A Good House Gets Better
First be true to the original character of the house, then rethink the floor plan.
Synopsis: Doug and Lisa Tanner bought their 1920s colonial revival on the chance that the’d be able to restore the old-fashioned charm that had been eviscerated in a previous “remuddle.” Working with architect Mark Larson, the Tanners updated the floor plan for their modern family while re-rooting the house in its historic style. Other improvements include a screened-in porch with fireplace and simple but inviting furnishings that nod to the past.
I am a builder in Minneapolis, so I’ve seen—and worked on—a lot of houses, but I’ve always favored older ones. While interviewing for a remodeling job a few years ago, I discovered a house for sale that was close to the buzz of the city but in an amazingly quiet, peaceful, and beautiful location, with views similar to those of a north-woods cabin. The 1920s colonial revival house sat on a street facing a lagoon connecting two city lakes. I was excited. I called my wife, Lisa, to tell her that I had found the perfect home for us.
When we looked inside, though, we were disappointed to learn that the house had been stripped of its original character through a series of remodels. The house had a solid foundation, modern conveniences, and updated mechanical systems, but it had lost its charm. I convinced Lisa that we could build character back into the house and at the same time rethink its layout to better accommodate us and our two small children.
We enlisted Rehkamp Larson Architects of Minneapolis to work with us on the design. The architects presented three ideas: the first, a lowercost, minimal-change design; the second, a more involved and more expensive remodel; and the third, an extreme and higher-cost option. They fully expected that we’d pick and choose different design elements from each idea to build our final design, and that’s exactly what happened. We kept moving things around until we were able to accomplish all of our goals.
A stronger connection to the outdoors
One problem with our previous house was that it was poorly connected to the outdoors. Even though we lived a quarter mile from one of the city lakes, we often found ourselves heading up to my mother’s cabin to enjoy the outdoors. In this new house, we saw the potential to improve the indoor–outdoor connection, thereby keeping us home on weekends.
During the design phase, we spent lots of time observing the views from the back and the front of the house. We wanted to see the water from as many rooms as possible and to use windows to brighten the back.
On the first floor, we focused our attention on the porches. The existing screened porch was nicely situated off the living room, but we wanted it to feel like another room in the house for as many months of the year as possible. We rebuilt it as part of a new side addition and put in a fireplace to allow us to use the porch on cool fall and spring nights. We eat most of our meals out there in the summer.
We also widened the French doors on the front of the house to brighten the new dining room. These doors make it easy and inviting to have breakfast on the existing front terrace. Finally, we added a deck off the kitchen in the back. This is where we grill, and it gives us one more place to eat outside.
Upstairs, we knew we would move the master bedroom from the back of the house to the front, overlooking the lagoon. Adjoining our bedroom, we built a sun room that is now one of our favorite spots. A friend noted that this sun-drenched, south-facing sitting room, which looks like a traditional sleeping porch from out front, was made for a cat.
For more photos and details on restoring balance back into a house, click the View PDF button below.