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A Dingy Foursquare in St. Paul Finds New Life as a Modern Urban Farmhouse



So let’s say you just bicycled, walked or drove by a 1900s foursquare covered in dingy, brown, fake-brick asphalt siding. Right. Most of us would simply keep going. Not David Strand. He stopped and took a closer look. Then the designer, who also owns the St. Paul-based design/build firm Strand Design, began realizing the delightful possibilities in the single-family, 1,500-square-foot home in St. Paul’s Summit Hill neighborhood.
“Initially I saw a nice, big open lot, and then a house true to its original structure and architecture—an urban farmhouse,” says Strand. Like most American foursquare houses, popular from the mid-1890s to the late 1930s, this one had a pyramidal hip roof, a front porch spanning the width of the house and a nearly square structure (with square interior rooms).
But the front porch had been enclosed, hiding the architectural style’s signature front columns. Strand also noted that the house had fallen into disrepair beyond what the current owner (who had lived there since the 1930s) was capable of handling; but that also meant the house hadn’t been flipped or redone. Moreover, the asphalt siding was a plus!
“It’s like armor!” Strand enthuses. “The asphalt shingles protected everything perfectly.” He peeled away a shingled corner and eureka: the original siding was intact and in good condition. Having just sold his St. Paul home, Strand purchased and began transforming the drab structure into a modern urban farmhouse. He started with the exterior.
“What I love to do more than anything is pull down old phone lines, hooks, all the weird, distracting things that get attached to a house over 100 years,” he says. On this project, the front handrail, chain-link fence and one-car garage also had to go. Then Strand opened up the enclosed, 22-by-7-foot front porch to expose three columns holding up the roof.
Because the structure “rang true as an urban farmhouse, the exterior needed a lot of white,” Strand says. (He admits he’s actually partial to dark, masculine colors—but the house thought otherwise.) The solution was slate-grey on the first level, to ground the house, then white trim, belly band and siding on the upper levels.
He designed a new three-car garage with loft workshop in an “agrarian, barn vernacular” to match the farmstead feel, Strand says. The garage has a long roof with gable peak, upper-level windows to indicate “where a hay trolley would have been,” and French doors flanked with barn-style lights echoing “where the hay would have been pushed through.”
The garage ate up most of the backyard. So Strand designed a side yard with a row of aspens, a patio, a salvaged fireplace and French glass doors leading to the kitchen. “The side yard gives you a bit of distance from the street while maintaining a connection with the front and neighbors passing by,” he says.
The side yard is also visible from the kitchen island inside the house, providing great connections with the outdoors from the interior. The renovated, white 150-square-foot kitchen is actually part of a new open space— which Strand created by removing several walls and built-ins—that includes the dining room and living room.
“Part of every modern house is access to outside and providing connections with other parts of the home,” he explains. While the living room area is long and narrow, “it feels proportional because of the way I situated the volumes.” He refinished the original oak floors and replaced linoleum in the kitchen with black ash. He also added a half bath in the front hall near the staircase.
Upstairs, narrow-plank maple floors are in the hallways and bedrooms. He used turn-of-the-century windows from a building in River Falls, Wisconsin, to create a glass wall in the master bedroom closet, which allows light to pass through the closet and into the upper-level hallway.
Back outside, Strand designed a “crisp, clean little white-painted fence” with a solid lower portion, and an open upper portion “so you feel a connection to the neighborhood” in the front yard. He kept the arctic willow and hydrangeas, which “have that old-fashioned feel” and were the only landscaping that came with the house, and added a Tina Crabapple and a Hawthorne tree “with a wispy open feel” to create a “more modern landscape.”
Strand has since sold the urban farmhouse to a friend and moved closer to the Mississippi River—to renovate yet another residence. “I cannot quite imagine designing my own house new,” he says. “For me, renovations are easy, because I immediately know how my ideas will dovetail with what’s there. It’s awesome. To me, making a bowl of chili is way more work and way more stressful than re-doing a house.”
 A version of this article originally appear in Midwest Home and was revised with permission.
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