Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography

In a teardown-happy world of disposal and waste, the home at 1616 E. Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis stands out as a microcosm of durability and efficiency. At just over 1,700 square feet (excluding unfinished basement), the 1925 Dutch Colonial didn't gain an inch or alter its footprint during the $248,000 whole-house remodel. It is small by modern standards, modest rather than spectacular.

But what the home lacks in momentary dazzle, it makes up for in principle, personality, and long-term investment quality. Where possible, the project retained existing materials or incorporated those that others had rejected, such as sculptural slabs of remnant granite and salvaged cast-iron radiators. Where new materials were required, they were selected with an eye toward what would last longest, be the most energy-efficient, and have the least impact on the environment: a metal roof, for instance, and triple-pane windows, and custom cabinets made of alder, a fast-growing shrub tree that looks like cherry.

Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography
Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography

The project required quick decisions and rapid construction. The owners had to compromise on some of their desires and put others on hold. Overall, however, they got what they wanted and then some, thanks in part to their remodeler's almost surgical ability to carve great function out of small spaces.

Dreaming on Deadline

It wasn't the crumbling walls, sagging ceilings, or pet-stained floors that attracted Al Yanny and Danielle Vanderhoef to the home in April of 2005; it was the location. Homes sell quickly and quietly in their pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in South Minneapolis. Neighbors from just around the corner, the couple didn't even know the home had been sold until they saw workers beginning to prepare it for a quick flip. They asked the crew to stop, called the investor who had bought it, and asked Michael Anschel, a young remodeler who had done two projects in their current home, a bungalow they had outgrown, to hurry over for a look.

In its favor, the home had curb appeal, character, and four small bedrooms — enough for the couple, their toddler daughter, and their frequent weekend guests. On the other hand, the interior was in such terrible shape that Yanny remembers thinking: "What on earth are we doing?" But, he adds, "We had a very high trust level with Michael, and said we wouldn't do it unless he was willing to take it on."

Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography
"One advantage of never learning the rules is that you can't break them," says Michael Anschel, a self-taught designer who studied sculpture and art history. Asymmetrical alder-wood cabinets (right) and three types of remnant granite give this traditional-looking kitchen an unorthodox twist.
Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography "One advantage of never learning the rules is that you can't break them," says Michael Anschel, a self-taught designer who studied sculpture and art history. Asymmetrical alder-wood cabinets (right) and three types of remnant granite give this traditional-looking kitchen an unorthodox twist.

Time was of the essence. The home's new owner gave the couple three days to make an offer. Moreover, with the burden of carrying two mortgages while the remodel was under way, "we didn't have the luxury of doing it in a leisurely way," Yanny says. Anschel met him and Vanderhoef at the house that day and assured them that it was structurally sound and that his company, Otogawa-Anschel, could bring out its potential on an accelerated schedule.

Design work began immediately. Anschel, a green remodeler known for his stylish transformations of small, urban homes, usually spends three to six months on the design phase of a whole-house remodel. He knocked out the Yanny-Vanderhoef design in just over a month, fast-tracking it out of respect for their past patronage, and assisted by their mutual trust and compatible aesthetics.

"Right from the get-go, they said this was their dream home, this was where they wanted to stay," Anschel says. "They didn't want to approach the project thinking about other people; it wasn't about resale."

"We wanted it to be as fun and whimsical as possible," Yanny agrees. This meant warmth and color (Anschel once used 48 colors in one room alone), as well as being green and energy-efficient to the extent that their budget would allow. Functionally, their basic goals included creating a comfortable kitchen with an eat-in space, two new bathrooms, and a mudroom.

Asymmetrical alder-wood cabinets and three types of remnant granite give this traditional-looking kitchen an unorthodox twist.
Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography Asymmetrical alder-wood cabinets and three types of remnant granite give this traditional-looking kitchen an unorthodox twist.

Meeting the couple at the home, Anschel would bring up his latest design drawings on his laptop (he uses Chief Architect, SketchUp, and AutoCAD), and the three would collaborate on how best to tweak and configure. Anschel immediately saw that the kitchen should be where the existing 1960s porch addition and bathroom were. He carved the new bathroom and mudroom into the space previously occupied by the kitchen, building in such touches as a hinged bench, storage "cubbies," and a curved wall to maximize functionality and spaciousness.

Featured on two Minneapolis home tours this year, and winner of a 2006 NARI Contractor of the Year award, the home looks largely unchanged on its exterior. New elements include a semicircular stairway with asymmetrical treads, a narrow walkway to the back, and a new metal shingle roof by Tamco.
Photo: Andrea Rugg Photography Featured on two Minneapolis home tours this year, and winner of a 2006 NARI Contractor of the Year award, the home looks largely unchanged on its exterior. New elements include a semicircular stairway with asymmetrical treads, a narrow walkway to the back, and a new metal shingle roof by Tamco.

Configuring the second floor was easier. The budget didn't allow building out, and Yanny and Vanderhoef wanted to keep all four bedrooms (one is now an office). The small, crumbling bathroom couldn't be expanded without sacrificing bedroom space. "So we worked with the space to make it feel bigger and make it more fun," Anschel says.