Jana Shortal had a secret on the October day we visited the Minneapolis home she shares with Laura Zebuhr.
Within 24 hours, Zebuhr would become Shortal’s fiancée. The KARE 11 TV anchor had plans to propose the next day, while the couple were on a camping trip to tiny Finland, Minn., near the North Shore.
“She. Said. YES.” Shortal announced on Facebook shortly afterward, thanking “all who literally and figuratively held my hand up until this moment when I asked Laura for hers.”
On the afternoon of the interview, “I was grinding my teeth to stop me from shouting, ‘I am proposing tomorrow!’ ” Shortal said a few days later. “I had it planned. For a loooooong time.”
The couple’s playful, cozy compatibility definitely warmed the rooms as they led a tour of the renovated Spanish Revival house that they rented together in June.
“It’s the first house I have lived in since I was 17,” said Shortal, who grew up in Jerseyville, Ill., studied journalism at the University of Missouri, then worked at stations in Kansas City and Jefferson City, Mo., before landing at KARE in 2003.
The shared house symbolizes the coming together of the high-profile TV journalist and the bookish, West Virginia-native English professor who won her heart.
Shortal is a news junkie by necessity, while her fiancée “doesn’t watch news. She has real books,” said Shortal. Although their backgrounds, careers and reading habits are different, the couple share many interests — and a similar minimalist aesthetic.
Shortal, who had spent the previous seven years renting a small apartment in the North Loop, was ready for a bigger place to call home. “I always wanted a place to have people over and have wine,” she said.
And when she and Zebuhr decided to make a home together, they wanted a nice one. “We didn’t want to rent a crummy place,” said Shortal.
The house isn’t especially large, with two bedrooms on the main floor and a finished lower level, but it’s a lot bigger than Shortal’s former apartment and the house that Zebuhr, who works at the University of St. Thomas, previously owned in northeast Minneapolis.
“We’ve never had these many rooms,” said Zebuhr.
They sold or donated most of their furnishings and “started over” in the house, figuring out how to fill all their newly acquired space.
Sparse and neat
Shortal loves design but “it doesn’t come naturally,” she said. “The sheer enormity of it — having that set of choices.”
After four months, the house is now comfortably furnished — and sparely decorated. “We’re both pretty minimalist people,” said Shortal.
Their search for a sofa led them to a woolly white one from CB2.
“The couch made us laugh. It’s fun and furry,” Shortal said.
There’s a colorful cluster of cushions in one corner. “The intention with this room was to lounge around on the floor,” Shortal said. And now that they have a fireplace, they needed a screen.
“We looked at some but they were hundreds of dollars,” Shortal said. A friend gave them a vintage metal screen, fan-shaped, like a peacock’s open tail. “I thought it was the NBC symbol,” Shortal said.
They’ve filled some of the home’s built-in niches with decorative objects, but so far have hung very little art on their walls. “I don’t know how to do that,” Shortal said.
Zebuhr, “the botanist,” according to Shortal, “keeps [the plants] alive,” although they do have a thriving rubber tree that Shortal contributed.
“That was your tree. You kept it alive,” Zebuhr reminded her.
And they’ve gradually figured out their old home’s quirks, including where the laundry goes after you toss it down the chute. “The first time, I couldn’t find it,” Zebuhr recalled.
The couple met more than a year ago after Zebuhr saw a magazine profile on Shortal and decided to “cold e-mail” her.
At the time, the anchor had been getting a lot of press after ditching the TV lady uniform of coifed hair, full makeup and a demure, form-fitting dress, in favor of dressing as herself — in pants, tailored blazers, often with a pocket square, and short, naturally curly hair.
Zebuhr was intrigued. “I think we have a lot in common and should meet,” she wrote.
So they made a date at Bev’s Wine Bar in the North Loop.
Before Zebuhr, Shortal had soured on dating. “Online dating is weird,” she said, adding with a grin, “I was waiting for an English professor to find me.”
Within several months, the couple had decided to rent a place together. They found their Spanish Revival house last winter when it was in the process of being renovated by a developer. The project was far from complete, but they signed a lease anyway.
The tranquil setting, next to a pond, was a big plus.
“It’s an urban oasis,” said Shortal, which is “hard to find in the middle of the city. If you sit on the floor, you can’t tell you’re in the city. All you see are trees.”
The house, which was getting an updated kitchen and a new mudroom, was still a construction zone, but Shortal and Zebuhr were charmed by its original 1932 features, including built-in cabinets and even a built-in phone niche with pullout drawer for a phone book.
With its original fireplace and dramatic ceiling beams, the spacious living room was a showstopper. And Shortal liked the vintage bathroom.
“I think it’s funny — pink and ridiculous,” she said.
Zebuhr uses one of the two main-floor bedrooms as her book-filled office/library.
Comfort and peace
Shortal, who likes “darkness and quiet,” has an office on the lower level. It’s where she starts her workdays, drinking coffee and doing “prep work” — going through e-mails and reading news and social media sites for two to three hours before heading to the station at 10:30 a.m.
Her regional Emmy Awards — she’s won six — are scattered throughout the lower level, minus the one she’d picked up just the week before, for top “Talent — Anchor.”
“The new one I left accidentally at work,” she said.
After her show, “Breaking the News,” airs at 6:30 p.m., Shortal leaves work around 7:30. “We both cook for ourselves,” said Zebuhr, of their weeknight meal routine.
“I’m not super fun to have dinner with,” Shortal said, due to colitis, which limits her diet. “I eat a lot of boiled chicken and white rice.”
Weekends are different. “We cook and eat brunch together,” said Zebuhr. Favorite weekend activities include “going to the farmers market and hanging out with friends.”
For Shortal, a good weekend starts with “slowly drinking French press coffee,” followed by “go see friends, get food, do chores and run through sports shows.” She also enjoys riding scooters around the pond with the neighbor boy.
Their home is Shortal’s refuge, where she finds comfort and peace after the exposure of her public role. Much of the recent attention has been supportive and affirming, such as her April appearance on the “Today” show in New York, where she was interviewed about coming out as a gay TV reporter and breaking the on-air dress code. But she also gets criticism for her unconventional appearance.
“People still have a hard time accepting me for who I am and how I present, as far as gender,” she said.
She knows that public scrutiny comes with being a TV journalist, especially an atypical one. “You don’t get to put yourself out there and think everybody’s going to like you,” she said. “If they want to talk about journalism, facts, that’s fine, but talking about who I am as an individual crosses the line.
“People say, ‘You should have thick skin.’ You do manage it. But people say hurtful things.”
Home — and her fiancée — are her antidote.
“Not to be cheesy, but Laura’s really my refuge. Living here is synonymous with her.”