Minnesota State Capitol architect Cass Gilbert is known for his celebrated buildings throughout the state and beyond and for the grand homes he dreamed up. But it was the quaint feel of an 1886 Victorian farmhouse he designed in St. Paul’s Tangletown that drew Jack and Joan Hansen.
The couple were house-hunting when they came across the 4,800-square-foot house on a half-acre lot that included a carriage house, wrought iron fence and sunny front porch. Once inside, they saw the home’s details — the arched foyer, inlaid flooring, bay windows and wood-burning fireplaces, turreted rooms — and it was a done deal.
“We fell in love with it. It was a beautifully designed home. It was big, but it didn’t feel big,” Jack said. “It had an intimacy behind it.”
They purchased the Cambridge Street house in December of 2001. The aging house needed work, so before moving in, they took on an eight-month rehab project, enlisting preservation specialist John Erler Custom Carpentry.
“We were very blessed that we had the flexibility to do it. We were kind of a little bit homeless in St. Paul, but we had our cabin to fall back on,” Jack said. “By the time we moved in, we were able to enjoy it because we did everything in one fell swoop.”
The biggest transformation was in the kitchen, where a storage room was taken out to expand the heart of the home and add a pantry and breakfast nook. An island, granite countertops, tin backsplash, new cabinets and open shelving were put in. Appliances were updated to stainless steel.
“The kitchen became very comfortable, friendly and inviting,” Jack said.
For the renovation, the Hansens strove to stay true to the style and era of the home.
“We touched every wall and painted them. We put period carpet in. We [refinished] the wood floors. Almost every surface inside the house was either redone or replaced,” Jack said.
Taking it outside
As soon as they moved in, they started on outdoor projects.
With the help of David Heide Design Studio, they removed stucco on the lower portion of the house (which had been added by a previous homeowner) and replaced it with clapboard siding to match the original style of the house.
The two-story carriage house was also given an update, with new siding and cement flooring. The second-floor interior was turned into a recreation space.
The Hansens also rebuilt the front porch and added a back porch, which included built-in seating.
“We had it in harmony with the front porch, with columns and everything,” Jack said. “We tried to keep everything in the Cass Gilbert architectural style.”
The Hansens also hired Phillips Garden to landscape the yard, bringing in trees, plants, benches and a pergola.
“We did the landscape with flowers that were more true to the Victorian era — hydrangeas, peonies,” Joan said. “I remember walking through every room in the house with [the project manager] and looking at the view outside. I wanted each room to have something to look at.”
Last but not least, the cracked concrete driveway was replaced with historic Purington pavers, which fit the house and boasted durability.
“It’s like a beautiful park path leading up to the garage, and they’ve held up amazingly well through the winters,” Jack said.
Jack said they are glad they took on the major projects right from the start.
“For all the time and money we put in the first few years, we were able to enjoy it while only needing to concentrate on maintaining it for the last 17 years,” he said. “We’ve reaped the rewards.”
Passing the torch
After 21 years, the Hansens have listed the five-bedroom, four-bathroom home.
“We’ve lived here happily, raising our kids before they went off to college, but it doesn’t fit with where our lives are currently,” Jack said. “We own a lake home now, and our other home is the rest of the world. We now have time to do things we didn’t before when we were working.”
The Hansens hope the next homeowners will appreciate the outdoor and indoor living spaces.
“There’s a landing on the stairs and you take two more steps and there’s a bench looking out at the landscape. It’s a great place to sit and read,” Jack said. “My daughter’s room had an area like that, as well.”
The turret rooms — the living room, the primary bedroom and the finished attic — were also among their favorite spaces in this intimate-feeling house.
“That’s what we thought was awesome about this house: It’s big but it didn’t feel cold or too big or lacked intimacy,” Jack said. “Cass Gilbert cut it up with benches and daybed areas and landings to make it feel intimate. It has all these special nooks and crannies.”
And they felt honored to live in such a unique home designed by a famed architect.
“The foyer has an archway, which is very Cass Gilbert. The turret windows in the living room are incredible. The dining room is stunning,” said Joan, adding that the house has both a relaxed and a formal feel. “It’s a Victorian farmhouse and a little bit more casual than what you think of when you think about a traditional Victorian. The woodwork isn’t as ornate as some of the Victorians on Summit.”
They added that the neighborhood is as classic as the house itself.
“It’s a wonderful area to raise your family. It’s a little enclave without a lot of activity. It’s got a small park across the street,” Jack said. “It hasn’t changed much through the years.”