How do you remodel the heart of a historic house without losing its soul? For this 1890 residence in Saint Paul’s Summit Hill neighborhood, we did it by eliminating a 1980s kitchen, and recreating a space with period sensibilities and the latest amenities. The house is a classic beauty designed by Cass Gilbert, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century architect notable for work such as the State Capitol in Saint Paul and the U.S. Supreme Court building. The inappropriate kitchen, installed in the back of the house, contrasted drastically from the classic interiors still evident elsewhere. The existing side door wasn’t very functionally designed, complicating access to the backyard and garage. The owners wanted to remodel their kitchen and breakfast room to complement the style of the house, and to expand the rear entry, mudroom, and closet.
At the time when the house was originally built, kitchens didn’t have much importance as a gathering space—and the people who used them often weren’t the homeowners themselves. Over a century of service later, the kitchen now plays a major role in daily life and entertaining. Our clients craved the details from the “front of house” to bring the richness of the more formal rooms to the kitchen and breakfast area they use every day.
The remodeled kitchen combines modern amenities with a design aesthetic that is appropriate for a house of this age and style. A more functional plan anticipates spatial relationships to work and storage areas. New appliances are integrated into cabinetry with period-appropriate details, such as the microwave conveniently concealed behind an upper cabinet door. Several custom design elements, such as the corbels under the upper cabinets and the diamond appliqué on the range hood, are derived from Gilbert’s designs of the period. Our clients, who requested a white-on-white color palette, were persuaded to adopt a more historically-appropriate, muted grey scheme. Much of the lighting was designed by the entrant and custom-made for the project, and antique light fixtures were refinished and rewired, ensuring both safety and authenticity.
A discreet addition to the back of the house accommodates a new porch and mudroom, providing a covered entrance much closer to the garage than the previous side door. When the remodel uncovered the original wood siding and shingles that had been hidden under steel siding for 60 years, the homeowners decided to replace and repaint both. A more centrally located powder room is now accessible from the stair hall. The breakfast room has been expanded by the addition of a new bay window overlooking the back yard.
Careful attention to the needs of a busy modern family, along with thoughtful adherence to Gilbert & Taylor’s classic aesthetic, has resulted in a seamless whole that will remain a viable family residence for another hundred years.