See more of the story

Two years ago, when the house featured in "Grumpy Old Men" went up for sale, it was the talk of the town.

It was the first time in 70 years that the St. Paul house where Ann-Margret's character Ariel Truax lived had been on the market. The listing generated interest from potential buyers as well as looky-loos curious to see the interior of the house.

Jesse Godzala, the listing agent back then, said about 160 people walked through the home at a time when an average listing would draw 12 to 20 people.

"I would ask if they were interested in buying the home, and they would say, 'Not at all. I just wanted to see the "Grumpy Old Men" house,' " Godzala said.

When it went on the market, Godzala described the 1918 home as being in a time warp and in need of updates.

"It was a smorgasbord of 1918 all the way to the early 1990s," he said.

Not anymore.

Current homeowner Kathryn Hillert Brewer has made modern upgrades while paying homage to a home that still gets plenty of fanfare.

In the 1993 movie, the home is referred to as "the old Clickner place" by Max Goldman (Walter Matthau) and John Gustafson (Jack Lemmon), who are neighbors-turned-romantic-rivals when Ariel moves in across the street.

While the movie was set in Wabasha, Minn., scenes were shot around the Twin Cities. That includes the exterior of the home where Brewer now lives. (Scenes portraying the home's interior were filmed at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen.)

Still, when the 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home on a ⅓-acre lot went on the market in early 2019, it spurred plenty of curiosity. The listing agent described the home, more than 100 years old, as not "move-in ready," "a time capsule" and a fixer-upper.

The main bathroom had a 1950s look. The kitchen, with its patterned yellow linoleum floors, was last updated in the late 1960s. The orange shag carpeting in the living room was likely a remnant of the 1970s. And there was an enormous "octopus" furnace that would need to be replaced.

However, original features such as built-ins, fireplace, hardwood floors, the home's location near Lake Phalen and the fame factor outweighed the drawbacks.

Brewer, a graphic designer, was up for tackling an extensive update.

At the time the home went on the market, she and her family were moving to Minnesota from Oak Park, Ill., and had been searching for a house in the area.

"I knew I wanted a Craftsman house and a bigger lot," she said. "Then this house became available as we were packing up our house and ready to move out."

After purchasing the home in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood in May 2019, Brewer spent two years ushering it into a new era. While she hired out some jobs, she did a lot of hands-on work herself.

"There wasn't an architect. We couldn't find a general contractor in the middle of summer. And I didn't know anybody," said Brewer.

She imagined how the home could be more open, functional and modern and went from there.

The kitchen was gutted and rebuilt with a new layout, appliances, maple cabinets and granite countertops. The bathroom was reimagined with marble tiles, a soaking tub, a walk-in shower and laundry. The upstairs landing and the bedrooms were redesigned or enlarged.

"Each bedroom had a closet, but the closets under the eaves were useless. The nice thing is they were not load-bearing walls, so we were able to make what used to be L-shaped bedrooms into big square bedrooms," she said. "They're a pretty decent size for a house this old."

All of the rooms have been repainted and new light fixtures installed.

And that octopus furnace? It's been replaced with a smaller, more efficient heating system. Central air was added. Other updates included replacing all of the plumbing.

The kitchen in the St. Paul home was last updated in the 1960s.
The kitchen in the St. Paul home was last updated in the 1960s.

CARLOS GONZALEZ • Star Tribune file

History and Hollywood

Even though almost every room was touched, Brewer preserved the Craftsman-style details.

"I wanted to be respectful of the wood and the built-ins and so I just cleaned up the woodwork," she said. "Even in deciding what to do with the baseboard in the kitchen, we made it match the style of the home."

And after removing the carpet, Brewer refinished the wood floors.

"The fact that the floor was covered with carpeting meant the floors were in good shape," she said. "Back then, the floors in the kitchen and upstairs were generally maple. And then because oak is a little bit nicer, you would have oak floors in the rooms where you would have guests — such as in the living room, dining room, front hallway and stairs."

Now that the renovation is complete, Brewer enjoys spending time in her home, especially the living room, which boasts avocado-colored walls and a dark green couch with brightly colored chairs and artwork as accents.

"I bought some midcentury modern furniture for the living room in terms of just balancing it out," she said.

Brewer loves time spent in the yard, which came with a sizable garden in which the previous homeowners used to grow roses.

"I love roses, and so I put a bunch in, too," Brewer said. "It's really fun to go out and garden here."

Brewer is not just smitten with the home, but the neighborhood, as well.

"I love all parts of Lake Phalen. I go for a walk with the dog every morning by the lake or the [St. Paul-Changsha China] Friendship Garden, it's so pretty to walk along. I love trying to find wood ducks, watching turtles and stuff like that. My daughter bought a kayak, so she kayaks on the lake."

A tourist attraction

Brewer is cognizant that as long as she lives at 1122 E. Hyacinth Av., there will likely be passersby taking photos of the home made famous by the original movie as well as the 1995 sequel, "Grumpier Old Men."

In fact, she welcomes it.

"We get tourists. They don't ever come up on the lawn. But they'll stand and take pictures of this house and the houses across the street where the guys lived from the movie," she said. "No one's ever invasive. Plus I'm up on a hill so people can't really see inside the house."

If anything, it gives Brewer extra motivation to maintain the house and garden.

"I'm kind of conscious about it," she said. "I keep up the lawn and I plant flowers because people are looking at it."

Nancy Ngo • 612-673-4892