In the early days of HGTV, the network caught wind of Warren Kitzmann and his partner Gary Russell’s reimagining of their Arts and Crafts south Minneapolis home.
The next thing they knew, they were on “Decorating Cents,” a show that teaches homeowners resourcefulness when making improvements to their homes.
For the two, updating the home over the years has been a labor of love.
“From the time we moved in, it was falling in love,” Russell said. “As we started to spend more time in the home, we realized even more how special it was.”
When the couple purchased their home in 1997, it seemed fate was calling. The two had been house hunting and were driving home from looking at a place they weren’t stoked about when they spotted a “For sale by owner” sign in their neighborhood.
“I’ve had an affinity for Arts and Crafts and the Mission style of home with all the beautiful woodwork,” Kitzmann said.
The duo felt the house, built in 1915, also had great bones. With some restoration and a few modern updates, it could work.
“It was on a corner lot and had a lot of charm. None of the woodwork had been painted over other than the picture rail [in the dining room], which we ended up stripping down and staining,” Russell said.
The HGTV episode that aired three years into their house purchase — and home improvement projects — highlighted ways to restore an old house while updating spaces for contemporary living.
With Russell as the tour guide, he showed viewers how they gave their kitchen a makeover on a $3,500 budget — quite a feat even back then. While they splurged on custom birch cabinets that went all the way up to the ceiling for maximum storage, Kitzmann took it from there with DIY projects. He gave the cabinetry a coat of shellac stain and, after attending a woodworking workshop, built the breakfast bar.
“We wanted to make it modern and more convenient while keeping with the traditional style of the house,” Kitzmann said. “And we were able to stay within the budget.”
Next, they hired a company to add a dormer off the back in order to gain more living space, careful to match the rest of the house as much as possible. “Anything new we tried to keep true to the house’s original era. We created some arches in doorways. We plastered the walls rather than using sheetrock,” Kitzmann said.
The “Decorating Cents” episode also zoomed in on the dining room makeover, in which the couple passed along their DIY tips, such as using a product called Peel Away strips to lift the pigment from wood that had been painted over to restore original woodwork.
The show’s producers were equally impressed with their furnishing finds. Their greatest score: a buffet from a Stillwater antique shop that fit perfectly into a space where the original hutch once sat.
“The match was identical,” Kitzmann said. “Sometimes we are convinced that this was the original buffet to the house.”
Update and adds
Over the 26 years they’ve lived there, Kitzmann and Russell have continued to make updates, including finishing the basement and upgrading finishes.
They paid as much attention to detail with the outdoor spaces. The duo hired a company to professionally install a walkway of Kasota stone and brick, a sprinkler system and a retaining wall. They created several hangout spaces such as pergola and bench areas where views of the garden and a giant elm tree as old as the house could be enjoyed.
In one area of the garden, they had raised beds made of river rock professionally installed. It’s where they grow herbs, vegetables and annuals every year. In other parts of the yard, low-maintenance perennials, such as sumac, elderberry and false indigo can be found.
“You kind of learn over the years what plantings are meant for certain areas,” Kitzmann said.
Kitzmann plans to join Russell in retirement in a few years, so they’re downsizing in the Twin Cities to live part-time in Palm Springs, Calif. So they’ve listed their 1,800-square-foot home in the Northrop neighborhood.
Listing agent Christian Fritzberg said the updated Arts and Crafts home has been well maintained inside and out. The next homeowner will benefit from quality upgrades and designer details, ranging from Quoizel lighting to William Morris wallpaper.
Kitzmann and Russell will miss the home they’ve put so much work into, especially for its unique characteristics.
“There’s the original stained glass in the dining room and then the original beveled glass at the top of these two large windows in the living room,” Kitzmann said. “As the sun is starting to set, it sends prisms of light throughout the rooms. It’s really cool to think that this is how it’s always been since the house was built.”
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