When Phil and Paula Mason moved back to the Twin Cities from Chicago in 2004, the search was on for a place to live. With their kids grown, their new place would be for just the two of them.
They looked into condo living, but didn't have much luck finding something they liked with the entertainment spaces they were imagining.
"We wanted to live in the city and looked at every place," Phil said.
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They found what they were looking for in condos that were being built in the former offices of railroad magnate James J. Hill in St. Paul's Lowertown district.
They were especially drawn to the sixth-floor units of the seven-story building because they "gave us the barrel tile ceilings and all the original features of the building," Phil said.
But the units were smaller than what the Masons wanted. So they got creative.
"We were able to buy two smaller units that gave us 10 of the original windows with a view to the Union Depot, river traffic," said Phil. "It was spectacular views. And having the opportunity to design it the way we wanted was a nice, pleasant surprise."
And, because they were among the first residents to move into the Great Northern lofts, they were able to nab a private rooftop patio space.
Designing for the times
The Masons wanted to give a nod to the historic brick building built in the late 1800s. (Its architect, James Brodie, also built the James J. Hill House about 2 miles away on Summit Avenue.)
"We spent quite a bit of time at the James J. Hill mansion looking at what he had done," Phil said.
The couple helped source design elements from antique stores, including surrounds for their two gas fireplaces. A room in their unit that doubles as a library and guestroom with a Murphy bed includes glass cabinets and "old wood paneling like what you would find in the James J. Hill mansion," Phil said.
The kitchen was designed in the spirit of a train car kitchen, with a two-sided galley pass-through.
While they honored the history of the building, they also added modern amenities, including a large center island, top-end appliances and finishes such as granite countertops and a silver glaze tile backsplash.
The Masons had lived in Europe at one point, which stirred their passion for wine. In their new condo, they put in a wine cellar with space for more than 1,000 bottles. They also loved movies, so created a media room with theater seating and a 108-inch projector screen as well as high-end sound and lighting systems.
'"The unit was organized around three or four different parts that were spaces where we could sit down and enjoy a conversation, enjoy a movie or have company," Phil said. "We designed around entertainment."
The next chapter
The Masons have enjoyed living in the space, which balances a mix of contemporary amenities and Old World charm. After 16 years, they're ready for their next chapter. They've listed their two-bedroom, three-bathroom condo spanning close to 3,000 square feet.
"We moved to Sunfish Lake [to be] close to our family there," Phil said.
The Masons said they hope the next homeowners will enjoy living in the space and revel in the views from the unit and the rooftop patio.
"You're looking at the river and the barge traffic. You can see the [Union] Depot. You can see the St. Paul [Downtown] Airport from here," Paula said. "You get a full shot of just about everything."
Phil noted that while the association fee is $2,000 monthly because it's a double unit, it includes heating, cooling, water and internet access.
"The association fees cover a lot of our costs," he said. "We just pay for electricity as far as our bills."
The unit comes with four parking spaces and two large storage units. The building has a community and party room with a full kitchen and an exercise room, too.
Listing agent Kathryn Kennedy said the location — a block from the St. Paul Farmers Market and within walking distance of CHS Field, restaurants and shops — also makes the building a desirable place to live. She added that the unit itself is of exceptional quality.
"They didn't spare any expenses," she said. "They just did an incredible job."
Kathryn Kennedy (email@example.com; 612-558-6488) of Coldwell Banker Realty has the $950,000 listing.