Several years ago, a young couple living in a downtown condo spotted an unusual house online. It was a 1950s ranch-style home in St. Louis Park outfitted with metal panels and mod decorative grilles. It even had a California-style courtyard.
“It was a total dream home,” said Whitney McChane, who bonded with her husband, Rob, “over our shared love for midcentury modern architecture and furniture.”
The home was priced “far beyond our means,” but still they kept an eye on it. “As the price dropped, we thought ‘Maybe,’ ” said Whitney.
Two years later, they got an offer on their condo. Their ’50s dream home, still for sale, had fallen into foreclosure — and into their price range. So they went to take a look.
“The outside was a hot mess,” recalled Whitney. “It had not been tended to in years.”
The exterior, originally a bold, cheery purple and yellow, had faded to dull orange and brown, and many of the surfaces inside and out were pocked with dings, dents and gouges.
Still the couple loved the house and made an offer on the spot.
“The interior spaces sold me,” said Rob. “It had a lot of features that people remodel homes to get, like an open floor plan and a central kitchen.”
The McChanes learned that the unusual home came with an unusual back story.
Built in 1958, it was an Alcoa “Care-Free” home, created by the Aluminum Company of America as a demonstration house to showcase the wonders of its product.
Alcoa hired architect Charles M. Goodman to design the home, with ambitious plans to build up to 50 all around the country, all filled with aluminum components to ensure “care-free living.” The homes were built by local builders using kits supplied by Alcoa.
But the grand plan didn’t pan out, according to “Minnesota Modern: Architecture and Life at Midcentury”by Larry Millett. The aluminum homes proved much more expensive than estimated. Some builders lost money and sued Alcoa. Only 24 of the homes were built nationally, and only a handful remain standing.
The McChanes’ house, which merited a 10-page spread in Millett’s 2015 book, is the only Alcoa “Care-Free” home in Minnesota. It will open its doors for Docomomo’s Minnesota Modern House Tour Oct. 13, which includes four other midcentury time-capsule homes in the Twin Cities.
The McChanes, who tracked down an original sales brochure from the ’50s, have restored much of their home while taking care to maintain its original character.
They repainted the exterior, which is once again proudly purple, and relandscaped. Inside, they’ve replaced flooring and spruced up interior walls, finished the basement, updated the kitchen and added a terrace. They still have a few projects they want to tackle. “The bathrooms, unfortunately, are very original,” Rob noted.
But their family, which now includes two toddlers, love living in their “Care-Free” home.
“We spend a lot of time here. It’s almost an alternate universe,” said Whitney. “It’s today, but from time past. It’s so much fun to be in it. Everyday moments feel special.”
Thanks to the open floor plan, the home is family-friendly, she said. “Alcoa did some research, surveyed homemakers about what features they would want in a home,” she said. “You can be in the kitchen and still have some awareness of where kids are. It makes parenting easier.”
“Considering it was built 60 years ago, it lives remarkably well,” said Rob. “We feel really lucky to be able to call it home — and to be stewards of this house.”
Minnesota Modern Tour Day
What: Tour five Twin Cities homes, all midcentury time capsules that showcase distinctive modern architecture and design. Presented by the Minnesota chapter of Docomomo (International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement).
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 13.
Where: Homes are located in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley and St. Paul. The homes in St. Paul, north Minneapolis and Golden Valley will be open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the homes in St. Louis Park and south Minneapolis will be open 1 to 3 p.m., followed by an after-party, 3 to 4 p.m., at 340 E. Diamond Lake Rd., Mpls. Tour-goers are responsible for their own transportation.
Cost: $50 ($30 for Docomomo members, $15 for students with valid ID). Tickets can be purchased online at eventbrite, or on the day of the tour (check or credit card only, no cash) at any of the three homes featured on the morning tour (656 Montcalm Pl., St. Paul; 4949 Queen Av. N., Mpls.; 5055 Bassett Creek Dr., Golden Valley).