Maryam Sarreshteh had no idea what a general contractor exactly did during a major home renovation project.
But after getting "unbelievable high bids" for restoring and updating her 1910 Arts & Crafts home in south Minneapolis, she decided to put on the general contractor hat.
"The numbers just didn't fit my budget," she said. "I knew I could bring down the costs if I was the GC."
Through a friend's referral, she met with architect Eric Hansen to design the two-story home's modified floor plan. And with his help, her pie-in-the-sky dream remodeling became a reality.
Hansen, who had previously run his own construction company, became her mentor. He guided her through the general contractor process, including bidding, hiring subcontractors, scheduling, sourcing materials and overseeing every detail of the endless projects from beginning to end.
"There's a lot of moving targets and parts, and it can be stressful," said Hansen, of E.J. Hansen in Minneapolis (ejhansen.com). "The general contractor is ultimately responsible for the outcome of the project."James Kuipers was the project assistant.
For Sarreshteh, the GC responsibilities did turn into a stress-filled, full-time job. "If I had hired me — I would have fired me," she joked. "It was a new challenge every day. Sometimes I felt like crying."
But after nine months, the Arts & Crafts jewel has been polished and rejuvenated for the next century, and Sarreshteh is cooking her favorite Persian dishes in her new white-on-white modern kitchen — all accomplished within her budget.
"I would do it again," she said. "It's been very rewarding to see how I changed this house."
'Fairy tale home'
Sarreshteh, who is from Tehran, Iran, moved to Minneapolis' Linden Hills neighborhood in 1999. After her divorce, she started house-hunting last year. She wanted to stay in the same area so that her twins, a son and a daughter, could remain in the same school, as well as be near walking and biking trails and city lakes. She toured more than 30 homes — and was discouraged by shoddy updates done by homeowners over the years.
In one house, a kitchen addition was built on top of an old deck, and the floor was sloping. "I walked into an early 1900s home with gorgeous Craftsman wood trim, with a 1980s Home Depot kitchen," she recalled.
"Omigod — it needs a lot of work" was her first impression when she stepped inside the century-old two-story that she now owns.
"All I saw was very dark, shiny woodwork, the shades were drawn and bookcases blocked the windows," she said. Among other drawbacks, there was only one bathroom — on the second floor — and spaces felt dark and oppressive.
But the rich Arts & Crafts details still took center stage — from John Bradstreet-style stained-glass windows to a handsome built-in buffet in the dining room, embellished with stained glass depicting a bowl of fruit.
To Sarreshteh, it felt like "a fairy tale home." "I love that it was untouched," she said of the home's original features. "And there were no cracks in the plaster walls."
Even though all her friends advised her not to buy it, she was already designing the transformation in her head.
Before launching the renovation, Sarreshteh and Hansen set their priorities, determining how to preserve the spirit of the past while designing an open flow and modern functionality for today — and the future.
"We wanted to create a new-home experience in an old house," said Hansen — without expanding the footprint of the existing 2,515 square feet, which includes the finished attic.
Sarreshteh requested a main-floor powder room, upstairs owner's suite with a bathroom, a new mudroom/back entry, a completely remodeled kitchen and, finally, strategies to brighten and lighten spaces.
The long list included new electrical wiring, a new heating-and-cooling system using the old boiler, painting the walls, and sanding and staining the vast amount of woodwork. "The layers of varnish had dissolved," said Hansen. "It looked like alligator skin."
It was tempting to paint the woodwork white, admitted Sarreshteh, because she was so focused on lightening the dark heavy-feeling rooms.
But Hansen convinced her that, once they refinished the hardwood floors with a clear polyurethane, knocked down the wall between the dining room and kitchen, and painted the walls white, she would change her mind.
Hansen was right. The newly stained warm nutmeg woodwork throughout the main floor adds depth and "is classic — not trendy," said Sarreshteh.
The staircase and landing were lightly sanded and covered with a gel stain. "This kind of fluff and buff can hide a lot of sins," said Hansen.
An unheated porch on the back of the house was turned into a new back entry from the garage and a mudroom to store coats and backpacks. Hansen added a huge window to draw in light through the kitchen and to the front of the house.
Upstairs, Hansen designed Sarreshteh's spa-style black-and-white retreat by taking space from a tiny fourth bedroom and the only existing bathroom and reconfiguring it into a new bathroom and big walk-in closet.
"I kept the original windows from the bedroom, to keep costs down," said Sarreshteh. But she did splurge on a new cast-iron claw-foot tub, scored on vintagetub.com.
Hansen also converted a big storage closet into a new bathroom down the hall from the twins' bedrooms.
Finally, Sarreshteh got her main-floor powder room. Hansen "shoehorned" the compact bathroom in a former closet under the stairs. It's outfitted with a "teeny weeny" sink and decorated with black-and-white vintage floral wallpaper.
During the monthslong renovation, Sarreshteh kept a "GC" diary and was hands-on, helping with demolition, cleaning, painting and covering and uncovering floors — sometimes in the middle of the night.
One day, workers kept hauling in sheets of wallboard, and she sensed it was way too much for the second-floor project. After they left, there were 50 unused sheets. The warehouse had doubled the order.
Sarreshteh took the risks of acting as general contractor — but she also reaped the rewards of keeping expenditures within her budget.
The smart home revitalization fits with her philosophy of recycling and re-use — and also drives her home-based business, Solidago, an online upscale consignment clothing and accessories store.
"This home has a happy spirit," she said. "And I'm glad it's taken care of."