Room with a View
A Minneapolis couple transforms their maze of a kitchen into an open, airy space overlooking the backyard
A decade ago, Susan Segal and Myron Frans fell in love with a 1908 Arts and Crafts home in the Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis. The couple particularly valued many of the fine, period details, such as the phenomenal woodwork and the stained glass window of a woodland scene that is replicated in the tile surround of the living room fireplace. But there was one original feature they didn’t appreciate so much: the kitchen and its odd disconnection from the backyard. Frans and Segal had to meander through the kitchen, the cramped back porch, and other twisting spaces before arriving at the backyard.
What made practical sense in 1908—the design was meant to accommodate a cold-storage icebox room—now felt maze-like. From the moment they bought the home in 1997, the couple conferred about how they might solve the problem. Convinced that eight years of noodling on the matter was long enough, in 2005 they hired architect Todd Hansen, principal of Albertsson-Hansen Architecture, and Mike Stordahl Construction, both in Minneapolis, to work with them. The assignment was clear: Re-do the kitchen to increase counter space and improve the connection between the sunroom, kitchen, and backyard—and eliminate the maze.
“Some of the most satisfying work I do is untying knots,” says Hansen. “I see my job as making houses work better.” Thankfully, this home gave him a nice place to start. The kitchen had been renovated once in the past 20 years, but the original cabinets had been left in place. Hansen preserved the cabinets as well, charmed by their lovely (and original) glass-front doors. He also kept the original casements, which opened to the inside like European windows. A simple extension of cabinets—in the same classic style—gave Segal the expanded counter space she requested. They kept the existing range, but added a larger Sub-Zero refrigerator and a new sink.
Frans and Segal selected honed “Absolute Black” granite for the countertops—an understated, durable surface that complements the other neutrals in the room. Pale green ceramic tiles on the walls reference a vintage working kitchen. “Susan was very involved in sourcing many of the details for this project, including all the lighting and the tile in both the kitchen and sunroom,” says Hansen.
It was Segal who found the delicious handmade tiles that surround the fireplace in the sunroom, a space connected to the kitchen by a swinging door. She discovered artisan Scott Weaver, owner of Weaver Tile in Horton, Michigan, in a magazine and called him right away. She also selected Craftsman-style sconces to go over the sunroom’s fireplace, and she chose the 1930s-style ceiling mounted lights for the kitchen.
Photo by Susan Gilmore
“I grew up in a 1950s split-level in the suburbs. I had never been into an antique shop until we bought this house,” Segal says. Once she tested the waters, however, she was drawn to the vintage twentieth-century dishes and kitchenware, and began to amass an impressive collection—now cheerfully displayed in the glass-front cabinets and on open shelves around her eating nook.
That nook was one of Hansen’s pleasant surprises for the couple. After renegotiating and streamlining the flow from kitchen to sunroom to backyard, he was able to reform the old back entry into a quiet alcove with its own bank of lower cabinets and expanse of granite-topped counters for reading the paper in the morning or checking email over coffee.
He masterfully dealt with the additional challenge of working with four different ceiling heights where these disparate areas meet, making it just quirky enough to make you believe it is original to the old home. He was even able to incorporate a arrow-like design motif on the nook’s support columns—a visual cue that appears in the original 1908 house.
The sunroom itself turned out to be a much larger project. Windows were replaced, the original floor was refinished, insulation and in-floor radiant heating was added, and all but one of the clunky old radiators were removed. With Weaver’s handmade tile on the fireplace and Hansen’s ingenuity, the space has a new-found spaciousness and comfort, but still has its character.
With the house in working order, Frans and Segal turned their attention to the backyard. Frank Fitzgerald and Jean Garbarini, landscape architects at Close Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis, designed a herringbone-patterned paver terrace off the back porch that moves down bluestone steps across panels of lush grass to a gurgling fountain topped with a glazed ceramic urn. An outdoor dining area, on a patterned “Oriental rug” of clay pavers sits just to the side of the garage. Frans and Segal almost never visited their backyard before, but now they have meals here, bask in the afternoon sun, and throw outdoor parties. With their knot of a kitchen now untied, the house invites them to enjoy this space.
Alecia Stevens is a Minneapolis interior designer and stylist.
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