Reinventing a large 1990s suburban house to resemble a city condo sounds like a tall order.
But that’s the design feat that Bryan Kramer and Trent Eisenberg pulled off in their Plymouth two-story.
“From the outside it’s a pretty traditional brick and stucco home,” said Kramer. “Inside is a surprise.”
Before moving to Plymouth, the couple had been downtown dwellers. They met when both lived in the same loft-style condo building in Minneapolis’ North Loop, then moved together to a larger downtown condo, also a loft.
“Both spaces were pretty modern, with concrete floors,” said Kramer. “We love that aesthetic.”
They took that aesthetic “the simplicity and materials,” and re-created it within the shell of their suburban house.
How did the loft-loving duo even wind up in a two-story house in suburbia?
It started with a desire for more space and a yard. They looked at dozens of houses, mostly modernist ones in first-ring suburbs, without finding the right home. Meanwhile, Eisenberg’s father and stepmother also were on the hunt for a new house. That meant that the house where Eisenberg lived as a teen would soon be available.
Built in 1993, the house was more traditional in style than what Kramer and Eisenberg had been seeking. But what if they gave it a modern makeover?
“It has good bones,” said Eisenberg of his family home. “I have a lot of memories in this house.”
And it also was more affordable than many of the other houses they’d considered, which meant they could invest some money into making it their own.
“It was within the price point we could spend, and it was a known commodity,” said Kramer. “We knew it was well-maintained, which was kind of comforting.”
To help them “loft-ify” their suburban house, the couple hired kitchen and bath designer Lisa Pope and project manager Andy Ostreim of Partners4Design, a Minneapolis design-build firm.
“It was well-done back when it was done,” said Pope of the house. “Our goal was to give it a more modern aesthetic — open it up and lighten it up.”
At first Kramer and Eisenberg thought they would do a partial makeover — updating the kitchen and two of the three bathrooms. But the project grew to encompass most of the house.
“Our goal for the space was to make it cohesive,” said Kramer.
Eisenberg’s father, who had originally built the house with Eisenberg’s late mother, had no objection to the transformation. “Dad was OK with it,” said Eisenberg. In fact, he suggested one of the updates.
Originally, Eisenberg and Kramer had intended to keep the “Brady Bunch” staircase with its thick oak railings. “We were going to paint it white to make it go away,” said Kramer. “But we were walking through the house with my father-in-law, and he said, ‘With all you’re doing, you need to redo the staircase, too. It’s the one thing your mother and I hated.’ ”
“It was a good piece of advice,” said Kramer. The new staircase’s cable railings and simple modern treads ties the home’s design together. “It’s a nice introduction to what we’ve done in other rooms.”
The original L-shaped kitchen included many of the features popular in ’90s home design, including a built-in desk and a small island with illuminated glass-block inserts — “like headlights,” said Eisenberg.
There was also a mirrored backsplash. “There was a lot going on,” conceded Kramer.
Kramer wanted to open the door to the dining room all the way to the ceiling. Pope proposed a second opening on the same wall, also to the ceiling.
“It allowed light to flow from the dining room, which has a full window, and made the rooms a little more connected,” she said.
The kitchen was completely reconfigured, including a new quartzite-topped island more than twice the size of the old one, with lots of built-in storage below and a linear LED pendant light above.
“Lisa helped show us the space’s full potential,” said Eisenberg.
Everything in the white-on-white kitchen is clean-lined and simple, with all appliances concealed behind cabinet doors, including two dishwashers.
“We both like to cook,” said Eisenberg. “And when you’re able to cook in a good space, it does make it happier.”
The family room also got a major makeover. It had a built-in bookcase set at an angle, and the TV and fireplace were on different walls, which complicated furniture arrangement. “We ended up creating a place for the fireplace and TV on one wall,” framed by new built-in cabinets, Pope said.
The fireplace surround is porcelain tile, charcoal in color.
“One of my pet peeves is seeing a black TV on a white wall when it’s not in use,” said Kramer. The dark tile makes the TV recede so that it reads as one dark expanse, and the tile’s glossy finish reflects light.
Toning it down
Some of the home’s design flourishes, including soffits and cutouts, were eliminated on the first floor to create a simpler, modern aesthetic. And the flooring, maple in some rooms and carpet in others, was replaced with white oak in 4-inch planks.
“We wanted a thicker board size, and we wanted all the first-floor flooring to match,” said Kramer. “With all the white, it added some warmth back in.”
But the carpet didn’t go to waste. “It was nice wool carpet. We had it bound and serged to make area rugs. Why throw stuff away?” said Eisenberg.
Upstairs, the original master bath was due for an update. “It was a dark, awkward room,” said Pope, with a jetted tub, set at an angle in a corner, an angled shower and a toilet “floating in the middle” — and facing a neighbor’s window.
The makeover included a free-standing tub, a glassed-in shower, a floating vanity with white cabinets and chrome hardware, and a gray tile floor. And the new toilet is now behind a wall, creating a place for additional storage.
Other rooms got more cosmetic updates, such as removing dark grasscloth wallpaper and painting the walls white. But a few original details were left untouched, including the hand-painted flowers and writing in the closet of Eisenberg’s sister’s former bedroom. “We kept that as an homage to her,” he said.
The furniture from the couple’s condo transitioned easily into the updated house.
“We haven’t purchased any furniture except two bar stools,” said Kramer. A couple of Eisenberg’s father’s pieces stayed with the house, including the stone-topped dining table and a Roche Bobois cocktail table.
Life in suburbia
Kramer, who’s new to suburban life, and Eisenberg, who left it years ago, are enjoying their new lifestyle — at least most of it.
“It’s a different quality of life,” said Eisenberg. “It’s quiet.”
Kramer, a landscape architect who works from home, likes having a yard and a nearby park. “I’m excited to tackle the outdoor spaces.”
They do miss the variety of downtown restaurants. And Eisenberg, who works in northeast Minneapolis, misses his old commute. “It was four minutes on a good day. Here it’s 20 if you’re lucky. Or an hour.”
But they’re completely happy with their loft-inspired house.
“We got to put our own stamp on this house,” said Kramer. “It feels like it’s home. And it’s great to see the reaction from Trent’s family members, who have known the house for so many years. They can still experience it — in a more modern context.”