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When Rich Kronfeld and Robin Doroshow bought their 1959 split-level home in Golden Valley, it came with something extra — a quirky detached screen house in the backyard.

“It was a nice, unique thing,” said Kronfeld, who described the screen house as “architecturally interesting,” with lots of screened openings of different shapes and sizes.

The family sometimes ate meals, including holiday and Friday night shabbat dinners, in the airy 280-square-foot space. But after 15 years, the screen house had deteriorated to the point that it wasn’t inviting anymore, and they rarely used it.

“Over the years it got worse,” Kronfeld said. There were no windows on the screens, which made it difficult to keep the space clean. “It was always dusty and dirty inside.”

Last year, Doroshow decided to replace the old kitchen table in the screen house with some nicer furniture. That prompted Kronfeld to decide it was time to spruce up the structure itself.

“I went out there, and it was filthy and rotten,” he said. He thought he’d have to replace some of the boards, so he hired a handyman to help him, although Kronfeld is no stranger to home improvement projects. He learned his skills working alongside his father, an engineer.

“He was real handy. I picked it up from him,” said Kronfeld.

The handyman pointed out serious structural problems with the screen house. The support beams had been set directly on the ground, and the bottoms were rotting away.

“They didn’t build it right originally,” he said. “It might have caved in. When I discovered how bad it was, it turned into a total tear-out and rebuild.”

Rich Kronfeld and Robin Doroshow enjoyed their gazebo with dog Ginger.
Rich Kronfeld and Robin Doroshow enjoyed their gazebo with dog Ginger.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Kronfeld and the handyman cut away the rotten sections of the beams, and replaced them with treated 4-by-4s, set on structural concrete pads. The deteriorating plywood of the walls was torn out, and the structure was framed, using 2-by-4s, with the addition of foam board insulation and wood siding.

Kronfeld decided to fit the openings with actual windows that could be closed to keep the room clean and warm enough to use in chilly weather. But finding them wasn’t easy.

“All the window openings were different sizes,” he said. “That was the biggest challenge of the project — finding windows that would fit in all these weird openings.”

For the 11 large openings, he was able to find windows at Menards. But there were also five long horizontal transom-type openings above them. He had to hunt for specialty window sources online, and ultimately found what he needed at Shed Windows and More.

Then there were some small high clerestory openings at the top. For those, he found brick-shaped glass blocks at Quality Glass Block & Window. The colors he chose for the glass blocks — blue and amber — create a stained-glass effect when the sun shines through them.

But first he had to install them.

“Putting them in was hard,” he said. The openings were high, and the blocks were heavy. He had to hoist each one up, holding it with one hand while trying to screw it in with the other.

Kronfeld completed the framing and windows and installation of new deck-style flooring last summer and fall, then finished the caulking and painting this spring. His son also helped with the project.

The formerly white screen house is now deep charcoal gray inside and out, giving it a dramatic presence.

“We had a family meeting about what to call it,” Kronfeld said. “It’s dark and angular.” So they dubbed it “Darth Vader’s Gazebo,” because it resembles the “Star Wars” villain.

The gazebo restoration project had a deadline — to be completed by their son’s graduation earlier this month. They hosted a social-distance family gathering on the slate patio between the house and the gazebo.

Kronfeld estimates that he spent about $20,000 on the project, including materials and the cost of the handyman who helped him. About $5,000 to $6,000 of that was spent on windows. Without his DIY efforts, it would have cost considerably more.

“If I had to pay for all my labor, it would have been another $10,000,” he said.

The gazebo is now so appealing that their teenage daughter chooses it as the place to hang out with her friends. “It’s turned into her clubhouse,” he said.

Kronfeld is looking forward to spending more time there himself.

“Now it is much more usable — like being in a nice room in the house,” he said. “Before, it was dirty and shabby. It’s gone from being a thing you didn’t want to hang out in to being really nice.”