A tale oftwo houses


Linden Hills couple buy a home next door to save it and now use it as a summer cottage

Linden Hills residents Xandra Coe and Judy Meath are their own neighbors – the couple recently purchased the house next door for use as a summer cottage.

The couple bought the house that’s a mere 10 feet from their home at 38th Street and Sheridan Avenue South to save it from the wrecking ball. The home’s previous owners had plans to tear it down and build a new, larger house that would better suit their lifestyle.

When Coe and Meath imagined their view stripped of the classic abode, they didn’t like what they saw.

Even though they live in a gray, cube-shaped contemporary house with simple, clean lines that in many ways couldn’t be more different than the cottage’s details and proportions, they don’t want the neighborhood to lose its character. Linden Hills has been defined by homes like their new property – a 1905-era Dutch Colonial-style home that appears barn-like, with a peaked roof, porch, columns and latticework details.

Yet, Coe insists they didn’t buy it out of any personal virtue. They just really like the house and for now, will use it as a summer cottage. Coe and Meath bought the house for between $300,000 and $400,000, after talking with their neighbors, Erik and Anne Knuth, about plans for the house. Erik said he’s glad they didn’t get so far that they’d torn down the existing house. “We couldn’t bear to go through with demolishing it. This place was crying out to be saved. It was saying, ‘help me,’” said Erik, who tore down the neighboring house on the other side of the lot and replaced it with a larger home.

A summer home

The cottage has a porch with columns, windows adorned with shutters and a barn-like gambrel roof. The exterior paint is peeling, which makes it seem lived-in and is part of its charm. Hydrangeas with large purple blooms line the sidewalk leading up to the door. Inside, original fixtures, such as the built-in fireplace, brass doorknobs and closet mirror are still intact.

“One thing I love about it is that it reminds me of every place I ever lived before now,” Coe said.

It’s a stark contrast to their year-round home, built up after an older house on the lot was demolished in the ’80s. The gray stucco house is double the cottage’s size and it has a deck, attached garage and 20-foot ceilings. The cottage is 2,100 square feet including the basement, while its more modern counterpart is 4,000 square feet. The bigger house has central air and is more energy efficient.

But since it’s set on the lot at an angle, it appears as if it’s always been inclined toward the humbler abode. “Because of that, the houses converge,” she said. “ [The contemporary house] doesn’t dwarf it. In my mind, these two houses have always belonged together.”

Coe said she and Meath are looking forward to discovering the house’s age-revealing quirks. “It’s got such a great stock of baseboards, cranky windows and weird radiators,” she said “We have to learn the house and adjust to the funny door that doesn’t quite close. We’ll have the best of both worlds. We feel incredibly lucky.”

An over-the-fence deal

The Knuths, who still live in the neighborhood, stayed up late many nights, talking about what to do with the cottage. Rehabbing or adding on to it would be costly, especially when it has only two bedrooms, they figured.

Passersby often remarked on their house, and many solicited them in the case that they ever wanted to sell their home. The national magazine “Cottage Living” had also approached them about featuring the house in its pages.

It was kind of a pivotal moment for the Realtor-developer couple: They passed up an opportunity to cash in on the sought-after lakes-area location. But ultimately, Erik said they were relieved to sell it to people who would be sensitive to the house’s style and age. One reason they didn’t want to tear it down is because, “It’s very comfortable. It has a history and life. If you think you can re-create that, well, you can’t. It’s impossible. And what would be the point?” posed Erik. “You have to weigh the economics.”

He said this is a case wherein the neighborhood is the real winner.

“We’re developing our philosophy. It’s evolving over the course of projects. Contributing to Linden Hills’ charm is really something that we want to do,” Erik said.

Erik said he and his wife are looking forward to whatever home improvements Coe and Meath plan to make. The new homeowners are contemplating some minor repairs and a fresh coat of paint. “Maybe red with black trim? The block doesn’t have any red houses,” Coe pondered.

For now, Coe is decorating it with old family photos and other memorabilia that had been buried in boxes in her basement – items that don’t seem to fit in the other house. Additionally, Meath will take over one of the two bedrooms to use as a study while she completes her Ph.D. in higher education policy at the University of Minnesota.

Before they bought the house, Coe and Meath had their eyes on a cabin in Wisconsin. Now, their summer home is just a few steps away. Of course, this means that Coe and Meath, who sometimes contemplate moving to a neighborhood that doesn’t have airplane noise, are solidly planted in Linden Hills.

Neighbor, David Pearson, an antiques dealer, lauded their efforts. “I think it’s wonderful. The house is adorable. Keeping the flavor of the neighborhood is to be commended.”

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].