Restoring a St. Paul Home to its Historic Roots

January 18, 20132 comments

How do you preserve the integrity of a historic home affordably and with modern-day furnishings? This is a challenge kitchen designer AJ Johnson helped her customer overcome.

Robert Hengelfelt, from Hengelfelt Restorations, has been restoring and remodeling homes in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN for over 20 years.  On his most recent project, located in the historic Summit-University neighborhood of St. Paul, Robert was tasked with restoring the glory of a home richer in history than he first expected.

The home was built around the 1880s — precise city records do not exist for this time period! — and is of the ornate Queen Anne architectural style. Queen Annes take many forms, so a simple definition is impossible. However, these homes commonly feature steep roofs, asymmetric shapes, front gables and wrap-around porches, along with extensive décor and embellishments. (Wikipedia has a detailed article about the Queen Anne architecture in the U.S. if you’re interested.)

After putting on his detective hat and searching through old Sanborn, MN fire insurance maps, Robert discovered the home was picked up and moved to its current location in 1923. The home initially sat a block away, on the corner of two roads. In his search, he also found newspaper clippings detailing events held by previous homeowners. In the Queen Anne style, the front and right side of the home facing the street featured a wrap-around porch. During its relocation, the home was remodeled to fit the new lot of land; the original front porch was enclosed, the inside stairwell was moved, and the front door was repositioned on the street side of the house.

Maple kitchen cabinets from

The kitchen is warm, welcoming and beautiful

When Robert got his hands on the home, the kitchen suffered from a poor layout and traffic flow and was in need of some attention. He tore out the wall between the kitchen and dining room, replacing it with a counter-height half wall. In doing so, he created a more open floor plan, connected the two rooms visually, and brought in more light through windows on both sides of the space.

Robert found by searching online. He was drawn to the inset kitchen cabinets because their fine detail fit the traditional style of his home. Kitchens from the 1880s commonly featured natural birch cabinets with an orange shellac and a finish coat. The Maple Caramel Jute Glaze finish he selected gave him a similar look and emphasized the smaller details and streaks of the wood.

Bathroom vanity from

The Fairmont cabinets bathroom vanity located right outside the kitchen

Working with kitchen designer AJ, Robert first ordered a bathroom vanity to make sure the quality of’s cabinets were right for his kitchen. Sure enough, they were! After putting together some general cabinetry ideas for the kitchen in a CAD program, he passed the designs off to AJ. The two collaborated back and forth to create a kitchen design that not only took advantage of the space but was impressive and true to the 1880s style of home.

Maple kitchen cabinets from

The detailed inset cabinets with the added lift under the counter fit the traditional home

The upper cabinets extend to the ceiling to provide maximum storage and are capped with crown molding. The kitchen island adds extra counter space and is home to the kitchen range. A warm tan granite tops the counters in the cooking area, while a finished wood block is used for the counter on the buffet wall. Robert actually customized the cabinets himself by inserting a 3/4″ lift under the granite to add detail found in old-style kitchens.

Robert has flipped homes before, but this was one of his first times using more ready-made, modular cabinets. Because this home was an investment property for him, he didn’t want to spend the $30,000–$40,000 that fully custom cabinets would cost. cabinets provided the traditional inset look he needed and a quality that met his professional standards, all at price that was much more comfortable.

Check out the gallery below for more pictures of the this project.


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