At Home

We are in the middle of an almost complete renovation of our 1959 home. What were we thinking?! I am partly writing this to remind myself why we are doing this. When we came to look at the house for the first time, we weren't seriously thinking of moving. But a lot of things fell together and shortly after we walked through the front door, we both had the feeling that we were supposed to live here. We knew it meant leaving our “already done” house and taking on a huge project and a huge inconvenience. But it just felt like we were meant to be here. 

We loved so many things about the house from the first time we saw it. We both loved the midcentury modern design (I've been drawn to the style since I was a kid as I loved my grandparents' midcentury rambler. I was one of those nerdy kids who was into architecture). The location was perfect for us as the kids could walk out the back door, down the neighbor's hill and be at grandma and grandpa's house. The first thing you see when you walk in the front door of the house is a large indoor garden/atrium area (yes please!). And we were also taken with the history of the house.

The home was built for James Lombard and his wife in the late 50's. They were a swanky couple as Lombard ran Northrup Auditorium at the University of Minnesota. It was the main performing arts center in the Twin Cities at the time so when anyone major came through town (the ballet, the opera, the orchestra) they would perform at Northrup. The house was designed to host swinging after parties to follow these performances. There is a stage designed into the main living area where artists would perform during these parties. There is a secret bar with a pull-down countertop that is hidden behind a panel in the kitchen where I'm sure they had a fabulous hired bartender. And there is a wall in the master bathroom where visiting artists would sign their names. The signature wall has been preserved and we will keep the wall during our renovations as well. The names of Tyrone Guthrie, Marian Anderson, Stanisław Skrowaczewski (who was the conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra for almost 20 years) and countless others that I have yet to decipher and research are signed on the wall of my bathroom. It's pretty amazing to think of the talent that has walked through this house and performed on it's stage. Marian Anderson's signature is not dated. So we aren’t sure if she sang on our stage before or after she sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” at the March on Washington in 1963 alongside Martin Luther King Jr. 

The home was designed by modernist architect Brooks Cavin. Cavin earned his master's in architecture at Harvard. He then moved to Washington, D.C., to work under Eero Saarinen. In 1954 he was hired by Ralph Rapson to teach at the University of Minnesota's school of architecture. Cavin taught at the U for 20 years while Rapson was the Dean of the school of architecture. So as far as resumes go, his wasn't too shabby. Rapson said that he “had a very high regard for Brooks. He was a wonderful person, both as an architect and as a human being.” Cavin was also a leader in the historic preservation movement throughout Minnesota, including preserving well-known sites like Fort Snelling, Governor Ramsey carriage house, working-class homes on Milwaukee Avenue, Grove Street Flats on Nicollet Island, Owatonna bank by Louis Sullivan and the Old Science Museum of Minnesota.

A side view of part of the house during renovations. New kitchen window installed on the right side, sans siding. 

A side view of part of the house during renovations. New kitchen window installed on the right side, sans siding. 

We bought the home at the end of last summer from an older couple. To say it “needed some work” would be a massive understatement. Some of the big, nasty things like mold, mildew and radon were dealt with before we moved in. Since moving in we've started to work our way down the seemingly unending list of things to be done. First was a complete gut of a full bathroom off the kids' bedroom, new carpet throughout (the old carpet smelled like armpits), painting all of the ceilings, a partial remodel of a guest half bath, changing a front entry closet to a walk-in mudroom, and the most dramatic change so far... the kitchen! We are just finishing up a complete transformation of the kitchen space and we are loving it already. We are talking closing up doors, adding huge windows, complete layout change, etc. Like any house, the kitchen is the hub of the home and our family is no different. So that's where we've spent a majority of our efforts and resources so far. After the kitchen we will be adding on to the side of the house. Two bedrooms for kids, a family area, sleeping lofts, laundry and another bathroom will come in the addition. Before and after pics of each of these spaces to follow in upcoming posts. So stay tuned!