Atomic Ranch-style house gets a modern makeover

  • By Kim Palmer Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
  • Monday, December 30, 2013 5:03pm
  • Life

MINNEAPOLIS — When Ed Charbonneau and Erica Berven decided to buy their first home, they had a vision in mind: Atomic Ranch, as in the Space Age-era houses that have become the height of retro chic to a new generation of homeowners.

“I had a subscription to Atomic Ranch magazine,” said Berven, who also remembers admiring the interiors on TV’s “The Jetsons” and “The Brady Bunch” and thinking, “That’s the coolest thing ever.”

The couple found their own Atomic Ranch-style house in St. Louis Park, Minn. Built in 1954, it had some distinctive original features, including a butterfly roof with dramatic eaves and a tapering stone fireplace in the living room.

But the house also retained some not-so- desirable relics from the ’50s, including a tiny kitchen — “the size of a twin bed,” Berven said.

That’s typical of the era, when kitchens were built just big enough for one housewife to do her work and were separated from the main living area.

The couple’s kitchen had been updated over the years, but it was far from functional.

“It had been fixed so many times it was permanently broken,” Charbonneau said.

After living in the house for several years, the couple decided it was time to make some major improvements. Fortunately, they had an expert in the family: Charbonneau’s uncle, Daryl Hansen, is an architect.

Charbonneau, a muralist and instructor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, had collaborated with his uncle on art projects in the past.

Hansen appreciated the vintage home’s quality construction and ’50s aesthetic. “I’m more of a modernist, and that was the beginning of modernism and open floor plans,” he said.

Fortunately, ranch-style houses lend themselves to creative reworking of space because their floor plans are more free-flowing, less compartmentalized than houses from earlier decades, Hansen said.

He developed three different schemes for remodeling the house. “They picked the most open of the three,” which included removing two interior walls.

Hansen decided to “bring the dining area out into the living space,” by designing a custom table and built-in bench with woodworker Chad Johnson.

The cabinets are “customized Ikea”: stock beech cabinets to which Johnson added curved corner pieces for displaying some of the couple’s colorful Fiestaware and vintage collectibles.

Placement of the microwave — “the much-discussed microwave chamber,” according to Charbonneau — became a hot topic within the extended family.

“The uncles and cousins spent hours talking about how to make this shape,” he said. “We moved it around like a jigsaw puzzle,” finally finding a space by borrowing from the bathroom closet behind it.

When it came time to install the millwork, Uncle Daryl came over with his toolbelt. “I knew where every piece went,” he said.

Hansen also added a skylight in the work area to bring light into the kitchen, and designed a modernist metal railing to replace the wall that once separated the living area from the stairs to the lower level.

To complete the updated vibe, the couple added vintage lighting and furniture, abstract paintings by Charbonneau and retro collectibles.

“I like the kitschy stuff,” Berven said.

The makeover has dramatically changed the way the couple lives in their home, they said.

They used to spend a lot of time in their basement. “Now we live here (on the main level),” Berven said.

They cook a lot more often. And their home has become a gathering spot for the extended family.

Even with a crowd, there’s now space to maneuver in the kitchen, she said. “Daryl knows exactly how many butts fit into a space.”

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