Aurora the cat creeps over to the pet door and then disappears. Her litter box is on the other side, concealed within a maple cabinet in her owners’ mudroom.
A moment later, a motion detector triggers a fan to ventilate the area.
This cat-friendly — and owner-friendly — feature is one of many updates and improvements Heidi Hardner and Bill Humphrey have made to their early-1900s Minneapolis bungalow.
The couple added a total of 500 square feet on the main and second floors to expand the kitchen and master suite, and create the handy mudroom.
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Not only is this award-winning home makeover good for pets, it’s also gentle on the environment.
It incorporates a number of eco-friendly products and practices, such as geothermal heating and cooling, a metal roof and recycled materials.
Plus, the home’s modified shape blends with the modestly scaled homes in their neighborhood.
“We kept the home’s original front porch,” Humphrey says. “Even with the addition, it’s still a reasonable size. And the changes on the back and sides are subtle.”
The couple’s remodeling project, designed by Wynne Yelland and Paul Neseth of Locus Architecture, earned the EcoBlend award last fall as part of the Minneapolis-based BLEND Awards (Buildings and Landscapes Enhancing the Neighborhood through Design).
“The idea of blending without having a house that’s historically nostalgic is a big accomplishment,” Yelland says. “But this project was less about a green checklist and more about how we could maximize what Bill and Heidi wanted, without adding excessive square footage.”
Hardner and Humphrey bought the three-bedroom house in 1997. By the time they approached Locus Architecture, they had assembled a 60-page “idea book” to show Yelland and Neseth.
“It spooked us at the beginning,” Yelland admits. “The kind of people who would make such a document would be very thorough about all the details.”
The architects and homeowners agreed that they needed to make some kind of addition to expand the kitchen and build a new mudroom on the main floor, as well as enlarge and modernize the bedroom and bathroom on the second floor.
“We had to shoehorn all that into a tight building space,” Yelland says.
The couple also requested the use of energy-efficient features wherever possible. “We wanted a contemporary aesthetic that would blend the old and new parts and also have sustainability,” Hardner says.
The final design was driven by the narrow lot size and setback restrictions. On the dining room side, Yelland designed a long modern bay with windows that created space for built-in shelves and storage, and a mudroom, which could be entered from the backyard.
On the back of the home, he devised a two-story addition, rebuilding a roofline and replacing the asphalt shingles with a durable metal roof that would last 50 years. “The new roofline looks neither modern nor old to me,” Yelland says. “It spans the two.”
The master bedroom’s contemporary, asymmetrical gable draws in light for Hardner’s orchids and provides a sunny nook for the couple’s two cats, Aurora and Nokomis. In fact, the felines influenced many of the interior’s amenities.
“The pet features are really for us,” Hardner says. “We don’t want to see litter boxes, step in food bowls or have cats jumping into the sink to try to get a drink while we’re brushing our teeth.”
That’s why the litter box is hidden in the mudroom cabinet, accessed by two pet doors covered with the same fabric as the nearby window seat.
The dining room’s whimsical maple cabinetry has multiple levels for the cats to climb. A tiny door opening in the home’s pantry provides access to the cats’ food bowls. In the upstairs shower, there’s also a motion-activated drinking fountain.
“We’re nerds,” Hardner says, noting that she and Humphrey are both physicists. “We like the idea of using new technology.”
In the transformed kitchen, the clean-lined contemporary space is anchored by a massive center island covered with PaperStone, a recycled product.
Fused-glass pendants by a local artist are suspended above. The new appliances include an induction cooktop. There’s also plenty of room for pots and pans inside pullout drawers.
The couple also showcased their taste for vibrant hues throughout the home, including the kitchen, which boasts walls in two shades of vivid teal. “We were not renting anymore, so we started to paint cheerful, bold colors,” Hardner says.
“I don’t think I’d feel at home in an all-white kitchen,” adds Humphrey.
The light-stained maple cabinets are a contrast to the dark oak woodwork in the old part at the front of the house. But the couple wished to preserve some of the handsome Craftsman architectural details from the Arts and Crafts period.
They still climb the original oak staircase to get to the second floor. “We kept it, squeaks and all,” Hardner says.
Yelland relocated the Craftsman oak buffet from the back dining room to a newly built wall between the dining room and the new kitchen. “They definitely wanted to keep it,” he says. “Placing it in the core of the house made the most sense.”
Upstairs, Yelland opened up Humphrey’s cramped home office by removing a wall and replacing it with a sliding bookcase, a look Hardner had seen in a magazine. It allows them to convert the adjacent TV room into a bedroom when they have guests.
The rear addition houses a spacious master bedroom and tropical-flavored bathroom. The walk-in shower walls are a translucent aqua, the vessel sink is as green as grass and the floor is covered with dark-blue Marmoleum.
“The colors keep you awake in the morning,” Humphrey says.
Today, the revitalized bungalow consumes much less energy and will last for many more decades.
The favorite spot for Humphrey and Hardner is the kitchen island, where they can relax and bathe in the natural light from the floor-length windows. Aurora and Nokomis spend a lot of their time on the new window seats.
“They love to watch birds or lounge in the sun,” says Hardner. “The glass is always full of noseprints.”