After more than two decades in the traditional suburban home where they raised their children, Pat Slaber and Dick Vogel were ready for simpler living.
Vogel liked the idea of moving downtown or at least to a smaller, lower maintenance house. “We looked at townhouses,” he said.
But Slaber was reluctant to move at all. She was thinking they could hire more services, such as snow shoveling and lawn mowing, to help them maintain their big house on its big suburban lot.
Then a chance conversation planted a seed.
Vogel and Slaber, both ballroom dance enthusiasts, were at a dance club event.
“At a break in the music, we started talking to a couple who lived at Stonebridge,” a condo building in the Mill District in Minneapolis, Vogel recalled. The couple said that a new condo building was going up nearby — the Legacy — on the eastern edge of downtown.
Vogel and Slaber decided to take a look.
They liked the Legacy’s location, which was within walking distance of Vogel’s job on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus, where he teaches finance at the Carlson School of Management.
They liked the floor plans, specifically a large unit on the 14th floor with a breathtaking panoramic view of the river and the Stone Arch Bridge.
“We saw this layout and fell in love with the big, open space,” said Vogel. One-level living would be better for aging in place than their two-story house, they agreed.
And Slaber started to warm up to the idea of moving downtown. “There was excitement about building new and starting fresh,” she said, but she asked for “an opt-out clause. I said I’d give it two years.”
That was fine with Vogel. “In the end, we both agreed it wasn’t a forever decision,” he said.
The condo was an empty shell. “We had to choose everything, which was a blessing and a curse,” Slaber said.
To help them make those design decisions, they hired Sue Hunter, Home for a Change. They’d worked with Hunter on previous design projects at their house, and she knew their taste.
“They’re wood people,” Hunter said, who prefer natural materials and nature-inspired hues. “Nothing glammy.”
She also knew there would be some blue, Slaber’s favorite color.
“I knew Pat had to have a navy island,” said Hunter, who used the bold blue as the centerpiece of the couple’s kitchen.
The color also connected their condo to the neighborhood. You can see the Guthrie Theater, with its iconic indigo-hued exterior, from their living room.
To give the ballroom afficionados room to waltz and fox trot, the granite-topped island is long but not wide. “They needed space for their dancing,” Hunter said.
Cherry cabinets, quartz countertops and a glass tile backsplash in a pale mushroom hue complete the kitchen.
To complement the warmth of the wood tones and the blue accents, Hunter chose warm grays and taupes for most of the finishes. “Not cement gray. It could feel cold in winter,” she said. She also toned down the red oak flooring with a sheer gray stain.
For the ribbon fireplace, “Sue had a cool idea,” Slaber said. “She said we needed something shiny on the hearth,” so they chose gloss-finished quartz tile. “Fire reflects off it and adds an extra layer of light.”
The condo included an office for Vogel, but Slaber, a retired chemical engineer, needed one, too.
“The guest bedroom was going to be my den,” she said. “But there was no window. So we built my corner” in the master bedroom with a desk overlooking the river.
Old and new
To furnish their condo, Vogel and Slaber chose a mix of old and new. At 3,000 square feet, the condo was big enough to hold many of their existing pieces. But there was still a lot less space than they had in their 3,900-square-foot house, so they had to shed many belongings.
“It was such a pain — downsizing,” said Slaber, “but it’s good to purge while you’re still young.”
Purging involved making tough decisions. “The hardest for me to get rid of were the arts and crafts projects, memories of stuff with the kids,” Slaber said. In the end, they decided to “keep” them another way.
“We ended up taking pictures of them,” Vogel said.
Hunter also helped the couple incorporate some of their existing furniture into the new design. One must-have was Slaber’s century-old upright piano. “I’ve had that piano since the sixth grade. I’ve taken it to Puerto Rico, California and Indiana,” she said.
A white sofa they brought from their house anchors one seating area, while a new pale gray one anchors the other.
In the casual dining area, they bought a new round table to fit the space but encircled it with chairs they owned.
The formal dining area is furnished with the Danish modern dining set they brought from their previous home. “We had a Scandinavian design phase,” Slaber said. “The chairs are very comfortable.”
Hunter, however, is encouraging them to paint or otherwise tone down the hue of the wood. “Gel stain works really well,” she suggested.
In Vogel’s office, brown zebra-print chairs from their house complement the new desk and built-in closet system in a brown “suede” finish. “Lots of shelving — I needed that,” Vogel said. “Storage was one of our concerns — with moving, we were losing the basement and the garage.”
The couple didn’t buy any new artwork. Instead, Hunter worked with what they had. “I had them pull all their pieces out,” she said, then she shopped their collection to find art that would best complement spaces in the condo.
For the entry, Hunter created a gallery wall using all black-and-white photography and drawings. In Vogel’s office, she drew from the collection of nature photos that he’d taken in exotic destinations around the world, such as Botswana and the Galápagos Islands.
“One of our passions is to travel,” Vogel said. “I like to rotate the photos,” to remind him of different trips.
“It was super fun to work with his photography,” Hunter said.
Now that the couple have been in their condo about six months, they’ve gotten the hang of urban living.
“We walk a lot more,” said Vogel. “When you’re in the suburbs, you just get in the car. I walk to work almost every day. In a half-hour, you can walk anywhere — to restaurants, sports events.”
Their young adult children, who live in different states, also enjoy their parents’ downtown lifestyle. “We had so much fun with them in March,” Vogel said. “It was the first time they got to see it, and it was a blast for them.”
For her part, Slaber is still adjusting. “I miss the sound of birds,” she said. “We had a porch before, and I could hear the birds chirping.”
But she can still enjoy watching birds from their perch in the urban sky. She recently observed a murder of crows flying in a dark cloud above downtown.
“It’s a different backyard,” Vogel said. “The other day she saw a bald eagle soaring over the Guthrie.”