History Meets High-Tech

“We like modernity; we just don’t like to see it,” says Tim Lander as he surveys the 19th-century four-square house in Minneapolis that he and his partner, Jay Broton, retrofitted to suit their active 21st-century lifestyle. From planning to punch list, the constant challenge was to determine how best to restore this historic home’s beauty while quietly integrating the conveniences of modern life.

Unique features, such as the warm-hued woodwork and the bold, geometric floral pattern of the antique Eastlake Lily hardware clearly were worth preserving and extending into the design of renovated and new spaces. On the other hand, the circulation paths running through the main floor and down to the basement were inefficient, the mechanical and electrical systems were outdated, and the kitchen was small and poorly lit.

“We removed a chimney, rerouted and upgraded mechanical and electrical systems, eliminated an extra stairway, and reused part of the original kitchen to create a transition area between the formal areas at the front of the main level and the less formal ones at the back,” says Beth Malmberg, project director for Minneapolis-based Vujovich Design Build Inc., the firm that completed the retrofit. Through careful reconfiguration Vujovich Design Build was able to insert a cloak room, half bath and butler’s pantry into what essentially had been unused space.

“I love it when people say ‘I’m glad you kept the old butler’s pantry because that’s entirely new,” Malmberg observes. Vujovich Design Build created custom finials and used quarter-sawn oak, a marble serving surface, and antique hardware to ensure the built-in buffet blended well with the historic details and refurbished staircase, flooring and wood trim in the entry foyer, living room and dining room.

Other changes to existing main-level spaces were subtle yet significant. A millwork expert on Vujovich Design Build’s team used Lander’s sketches to construct a custom corner cabinet with a drop-down panel that can hide the television perched above a new gas fireplace. The homeowners selected sconces and ceiling-mounted lights that are reproductions of transitional fixtures made circa 1895 when the house was first built. These are controlled by period-appropriate, push-button light switches with dimmers.

The butler pantry after it was opened up to the kitchen.

“When you first enter our home there is nothing that indicates we are living in the 21st century,” Lander says. Nothing, that is, until you slip through the pocket door at the back of the butler’s pantry and step into the spacious new kitchen that encompasses the floor area of the former kitchen and stretches the full length of a 15-foot, single-story addition.

After several years of cooking in a cramped, dark environment, the homeowners wanted a bright, open and flexible place where they could make meals in advance, prepare hors d’oeuvres or multi-course dinners for entertaining, or enjoy a casual meal while listening to music, watching television or a movie, or surfing the Web.

“We didn’t do this for show,” Lander says. “Our kitchen is a work space for us. We use it every day.” Striking the ideal balance between history and high-tech was especially challenging in this room, however, because the homeowners wanted it to be fully IT-capable and include a state-of-the-art stove, oven and refrigerator.

Vujovich Design Build’s design incorporates these features while making the kitchen seem like a natural extension of what existed historically. Stainless-steel appliances appear to have been set into existing cabinetry. A custom drawer holds the keyboard and cordless mouse that serve the television and computer monitor located above the main food-preparation counter.  A food-warming drawer and recessed shelf for storing large, frequently used cooking appliances are located at the base of the center island. A second pocket door can be slid shut to close off the food pantry where additional appliances, pots, pans, dishes and utensils are stored with dry goods, other nonperishables and spices.

About the Author

Heather Beal
Heather is a published author, freelance journalist, and artist with 20+ years of experience writing about the arts, architecture, urban revitalization, business and cultural trends, and all aspects of the built environment. She has also photographed people and places throughout the Upper Midwest, across the United States, and abroad. Her award-winning photos have been selected for curated exhibits, included in international presentations and reference libraries, published by magazines, books, and newspapers, and featured by various interactive media.

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