As an interior designer, Renae Keller has followed the style sensibilities — and whims — of her clients during her 23-year career. But in 2017, Keller stepped into the client’s shoes when she and her husband, Bruce Keller, designed and built their own home in Burnsville.
For Keller, it was heaven. “The Rolodex in my mind started spinning,” she recalled. “I saw the colors, the kind of wood trim, tile designs. ... ”
After 17 years, the couple and their four children had outgrown their “starter home,” a 1960s three-bedroom honey oak rambler in Burnsville. They had consulted an architect and explored adding a second story to the rambler, but the investment just didn’t make sense for the age and condition of the home.
Keller was trolling real estate sites for another home in the same school district when a rare empty lot popped up for sale. They drove by the ¼-acre Burnsville property, and bought it three days later.
“I got chills,” said Keller. “It was super-exciting. Now we could build a home exactly the way we wanted.”
Keller, who grew up cooking pies with her grandmother, wanted to re-create that farmhouse feeling.
“I’ve always loved the craftsmanship and details of an old farmhouse, and the tall baseboards and beautiful millwork,” she said.
They got that in spades, with a 21st-century cottage-style house with multiple peaked gables, shutters and a welcoming front porch. But instead of traditional wood siding, the home is clad in low-maintenance Hardie shingle and board-and-batten siding. Keller also picked a fresh shade of cilantro for the front door.
In the 3,882-square-foot, two-story home (which includes five bedrooms and four bathrooms), Keller nixed a formal living room. Instead, she created a spacious kitchen and owners’ suite on the main floor, which makes the home one where it will be easy to age in place.
“We wanted to do it right and plan to live here for at least 25 years,” she said.
Their teenagers’ bedrooms and TV/game room are upstairs. She also added laundry areas on each floor.
The main-floor living spaces flow together, encouraging family interaction — lounging in front of the fireplace, watching the Vikings or snacking at the kitchen island.
Instead of designing walls of windows, Keller insisted on plenty of walls to display art.
The kids had only one must-have: a wood-burning fireplace in the family room like the one in their old rambler. “They love the smell and sound of it,” she said.
Keller’s design style relies on classic lines with just enough detail, textural fabrics and patterns such as tailored herringbone or plaid.
“Having the right base of elements in a room — texture, light, furnishings, art — is comforting and tells a story,” she said.
But don’t be fooled by the home’s traditional details such as glass doorknobs and inset cabinet doors.
She’s infused splashes of bold color, ranging from the chartreuse baseboards in the powder room to the “Living Coral” (Pantone’s Color of the Year) sofa in the family room.
Although Keller was in charge of the interior design, building from scratch was fraught with challenges.
The family lived in a rented townhouse for an eternal 16 months while completing their home last year, due to switching builders, and redesigned the fireplace three times.
Donning the client hat was wonderful 85% of the time, said Keller, but also could be “paralyzing and overwhelming” in trying to creatively stay within their budget. She empathizes with clients who are struggling.
“Be flexible with your choices, and try to keep an open mind,” she advised.
Today Keller is happiest in her cheerful heart-of-the home kitchen, and marvels at how well it works for their family.
“This house was a dream come true,” she said.
Keller’s decor tips and tricks
Coral and more color palette
Have a neutral base, and add pops of color. Keller started with a neutral taupe on the main-floor walls, then introduced color in the blue-green kitchen cabinets, artwork and accessories. She also injected bold splashes of bright coral in the velvet sofa and pillows in the family room. The bold hue is “not for everyone,” she admitted, “but it has a great feel.”
Mirror, mirror on the wall
Make your own focal point. Can’t find compelling artwork for above the fireplace? Keller displayed a looky assortment of mirrors in different sizes.
Make sure your kitchen is functional as well as attractive. Keller found a slab of quartzite with a satin finish to top her 11-foot-long family-friendly kitchen island. Two sinks allow the kids to fill water bottles and wash hands at one station while others can do dishes and clean up at the other station. The comfy island chairs are vinyl for easy cleaning and can be spun around to watch TV.
Add a bit of nature. For the dining area, Keller found a pine table accented with a marble inlay. Sliding in wicker chairs “helps tone things down and keep it casual and relaxed,” she said. The banquette, which is covered in indoor-outdoor houndstooth fabric, can seat a crowd and hold up to traffic. Vintage-look, gold-framed botanical prints bring in touches of nature. “When you mass the prints together, it feels like one large piece of artwork,” she said.
Flower power powder room
In the powder room, Keller let herself go a little wild with Portier floral wallpaper by Designers Guild, which she accented with chartreuse painted baseboards. “I’ve been trying to sell it to clients for years,” she said of the wallpaper, “but no one was brave enough, so I decided to use it in my powder room.” A wrought iron and bronze gold leaf finish chandelier is the finishing touch.
Mixed up metals
She used a mix of metals — bronze, gold, silver — and repeats them in artwork frames, lighting, hardware and even the metal nailheads on the kitchen island chairs.
Handy but hidden
Get clever with storage. In the kitchen, Keller designed a coffee and blender bar that can be concealed behind pullout doors. A KitchenAid mixer also pops up from a lower cabinet.
In her decor, Keller used items that have a personal connection. She refinished the antique pie cupboard from her grandmother’s house in Lanesboro, Minn. She painted the interior coral and the outside blue-green, and repurposed it as storage for crafts and wrapping paper. “Grandma is proud that I’m still using it,” she said.
For display shelves and mantels, arrange an odd number of items of different heights. Try placing items on books to vary the height. Another trick is to line up a series of same-sized items, for example, five white bud vases, then add an accent, such as a single yellow daisy.
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619 @LyUnderwood
Interior design: Renae Keller, Renae Keller Interior Design, International Market Square, Mpls., 952-261-9031, renaekeller.com.
General contractor: Chris Albrecht, Superior Contracting, Jordan, 612-366-0156, superiorcontractingmn.com.
Some of Keller’s favorite resources
Zachary Ltd. An importer of European and Asian antiques, fine art, custom case goods, antiques, collectibles, upholstery, unique accessories, antique and reproduction lighting. “It’s my all-time favorite spot. Sometimes I even go in there and sit for inspiration. The styling and mix of old and new is top-notch.” International Market Square, Mpls.
Anthropologie “A great place for accessories full of luxe, textural items that can give a space just enough. You won’t come out of there empty-handed.” Twin Cities stores. Anthropologie.com.
thelittlemarket.com A fair-trade nonprofit founded by women to empower women; sells gifts, candles, accessories, spa supplies and home goods. thelittlemarket.com.
Kowalski’s Market “I love the usable accessories and produce that is relevant to the time of year. A bowl of lemons, limes and clementines always make for a wonderful splash of color in a room.” kowalskis.com.
T.J. Maxx/Marshalls “Great for glass vases for flowers and some small garden tables in a pinch.” Twin Cities locations.
Trader Joe’s Variety of flowers and greenery. “They have my favorite boxwood wreaths for the holiday season.” Twin Cities locations. traderjoes.com.