Real Families Tell Their Remodeling Stories

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Four real Twin Cities families who recently remodeled their home shared their stories with us.

Home #R74 by Quartersawn
4812 39th Avenue South, Minneapolis

Modern Appeal
John’s home held a lot of memories. He grew up in the 1916 cottage located across the street from Minnehaha Creek and adjacent to city parkland. Then he came back “maybe 10 years ago. I moved in with my father after my mother had passed away,” explained John. “I helped him stay here for an extra year or so until he finally went to assisted living, and then he passed away about five years ago.” John has lived there ever since, and carried his bride, Mila, over the threshold in 2005.

The couple had been thinking about updating, but with Mila’s travel (she’s Vice President of a consulting firm and manages projects in the Caribbean for three to six weeks at a time), and John’s biking hobby (he commutes to work on average three days a week, summer and winter), they took their time. They had considered rebuilding a new home a few years ago. “We had a plan, but it was going to be quite costly to build at the time and when we got a final appraisal we realized it just wasn’t the right time to build new,” John said.

Over the next couple of years they continued to think about making some changes, which led them, in the fall of 2010, to visit some of the homes on the Remodelers Showcase. That’s where they met Jeff Nicholson and Quartersawn, and “we liked what we saw in the house in the Showcase,” Mila exclaimed.

They were ready to get serious about updating their home and “initially approached Jeff about renovating the existing house,” John reported. “By spring we were working together.”

That’s also about the time they discovered the home had enough structural problems that it just made more sense to tear down the original home and start over. Working with Jeff on the architecture and his interior designer, Christine Frisk from InUnison Design on the interiors, John and Mila’s ideas blossomed into reality.

Even being out of the country a lot, Mila was impressed with how she was able to stay in the loop throughout design and construction. “What’s really great with Quartersawn is that every week we’d have a status meeting,” she said. “I’d just call in and we’d all discuss the project.”

The couple also discovered they had similar tastes and ideas about how they wanted their home to live. “We knew we wanted the main living space to be upstairs to take advantage of the views,” John said. “We wanted something that was wide open, not a lot of small rooms, and Mila really wanted vaulted ceilings.” And, they both “love modern design,” he continued. “It seems like our tastes really mesh.”

The construction process took about seven months, which John and Mila spent in a nearby apartment. They were thrilled when they moved back in at the beginning of June and began making it their own. They brought in a few amazing paintings from John’s uncle. And they pointed out three features they kept from the original home: a kitchen beam post taken from the old basement, the front door which is now a glass-top table in the office, and a linen cabinet faced with two original oak windows.

“Looking back, there wasn’t a whole lot that was frustrating; it was a great experience,” John said. And they both agreed the best part is “the final product.” Mila pointed out why: “we have had an input in every single thing in this house. We just love this; it’s our house.” They will be welcoming visitors to see the final product during this fall’s Remodelers Showcase. Mila said, “We’re happy to see people’s reaction.”

Home #R49 by Revolution Design and Build
4232 Alden Drive, Edina


Investing in a Boom Neighborhood
Miles and Sarah fell in love with their home the minute they crossed the threshold, but it wasn’t perfect. The kitchen was stuck in the 1970s and the home’s 1920s Craftsman architecture didn’t completely suit their contemporary leanings. “The kitchen was white with laminate counters, laminate cabinets with wood trim along the bottom, and a linoleum floor,” says Sarah. “It was a very functional kitchen, but that’s about all I can say about it.”

Located in the popular Morningside neighborhood of Edina, the three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath home had a healthy offering price even in the depressed market. The home’s location, close to downtown and the lakes, was ideal, and its lot was about twice the size of a typical Minneapolis yard.

“The unique combination of a relatively open floor plan for an older home, ample natural light, beautiful woodwork, and the potential to renovate really drew us to the house,” says Miles. The couple also loved the neighborhood and realized that with all of the nearby rebuilding and remodeling occurring, the home would hopefully prove to be a great long-term investment.

Three years after purchasing the house, the young attorneys decided it was time to consider a renovation because the kitchen was starting to fall apart. Sarah and Miles’ family was also expanding with the arrival of their son, Max, and Labrador retrievers, Dixie and Gus. “We got to a point that the kitchen was becoming less functional, which was a significant quality-of-life issue,” says Sarah.

Even though many homeowners in the Morningside neighborhood were choosing to tear down existing houses and build new, Sarah and Miles had already become emotionally attached to their home, so instead of starting over, they decided to add a backyard addition. “We had to demolish the gazebo, which is where Miles and I got engaged,” notes Sarah. “That was difficult enough, giving up that small piece of our home. To tear it down would have been heartbreaking.”

For the past couple of years, Sarah and Miles had been visiting homes on the Remodelers Showcase and were particularly impressed by the quality and creativity of projects completed by Revolution Design Build, in Wayzata. After receiving glowing recommendations from past clients of the firm, the couple rented a house and moved out, and Revolution Design Build proceeded to tear off the back of the house to make way for a multi-level addition that nearly doubled the home’s living space to just under 3,000 square feet.

The new kitchen, which was now adjacent to a window-filled great room, delivered an even more contemporary layout than the home already had. “It’s wide open now,” says Miles. “There are only three interior doors on the main level, one to a closet, one to the powder room, and one to the basement.”

The upstairs addition and remodel, which required reconfiguring the entire second-floor layout, provided enough space to add a new owners’ suite bedroom and bath, another bedroom, and a new communal bathroom.

Revolution Design Build’s artful matching of new with existing materials created a seamless look, while still allowing Sarah and Miles to express their more modern-day tastes through contemporary twists such as a floating tub deck in the owners’ suite bath, and glass tiles and a vessel sink in the powder room.

