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A Rambler revival

If Judy and Rob Grundstrom's Minneapolis house were a person, it would be an aging baby-boomer, old enough for AARP, hip enough to keep you guessing.

The 1956-built rambler definitely needed some freshening up when the couple bought it a few years ago. But instead of a radical facelift, they opted for a less-invasive overhaul.

“We left it mainly intact,” said Judy, an architect and managing principal with IOTA: Inland Office for Tomorrow's Architecture. “We did a lot of cosmetic stuff that doesn't cost a ton of money.”

She and Rob, also an architect, removed one interior wall, redid the kitchen and updated the decor throughout, but the house still looks like its ‘50s self — knotty-pine paneling, pink-tile bathroom and all.

The Grundstroms' minimalist makeover has made a big splash, appearing on HGTV's “Decorating Cents,” making the cover of Architecture Minnesota magazine and recently winning a 2008 Heritage Preservation Award from the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission.

“The jury said they appreciated seeing a sensitive renovation to a rambler,” Judy said. “Usually they see massive remodeling, with so much changed or added.”


The positive response to their respectful renovation is just one of many signs that the much-maligned rambler is finally getting some design respect. It has its own shelter magazine, Atomic Ranch, and its own spinoff coffee-table book, both of which celebrate preservation rather than radical intervention. The local Heritage Preservation Commission just added a Recent Past Award (the category won by the Grundstroms) to honor restoration of midcentury architecture.

It's about time, in Judy's view. “Ramblers are great! They have good design bones,” she said. “People here don't like them, but they transform easily and lend themselves to today's lives.”

Their house, which had had very little updating before they bought it, was not a hot property, she said. “People were coming in and walking right out. It desperately needed renovation.” But she wasn't deterred. “I hate finding a house that somebody's already messed with.”

Even the features that most screamed ‘50s were assets, not liabilities, in her view. “I am drawn to the ‘50s. I collect a lot of antiques from the period. That was an important time in American design, with explosive creativity.”

The lower-level amusement room, for example, which boasted a retro bar and that knotty-pine paneling, was a perfect canvas for a modern family-friendly media room.

“It has a really open floor plan, which was unusual then,” she said. “The original owner was an alderman, who used to have public meetings down there. And the knotty-pine paneling was perfectly preserved. Most people would paint it or cover it up, but we knew we had to keep it.”

They also kept the original awnings. “I think they look cool,” she said. They serve two purposes, she noted: preserving the home's vintage character and shading it from the afternoon sun. “That's a green design strategy. If you take them off, what does that get you? Spending money on air-conditioning.”

To complete the retro look, the Grundstroms furnished and decorated with vintage pieces, including an Eames dinette, shell chairs from the General Mills cafeteria and bright Marimekko fabrics, mixed with new pieces from Ikea.

“Some people say, ‘You live in a museum,'” Judy said. “But we don't have precious things that nobody can touch. Our furniture is basically indestructible. If the kids (ages 5 and 2) jump on it, I don't have to have a freakout.”


© 2008, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): ramblerredo AMX-2008-08-12T08:23:00-04:00