The St. Paulista Home


Becoming St.Paulistas

On December 22nd, 2015, Dan received a call from our realtor that the seller signed the papers. We are moving to a new city, well, just across the river. Still, a new adventure awaits!  This is the third house we were interested in. The other two had Mediterranean-inspired exteriors (clay tile roofs, stucco, arches). We were enamored by the European styled homes from our travels and set out to find one for our own. But as we later find out,  just like most things in life, God, sometimes has better plans for us. 

This Old House

Our new old home is a 2-story modified Cape Cod home built in 1910. Although it wasn't exactly what we initially wanted, we loved that it is a well maintained century-old home in a neighborhood we like. The original owner was a pilot for Northwest Airlines and later sold it to John for around 12K in the 50s. John is now in his late 80s and had to move to assisted living. He reminds me a lot of Carl in the movie, Up. We met him a few times and he is a wonderful character. He was a mason and a handyman and did a lot of the additions in the house himself (He called the family room the heart attack room. He had a heart attack while tiling the floor, he proudly adds they are special tiles from Mexico.).

By looking closely at the stories they've left in their wake we're reminded of the history we're making ourselves...  Life in an old home may be an ongoing act of care and respect for what came before, but it also turns us into a character in someone else's future."
- Annu Subramanian, Kinfolk Home

I couldn't agree more to the statement above. As we were going through the house in our first few days here, we find the remnants of a past life. As we acknowledge these artifacts, we become more aware that we are about to fill it with our own stories and memories.

Demo Days

Dan, Dad and I did the work ourselves and we are very proud of that. Dad was well compensated with dinners and beers. 

The changes we planned were not solely geared towards "stylish" trends and updates but more for comfortable living and engaging spaces. To make every corner our own and for our personalities to shine through (about who we are and what we hold dear).

Tear down this wall!

It was odd that to get to the dining room from the kitchen, you have to walk through the living room first. There was a small server window to pass the food, a little quirky and inconvenient.  So we tore the wall. We later found out there used to be a doorway there. John said the grandkids kept running through and circling around so he decided to close it off.

Like most renovations in the 80s, colorful bathrooms were the trend. We had a yellow toilet bowl and bath tub. The tub was refinished white and the toilet ended in the dumpster. Thank God, the upper level bathroom was gray and not pink!

We stripped the carpet off the floors. The 106 year old hardwood was intact underneath.

We filled one dumpster through this ordeal.

Reno Days

After demo comes building it back up. We had some mishaps (drilling the ceiling all the way to the floor upstairs, grouting, re-grouting then re-grouting) but these mistakes gives our home its charm (or so we convince ourselves). 

Houston, we have a problem!

Have you heard of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold that emphasizes the cracks than making them disappear? We'd like to think that is what we are doing with the renovation. Not aiming for perfection but for character.

We stripped, re-tiled and grouted floors. Walls got a fresh coat of paint, overhauled a bathroom and the kitchen. It only took uhm, two months. 

The (Un)Finished Product

We moved in on Easter, March 27th. It was about three months from the day our offer was accepted to the first night we slept in our new bedroom. Yes, there are still things that need to be done. We believe a home is never "finished." How can a home that outlasts its owners be a finite project?

Then and Now

The updates we have done were mostly to emphasize the old character of the house (strip the carpet, remove heavy drapery to show more wood, use natural materials like marble and travertine, Philippines' mother of pearl accents), brighten the space (use lighter colored materials, fresh coat of paint, remove clutter) and simplify the flow for comfort and convenience.

(Left is the photo from the realtor and right is how it looks now. Hopefully, the right side is better than before we messed with it.)

The Garden

John, the previous owner, maintained a Japanese inspired woodland garden with mostly perennials like ferns and wildflowers since the 70s. The garden was his pride and life's work. He told us how it used to be a part of a garden tour and hundreds of neighbors come to see it every year. There was even a news article on his garden in the early 2000s. He cried when Dan told him we will keep the garden and he is welcome to visit to tell us more about its upkeep.

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”
— – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

The Neighborhood

Our home is halfway between the center of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. We love how easy it is to get to both downtowns. We have access to public transport if we need to and we can walk and/or bike to the local bakery, pharmacy, restaurants, grocery stores and shops! We love how it still has a small town feel although it is in the midst of a city. 

On our first week here, neighbors welcomed us with pastries/ baked goods and leftover Easter ham. We have received recipes, peonies and cards with contact numbers.

We have also been more aware of sustainable living since we moved here. I cannot be more grateful for this new chapter of our life in St. Paul.