A modern renovation honors home’s history

Renovations add style to 1898-era home in Kenwood

The McCarthys' home in Kenwood. Photo by Megan Dobratz

When Billy and Sue McCarthy decided they needed a bigger house, they didn’t have to look far. The 1898 grand dame they found was just across Lake of the Isles in Kenwood.

“We were definitely looking for an open floor plan, more space to entertain and space for three growing boys,” said Billy. “We loved our house, but there was no way to change it up anymore, to open it up.”

That wouldn’t be a problem at the corner house they purchased last spring. It has a huge yard and plenty of extra space. It also has good bones, and the family who had owned it for the previous 50 years had maintained it well. The large, original windows were intact, as were the wood floors, some interior glass doors, and most of the woodwork.


The house had undergone extensive renovations — including work done in the 1920s and ’30s, according to records that Sue McCarthy and Minneapolis architect Mindy Sloo found at the Hennepin County Historical Society.

The McCarthys wanted to bring the house back to original appearance while modernizing some areas to suit their family and lifestyle. The timeline, however, was tight. The McCarthys’ other home sold in four days and they wanted to move in by the fall.

The timeline wasn’t the only challenge, according to Sloo. She needed to address the house’s structural issues (including a sagging third floor) to support the redesign without disrupting what was in place.

The biggest changes came in the kitchen. General contractor Choice Wood Co. of St. Louis Park gutted this room and replaced a load-bearing column with a sturdy ceiling beam. The company built and finished the white enameled cabinets in its own shop, and replicated the eight-piece crown molding found elsewhere in the house.

Sue McCarthy had chosen a misty gray, beveled subway tile for the backsplash, and ended up having it installed above every counter. The cabinets and windows didn’t leave much wall space, and a traditional 18-inch backsplash would have felt “kind of weak and ordinary,” said interior designer Sue Weldon of Harris Weldon Interiors in Hopkins.

Sloo redesigned an existing informal dining area overlooking the back yard to remove sliding glass doors, a ceiling fan and skylight. Contractors added a spacious deck off the rear of the house.

Sloo also subtracted about 8 inches from the kitchen to expand an existing laundry room and convert it to a mudroom. Contractors removed a nonworking, three-story chimney brick-by-brick to make way for a floor-to-ceiling wooden storage unit with shelves, hooks and cubbies that keep clutter to a minimum. (Billy McCarthy joked that the mudroom has become his favorite space; Sue’s is the sunny, cozy den off the living room, where she likes to sit and read.)

The McCarthys now had the square footage for entertaining, but it wasn’t quite laid out the way they wanted. The couple decided to have the contractors remove a wall (complete with swinging door, a la Downton Abbey) that separated the kitchen from the adjacent family room and the former music room, now a dining room. At Erler’s suggestion, they had Choice Wood construct a built-in dry bar opposite the family room, with beverage coolers concealed in drawers beneath the counter and leaded glass cabinet doors above.

Sloo recommended bringing the family room up to date by removing another skylight and a 4-by-4-foot window in the far wall. She redesigned the room with windows and case goods similar in shape, style and size to those in the rest of the house.

The McCarthys chose to replace a wall that separated the music/dining from the foyer with a pair of glass doors original to the house. The result is a sunnier foyer and an extension of the open floor plan.

Choice Wood reworked the main staircase leading to the second floor, removing a wall that hid the stairs, replacing the treads, risers, handrail and balustrades.


Relocating the laundry room to the second floor posed the third challenge. The hallway had a closet large enough to accommodate a washer and dryer, plus room to spare for a separate linen closet. The location in the house’s core made it difficult to vent the dryer, according to Erler. A subcontractor figured out how to do it, and Choice Wood modified the bottom panels of existing wooden doors with period-style metal grates for air circulation.

A former nursery located off the master bedroom now serves as a walk-in closet. The master bath and boys’ bath got a makeover, too.

The family decided to convert the former maids’ quarters on the third floor (accessible by a second staircase) to a bedroom for their oldest son and a carpeted playroom for his younger brothers.

Like many old houses, this one held some surprises. The water pipes contained lead and had to go. Contractors discovered a turn-of-the-century whiskey bottle stashed, empty, inside the chimney. Sue McCarthy found an original light fixture, now hanging in the foyer, tucked away in a closet.

One of Billy McCarthy’s and Ben Erler’s favorite rooms actually isn’t a room at all. It’s the front porch. The original was sagging and out-of-proportion, its roof supported by oversized brackets that weren’t in keeping with the house’s style, Erler said. Choice Wood kept the porch’s base and gave it a new roof, balustrades, concrete surround and stucco.

“It’s big enough that if you’re standing on that porch, you don’t get rained on,” Erler said. “It’s kind of a grand entry…” for a grand dame.