This Soft, Serene Home in South Minneapolis Is Filled with Light
A modern renovation by a prior owner didn't turn a Minneapolis couple away from their classic New England-style dream home. See how they softened its edges, created a serene palette, and suffused it from attic to basement with warmth—just in time for their baby's arrival.
Alexandra Gray Bennett and her husband were ready to nest. Finally back together in their native Minnesota—after they married, he had moved to Boston for business school—the couple were looking for an ideal home to start a family in. "We were basically Trulia regulars," jokes Bennett. "But I remember the first moment I saw our house in 2017. I just had a feeling." Set in the leafy Kenwood neighborhood of South Minneapolis, the 2,300-square-foot, two-and-a-half-story 1920s cedar-shingle dwelling had a traditional foursquare design, with a room in each corner and a central hall and stairway. It ticked all their boxes: It was simple and beautiful, close to lakes and trails for their Labrador, and—the kicker—walking distance from one of the city's best playgrounds.
Two years and one positive pregnancy test later, Bennett made a call to Victoria Sass, owner of local firm Prospect Refuge Studio, asking her to help "whip the house into shape before the baby's arrival," remembers Sass. "I recall my first conversation with Alex so clearly. She used the term homeostasis, which is when your body establishes equilibrium with its environment. She and I describe it as the feeling of slipping into warm milk." Says Bennett, "I started reminiscing about the home my mom had created, and wanted to evoke those same feelings for my son." Her childhood abode was always welcoming, thanks to the quilts Karen Gray made for every occasion and proudly displayed. They made such an impression, in fact, that mom and daughter now run a contemporary-quilt company, Louise Gray (Louise is their shared middle name), together with co-founder and creative director Jocelin Johnson.
To achieve that comfortable balance, Sass softened the modern elements of the house. The prior owner, a Swiss engineer, had taken care of all the major structural upgrades, including adding a steel roof, updating the wiring and plumbing, and installing Miele appliances and Douglas fir-framed windows. But he also chose industrial-ish details, like open steel shelving in the kitchen and wire stair railings. Sass's plan brought in family-heirloom textiles and art, along with kid-friendly additions like closed upper kitchen cabinets (better for hiding bottles and sippy cups). She also tackled two areas that hadn't been touched, the attic and the basement, adding a dreamy office up top and a spacious laundry-slash-playroom below. The color scheme, which subtly shifts from floor to floor, flows from earthy greens in the basement to monochromatic rusts and caramels on the main floor, where the living room is, to airy whites and blues in the bedrooms on the second floor. "There is nothing too jarring," says Sass.
The work was completed just before deadline, a.k.a Bennett's due date. "Our contractor was at our house, wrapping up some projects, when I went into labor," she says. "They literally finished up while we were in the hospital, so bringing the baby home felt surreal. But now it feels like we've lived here for decades."
A handcrafted Smilow Design pendant lights the way into the attic home office, where maple built-ins with Sun Valley Bronze pulls hold books and supplies. The matching Room & Board "Ellis" desks have Hay "Matin" table lamps and West Elm "Helvetica" chairs; Bennett's grandmother painted the North Carolina landscape. The vintage Ligne Roset Togo sofa was found on 1stDibs and reupholstered in Kvadrat "Coda" fabric. The walls are covered in backed Penny Morrison "Ashok" fabric in Petrol, and the floor with a plush Commune for Christopher Farr rug; both help keep the space quiet.
An 18th-century French Aubusson rug that belonged to owner Alexandra Gray Bennett's great-great-grandfather hangs on the living-room wall, which is painted in Farrow & Ball Wimborne White, the color used throughout the main floor. It echoes the tones of the Moroso "Gentry" sofa and pillows made of Sahco and Rose Tarlow fabrics.
Butcher-block and soap-stone counters and a Miele range came with the house. New wooden upper cabinets, designed to match the pre-existing lower ones, replaced more industrial-looking open shelves. Victoria Sass, owner of local firm Prospect Refuge Studio, gave them all Colonial Bronze pulls, and also added a Sub-Zero wine fridge.
Comfy at Home
Here, Bennett is photographed in her living room.
Bennett wanted her home to highlight makers and artisans from around the globe, near and far. The dining nook off the kitchen features a handblown-glass light fixture by local design studio Hennepin Made and "Soren" chairs from Minneapolis-based Room & Board. On the far side of the marble Saarinen Tulip table from Design Within Reach, her son's sleek Micuna Ovo Max Luxe high chair ($499, potterybarnkids.com) fits right in. The backyard was landscaped by St. Paul-based designer Matt Wildenauer, who works with native plants.
The couple's Ilse Crawford for De La Espada spindle bed is framed by custom draperies made of Fabricut "Haze" fabric, hung from a bronze French Return rod, and layered over a Horizons woven shade. They have matching Chelsea Textiles nightstands topped with Newport Lamp & Shade Company lamps. Hale Mercantile bedding, a lumbar pillow of Rose Tarlow Faso fabric, and walls painted in Farrow & Ball Wimborne White keep the mood light and bright. The rug is by Oyyo.
Scalamandré Raphael wallpaper and a Triple Seven Home light fixture (chosen because it's reminiscent of a bunch of balloons floating up and away) bring imagination and polish to the nursery. An antique artwork Bennett found in Mumbai hangs over a Kalon Studios Caravan crib draped with a Louise Gray "Myna Little" quilted baby blanket. A Room & Board sheepskin warms the floor, and the window has draperies of the same Fabricut Haze fabric used in the parents' bedroom.
Eight-foot-high ceilings and extra-deep, five-foot-wide Douglas fir-clad windows ensure the basement never feels dark. The custom-built white-oak storage cabinet is painted in Sherwin-Williams Messenger Bag; a cushion on top that's the size of a twin bed, made of French textile purveyor Élitis' "Lotano" fabric, turns it into a heavenly spot to hide with a book. The Visual Comfort "Gaios" lamp, Louise Gray "Dune" throw blanket, walls painted Sherwin-Williams Origami White, and patterned pillow from Etsy all play to the natural palette.
Moody Powder Room
The basement laundry room incorporates beautiful and durable materials, including marble-like yet nonporous and antimicrobial Marine Black slate countertops, rift-sawn white-oak cabinetry with Schwinn Hardware (the vacuum and ironing board are stored inside), and Ceramic Tileworks floors that look like travertine; the undercounter cabinets are painted in Sherwin-Williams Messenger Bag, and the walls in Sherwin-Williams Origami White.
Form and Function
A Pulley Maid beadboard drying rack folds neatly into the wall when not in use.