As the official architect for the Minneapolis Board of Education for more than a decade, Edward Stebbins designed several Minneapolis public schools. He designed private spaces, too – his most famous was the house on Kenwood Parkway known as the Mary Tyler Moore house.
The fact that Stebbins designed the 1900 brick Victorian in downtown Minneapolis’ Elliot Park neighborhood wasn’t lost on Nancy and Brian Nasi.
When the couple bought the Elliot Avenue home 17 years ago, it was in rough shape.
“It was literally boarded up when we came across it,” Nancy said.
Still, they were more than willing to take on a major renovation.
“We were labeled urban homesteaders, people who were looking for an older home that was in disarray and fixing it up,” she said, “and we found it in this forgotten corner of downtown.”
To the husband-wife duo, the home was worth saving not only because of its storied architect, but also because it had several rare features: it was on a double lot, included a carriage house and was centrally located in the southeast corner of downtown.
“It was one of the few single homes left in the neighborhood or for that matter the downtown core,” Brian said. “We feel we got there just in time.”
A blank slate
Nancy and Brian, who were looking to add a bit of modern to the home’s old-world charm, enlisted architect Howard J. Young to help them. Impressed by his portfolio, which included restorations of older homes in St. Paul and Minneapolis as well as historic commercial buildings, Young seemed the perfect fit.
“Iron, wood, brick, limestone and industrial ductwork mixed with fancy glass chandeliers, stained glass and open floor plans was his signature,” Nancy said.
To preserve the original character of the home and carriage house, they tuckpointed the brick exteriors. But because the interior had been stripped of many of its original components, they were working with a blank slate.
“The thing about having a home that was condemned was that they had torn stuff out such as the wainscoting,” Brian said. “So we didn’t have to feel guilty about going in a different direction.”
Walls were removed to open up the interior, exposing steel and wood beams to give the space an industrial accent. The kitchen got a modern update that featured wood from bowling lanes as countertops for the two, 11-foot islands.
The mechanicals were updated, including electrical, plumbing and insulation as well as heating and air conditioning.
Underutilized areas were given new uses. They removed the Sheetrock ceiling in the attic to find a vaulted ceiling, ranging from 7 feet to 18 feet high. The basement also received an overhaul. Plaster walls were taken down to reveal the original walls.
“The limestone walls were really unique,” Nancy said. “It needed repair so I tuckpointed it and now it’s a beautiful basement. It’s kind of Brian’s man cave.”
Throughout the house, the brick was sandblasted and the original hardwood floors were preserved.
Like the main house, the two-story, two-bedroom, two-bathroom carriage house also received a makeover in the industrial modern aesthetic.
“It’s almost identical as a mini-me of the big house,” Brian said. “I look at it as proof of concept.”
As they fixed up the home, Nancy and Brian learned more about the home’s history. The descendants of previous owners would spot the couple in the yard and thank them for looking after the home.
“They would march down our driveways. They’d introduce themselves and had all of this information for us,” Nancy said.
Nancy and Brian, who estimate they are either the fourth or fifth owners of the home, began inviting them in to see the progress they were making. The couple even honored a request from the original owner’s grandson to dig in their yard.
“He wanted to dedicate a tree to his grandmother, so we planted a crab apple tree,” Nancy said. “It felt like a family. We would set up a time for them to come over and we would show the place. They came every year.”
They learned that Swedish immigrants Christine and August Ekman commissioned Stebbins to design the home when Elliot Park was experiencing a growth spurt. In the late 1870s and ’80s, schools and hospitals were being built in the area and wealthy families seeking to build their homes close to the business district soon followed.
Time to list
Seventeen years after they moved in, the couple has listed the 4,383 square feet, four-bedroom, five-bathroom home that comes with a finished carriage house.
“Brian is retired and I’m thinking of retiring soon and the reason we moved here was to be in close proximity to our jobs [in and around downtown],” said Nancy. “There is such a rich history to this house … It’s going to be hard to leave that history because Brian and I are now part of it. But it is time to pass the torch and let the new set of owners make their own story.”
They hope they’re sending it off in a fashion that the next homeowners can appreciate – historic touches combined with modern-day amenities.
“I don’t think people who come here expect to see such an open floor plan in an old house like this,” Nancy said, adding that people are also surprised at how intimate the home feels for its size. “It has this warmth with the wood and the inlays. It doesn’t feel like a huge house. It feels like a very cozy house.”
And from the perch of several rooms, the views of the city are a dime a dozen.
“From a few different rooms you can see the skyline of downtown Minneapolis,” said Brian, who added that restoring the historic home has been “a labor of love and quite the adventure.”
Looks like this mansion once deemed unsalvageable is gonna make it after all.
Kathy Ekberg ([email protected]; 651-503-6971) and Peter Mason ([email protected]; 713-204-8804) of Lakes Area Realty have the $1.2 million listing. At the time of publication, an offer on the home was pending.