annie says. Tucked between two windows, it’s a favorite spot of Matt and their cats.
Two black, sculptural, B&B Italian chairs swivel 360-degrees. The living area, with couch and sectional upholstered in durable, family-friendly fabric, is “peaceful and lovely for us to look at, but also usable,” Annie adds.
Since the baby arrived, the living room serves as play space, as well as an adult relaxation and entertainment area. “There’s so much light and so much to see outside the windows, it’s a part of the condo we naturally gravitate to,” Annie says. The living room is open to the kitchen and a dining area where a six-foot-long Universe light fixture floats and twinkles overhead. “The light fixture defines the dining area,” Gillespie explains, “but is translucent enough to not block the views.”
Adjacent to the dining area is Matt’s spot for listening to vinyl. His leather lounge chair overlooks the balcony facing the I-35 bridge, which changes color throughout the year in the evening. To bring that effect inside, Gillespie added lights behind the condo’s concrete columns that can be programmed to glow. “We spent a lot of time with Jodie thinking about how lighting could enhance the design features we were adding and create the right livability for us,” Annie adds. “Having the right lighting is important for the condo to feel like home.”
Maple proliferated in other areas of the condo as well. In the windowless media/multi-purpose room, the walls were covered with maple shelves. Gillespie removed most of the shelves, leaving room for books and a media screen, then had the shelves painted white. A wallcovering with a cascading petal texture adds interest and warmth to the intimate space. In the office, a custom desk and new shelves crafted using the same wood type as the kitchen cabinets replaced the maple.
“As we planned to add a tiny human to our family, the no-maintenance of condo living was very appealing,” Annie says. “We spend time with the baby, not on a yard, and on keeping ourselves sane,” she adds with a laugh. Twins and Vikings games, University of Minnesota sports, the farmer’s market, Gold Medal Park: “Living in the Mill District with a baby is a lot more fun and easier than people may think,” she adds. The blend of modern millennial young family with downtown loft living has never seemed so effortless or elegant.