This Minneapolis couple shows that though it takes patience to let a project unfold, the end result feels right at home.

By Kelly Ryan Kegans and Liz Gardner
November 18, 2020
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Take your time. That's the adage social worker-turned-interior designer Julia Miller took to heart during the six years she and her husband, Keith, spent renovating their 1932 Minneapolis Colonial. "I always recommend living in your home before remodeling it," Julia says. "That way you get to know its story. There's something about what's existing that tells you what needs to be there."

Credit: Kim Cornelison

Using the observational skills Julia developed as a social worker, they created wish lists for the house, checking items off slowly as budget and time allowed. But with a Minnesota winter looming, one decidedly unflashy project on the list couldn't wait: replacing the drafty old windows, flaking lead paint and all. The job put a big dent in their budget, but it also started the ball rolling on picking paint colors. Julia landed on a dramatic, nearly black exterior with white window frames and details. (They used a Sherwin Williams custom blend to approximate Farrow & Ball's Off-Black.) "We wanted a clean-lined look," she says. "But going this dark was probably the biggest risk we took."

Credit: Kim Cornelison

Inside, the palette reverses. Black details like the painted window frames, modern light fixtures, and matte charcoal tiles play off creamy alabaster walls and pale wool and linen fabrics. Julia used color to highlight details like the original carved fireplace surround (Mediterranean Olive; Benjamin Moore). A stuffed green leather chair and a curvy velvet lounger keep the living room soft and comfortable. Julia rotates pieces of her vintage and handmade collections, varying shapes and heights on the mantel.

Left: Credit: Kim Cornelison
Right: Credit: Kim Cornelison

The rest of the remodel took shape in phases between the births of their two boys, spaced two years apart. As they grew, Julia saw the appeal of maintaining some separate spaces, like Keith's office off the living room. But she also felt the need to connect some closed-off spaces like the kitchen and dining room. The wall dividing them came down, creating enough room for a big island that caters to their needs. On one side there's a slide-out dog food dish for Elsie the Lab; on the other is a built-in chopping block where Julia can work while she watches the boys play in the new screen porch. That 400-square-foot cedar-framed addition supplies much of the renovation's wow factor, but it accommodates an item on their non-negotiable list: A Shaker-style woodburning stove. "Living in a long-winter climate, we wanted that stove and designed the porch and breakfast room around it," she says.

A wall of parchment-color glazed tiles brings texture to the off-white cabinets in the kitchen. With small kids in mind, Julia opted for rounded corners on the soapstone counters, and to keep the finish leathery, she skipped oiling them.

Credit: Kim Cornelison

Stacking sliding glass doors by Marvin are left open during warm weather and lead to the vaulted screen porch, where Keith and the boys often camp out. They whitewashed the cedar frame ceiling and stained the sides Benjamin Moore's Arborcoat Black. Once the porch was complete, they expanded their living space with a sandstone paver patio.

The Millers keep a running maybe-someday list. An en suite bathroom would be nice. (The couple shares the upstairs bath with their sons.) But today, six years, two kids, a career change, and multiple renovations later, they feel like their patience has paid off, Julia says. "It's about knowing where you want to be, even if you don't get there for a while."

Credit: Kim Cornelison

To update her 1932 home, Julia focused on incorporating simple pieces like these Shaker-style built-ins and wood pendant. But she countered their stripped-down styling and embraced the home's Colonial architecture with a plaster ceiling medallion and an antiqued mirror backsplash.

Credit: Kim Cornelison

Keith and Julia's mornings begin in their new breakfast room where they hang out with August, 2, and Gray, 5. The blackened terra-cotta floors flow into the screen porch. The tile's indoor-outdoor suitability was one reason Julia chose it, along with the striking star and cross layout. "I wanted a bigger pattern in that space because there's not a lot going on in there," she says.

Windows above the built-in bench mimic those in the dining room on the other side of the kitchen. The firewood storage stack, stove, and armed pendant contrast with the tongue-and-groove paneled walls and ceiling.

Credit: Kim Cornelison

"We are home all the time. Even our vacations are short, so we wanted this house to have all of the elements we enjoy as parents but also be great for kids and visiting family," Julia says. So for their bedroom, "I wanted to create a cozy spot for us to relax by ourselves." Fabric pieces like the shaggy rug, wool shades, and linen-upholstered bed provide the soft foundation that she was after.

Credit: Kim Cornelison

In outfitting her oldest son's bedroom, Julia says she invested in pieces that would grow with him, such as the handmade bed and Abigail Edwards Seascape wallpaper. The quilt made by Julia's mother is another keepsake.

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