Home #R79 by Stonehearth Custom Homes, Inc.
2931 Vernon Avenue South, St. Louis Park


Now is the Time
Claudia and her daughters, Andrea and Erin, embarked on a remodel of their outdated kitchen 15 years after moving into their Saint Louis Park 1940s-style rambler. For years, they had worked around a failed remodeling attempt by the previous owner that had resulted in a difficult layout and dingy screen porch addition.

“The previous owner was a candy maker. She put in enormous counters to dry candy,” says Claudia. Besides the outrageously overgenerous counter space, the configuration of the appliances was awkward and the screen porch was inconvenient to access and not all that comfortable.

“The refrigerator and stove were adjacent to each other, and when the refrigerator door was open it blocked entry into the dining room,” says Claudia. “And the cabinets above the refrigerator were so low, the only fridge we could get was the smallest full-size refrigerator on the market.”

The family’s remodeler, Stonehearth Custom Homes, in Coon Rapids, solved all of the home’s issues without adding space. Removing unneeded counter space made room for the stove and allowed Stonehearth to center the new, much-larger stainless steel refrigerator on the wall where both appliances once sat. The reconfiguration of appliances solved the issue of the blocked entryway into the dining area and permitted Stonehearth to surround the new refrigerator with custom cherry cabinetry, creating a visually pleasing space with improved functionality. “Having a more sensible arrangement of the appliances has been really terrific,” notes Claudia.

Stonehearth also installed granite counters and hardwood floors to match the existing flooring in the living and dining rooms, providing a seamless transition between old and new.
To make the three-season porch more functional for Claudia, her daughters, and their cats, Mitsy, Marshall, and Kitten, Stonehearth removed double windows that overlooked the screen porch and demolished some of the surrounding wall to create an easy-access entry into the porch area. The remodeler then transformed the cozy space into a year-round hearth room with a gas fireplace and custom entertainment center. “It feels like the kitchen and hearth room are one space,” says Claudia. “You are aware you are entering another space but it still feels like part of the same room.”

A very practical person, Claudia says she underestimated just how much she would enjoy her new kitchen and hearth room. “I took to heart what some people had told me over the years—that they had wished they had done their remodeling project earlier,” she says. “I knew that before I ever sold the home, I would need to remodel the kitchen. I thought, now is the time. I will be able to enjoy it, and I can afford it. However, I under-appreciated how much I would actually enjoy a beautiful new space. It’s cool to be in a space that is really lovely.”

The family’s remodeling project progressed smoothly, in part because Claudia and her daughters chose their remodeler wisely. A friend recommended the firm and the women checked references and interviewed another builder. “I chose someone I would enjoy having a working relationship with,” says Claudia. “Through a project like this, you really do have a relationship with your remodeler due to the sheer amount of time you spend in the same space together.”

Home #R18 by Redstone Builders LLC
5899 Deer Trail Circle, Woodbury


Phase by Phase
Art and Hyounsoo moved to Woodbury in 2005 after Art accepted a job at 3M’s nearby headquarters. At the time, Hyounsoo was almost nine-months pregnant with their first son. “We got a new house, new job, and a brand new baby all in one month,” she says.

The couple loved their 3,120 square-foot Tudor home. As their family expanded, the home’s large, wooded lot provided plenty of space for their two beagles and sons, Allen, age seven, and Calvin, age four, to play. However, they noticed that whenever they entertained, people often became trapped standing in the kitchen. “Just like a lot of other houses built in the 1970s, there were walls everywhere,” says Hyounsoo, a professional opera singer. “I especially didn’t like the wall between the kitchen and the family room.”

Convinced the wall needed to come down, Hyounsoo began scouring Angie’s List for a remodeling firm. After reading hundreds of reviews, she chose Redstone Builders in Eagan. The firm first drew up a plan to demolish the unwanted wall and reconfigure the kitchen and main-level living spaces to fit the couple’s lifestyle.

With the home’s oversized deck deteriorating, however, Art and Hyounsoo realized it was also the opportune time to put on a four-season sun room and a new, smaller deck. With the project already expanding, they decided to also add a guest room under the sun room, so that when Hyounsoo’s mother traveled from Korea to spend time with the family, she could retire to her own comfortable space. And, of course, the lower-level guest room needed a bathroom.

A year-and-a-half later while still enjoying their new spaces, Art and Hyounsoo were ready to tackle the remaining sore spot in their living space. Their owners’ suite bath was tiny. “My husband and I couldn’t even brush our teeth together,” Hyounsoo says. The couple called on Redstone a second time. In phase two of the project, the firm demolished a wall between the owners’ suite bedroom and an unfinished attic space over the garage to make way for a larger bath and more generous closet. “It’s not Mariah Carey’s closet but it is my dream closet, designed inch-by-inch by me,” Hyounsoo says.

To come up with a tile color and layout she liked for the new owners’ suite bath, Hyounsoo drew and colored numerous mock layouts using her sons’ crayons. “I love decorating and organizing,” she says. “My sons’ beloved Legos are organized by colors and categories in 23 drawers.”

Hyounsoo likes to tease Art that by adding nearly 1,050 square feet of living space they are actually saving money because they aren’t going out to eat as often. “I started to cook more, and the kitchen is now more organized and efficient because it’s customized to our lifestyle,” she says. “As a mom with young boys, I don’t have time to waste trying to find things.”

With the remodeling projects complete, Art and Hyounsoo—who are very pleased with their new spaces—threw a celebration gathering for Redstone employees and their families.