An urban retreat

Homeowners turn a boring house into a urban lake home paradise

The 1953 split-level rambler in Linden Hills on the southwest corner of Lake Calhoun was nothing special. Beige and bland, it was easy to ignore.

That was before Colette Gandelot and Suzanne Butzow discovered it.

After collaboration with a contractor, architect and artists, the boring house on the lake was transformed into an Arts and Crafts-style dream home in just over one year.

The efforts paid off: In November the house, located at 3636 Zenith Ave., was named Minnesota’s “Best of the Decade: Entire House Remodel over $1 million” by the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).


This house wasn’t part of Gandelot and Butzow’s original plan.

The two had been working with an architect to remodel Gandelot’s previous house, about a quarter-mile north of the remodeled Zenith Avenue home. The previous site, however, was difficult to change to the specifications that the two were looking for. That’s when Gandelot found the split-level rambler.

“I was driving past there one day and I noticed the house was for sale and called a Realtor friend … and was able to pop in,” Gandelot said. “I quickly realized the bones of this house were exactly the kinds of space we wanted. I called Suzanne and said, ‘Uh oh, you have to take a look at this house.’”

The proximity to Lake Calhoun, a place Gandelot fell in love with the first day she moved to Minneapolis, was a major draw.

Though the two were only a month away from demolition of the previous house, they quickly turned around, getting new plans from their architect and the support of their contractor, Vujovich Design Build.

The change to a different house might seem daunting, but Ed Roskowinksi, owner and general manager of Vujovich Design Build, said the change was quick.

“Everyone just kind of shifted gears,” Roskowinksi said. “[It] was similar to the other project.”

Construction and design

Though the bones were kept intact, much had to be changed to transform the house from beige and uninspiring to the dream home Gandelot and Butzow were looking for.

Removing the roof was among the changes necessary to build the ideal home. Such a dramatic event confused the neighbors when a giant boom crane came and carried the roof away.

“I just remember our next door-neighbor came home at the time and was [screaming] … it was quite dramatic,” Gandelot said.

Very little space was added to the house. The conservatory was the only major addition for the interior.

“We weren’t interested in square footage,” Butzow said. “We were interested in finishes.”

The finishes are what set the house apart, the homeowners said. Gorgeous wood floors and cabinetry, intricate cabinet knobs, stained glass and other subtle artistic touches make it feel completely one-of-a-kind. Vistas give the house a wide-open feel, but smart design allows a view of the lake without anyone being able to peer inside.

“It has a timeless quality,” architect Jerry Allan said. “It’s not a slave or pastiche to any particular style. It incorporates Wright, Japanese and Craftsmen — all suited to their lifestyle.”

Even the furniture feels seamlessly woven into the styles of the house. Though filled with crafts, there is no hint of kitsch. All of the homeowners’ furniture and crafts from their two previous homes fit right in, necessitating few new purchases, they said.

The success of building a timeless home that incorporates the homeowners’ personal preferences should be an example to others looking to remodel, Roskowinski said.

People shouldn’t be afraid to make a home personalized, he said. “There is a trend where people are afraid of resale. They use more neutral tones so that the next person coming along feels like they can see themselves living there, but people need a home that they can make theirs.”

Artistic collaboration

The Zenith Avenue house is just as much a piece of art as it is a home.

Many of the finer details were hand-designed by artists, making them completely unique to the house.

Though Gandelot and Butzow said they often collaborated with the artists hired to help make their detailed dreams a reality, much of the process was letting the artists feel the space and create independently.

Among the larger handcrafted projects were the two fireplaces, each done by a separate artist. The conservatory’s fireplace mantle features leaves surrounding it that appear to fall to the ground and pool near the base. The library’s fireplace, meanwhile, takes inspiration from a nearby marsh, featuring birds, cattails, lily pads and water elements.

Winning the award

The house has won more than its fair share of awards.

Purchased in February of 2002, with construction completed by March of 2003, it quickly was heralded as a quality project. Vujovich Design Build  won a NARI award for the best over $1 million remodel in the Midwest in January 2004, followed by the national award later in April.

Publications were clamoring to display the house as well. Both “Remodeling Trends” and “Midwest Home & Garden Magazine” featured the house prominently in 2004.

Despite a shift in styles and trends since then, Gandelot and Butzow feel no need to change anything. It is telling of the great work Vujovich has done, they said.

“They have done some of the best remodels in the area,” Gandelot said. “I truly believe Vujovich is one of the best companies in the Twin Cities.”

A place to call home

Though the house was completed years ago, it still attracts considerable attention.

People frequently stop and stare, take pictures, and even compare paint swatches to the exterior color, Gandelot said.

“I am constantly surprised by people’s response to this house,” she said, adding that many are surprised a project like this can emerge from a remodel of a 1950s split-level rambler. “We’ve had a lot of people asking for plans because they’re facing the same conundrum [we did].”

Gandelot and Butzow agreed that the house is one they previously only dreamed about. Despite living there for seven years, there is nothing they would change, the two said. With a gorgeous remodel and a clear view to Lake Calhoun, few would disagree.

“We’re so in love with this house,” Butzow said. “It’s been amazing.”