Designer Puts ‘Boho-Modern’ Spin On Her Midcentury Rambler

By Lynn Underwood
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This story takes a look at how interior designer Michelle Fries recognized and developed the beauty of an otherwise ordinary home.


Interior designer Michelle Fries grew up in St. Paul, Minn., but has lived around the globe, from San Francisco to Shanghai, her design sensibility influenced by each city she called home.

In 2006, she and her husband, David, settled in Minneapolis to raise their family, and built a sprawling three-level home on Lake Harriet Parkway. The tall-ceilinged spaces echoed. “We had to call each other on the phone to find each other,” said Michelle.

By 2014, Michelle yearned for simpler, one-level living, and a different look. “I’ve always been drawn to midcentury modern style,” said Michelle, who attends “Modernism Week” events in Palm Springs, Calif. “It has clean lines and big windows that connect the inside with the outdoors.”

Whenever the couple got a chance, they drove around Sunnyslope, a secluded Edina, Minn., neighborhood boasting spacious yards, hoping to find a big older rambler they could renovate to fit their family’s lifestyle.

One day, they spied a real estate agent pounding in a “For Sale” sign in front of a one-story house surrounded by a large flat yard. The Frieses stepped inside to take a look. When Michelle saw the midcentury-style clerestory windows, sloped ceilings and the unobstructed view through the house to the backyard, she was hooked. “It was exactly what I was hoping for,” she said.

Sure, the dwelling, built in 1949 and since remodeled several times, would require many cosmetic updates. But Michelle, owner of BeDe Design, was undaunted. “I knew I could take it to the next level of more grown-up midcentury style, give it a more playful, edgy aesthetic,” she said.

But before she could change the interiors, Michelle enlisted builder and designer Mark Peterson of MA Peterson for his input on an owners’ suite addition, as well as changes to improve flow and functionality for their family.

“They wanted more space, but we didn’t want to go up and lose the look of midcentury modern,” said Peterson. “And the lot was big enough to bump out.”

Peterson angled the 980-square-foot addition out the back of the home, creating a spot for a private U-shaped backyard patio outfitted with a bar and seating for outdoor entertaining. “We never sat outside at the old house,” said David. “Here the inside and outside flow together.”

Inside the addition, the new owners’ bedroom has a vaulted ceiling punctuated with clerestory windows to match the home’s original architecture. Michelle chose minimalist industrial elements, such as a heated concrete floor and a rebar railing around an intimate screen porch off the suite.

Another major enhancement was a basement-level sport court built beneath the owners’ suite. “The kids are getting into their teenage years, and it’s a place to play when friends come over,” said David. “But we all use it.”

However, the most dramatic transformation was the kitchen, which went from dark cherrywood to cool blue glazed tile spanning floor to ceiling. Michelle was tired of the horizontal subway tile look, so she went with a vertical pattern, which “makes the room feel taller, and is more interesting,” she said.

“Subtle design makes a huge impact,” agreed Peterson. “Just by angling the peninsula, it creates better flow.”

Fries completed her one-of-a-kind kitchen with laminate cabinets accented with a textural “driftwood” finish and floating open shelves wrapped in stainless-steel veneer. “No one has to ask where the wine glasses are,” she said.

As part of the extreme makeover, Peterson also did “nips and tucks to connect the spaces visually,” he said. The final floor plan of reconfigured spaces includes five bedrooms and six bathrooms. To let in more light, Peterson also added big picture windows to the front of the home. When visitors approach the front entry, they can admire an oil painting the couple bought in Shanghai through one of the new windows.

The rambler refresher course also extended to the home’s facade. “The tired exterior needed new color and materials,” said Peterson, who replaced the old asphalt roof with a shiny metal one. “Now it really has a midcentury modern feel.”

After the seven-month project was completed, the Fries family moved in. Now it was time for Michelle to infuse her eclectic style, which she describes as “boho-modern,” into each space. “I like to start with a calm neutral background and layer in wild colors and patterns and chunky fabrics,” she said.

Michelle collects unique pieces at small local markets on her travels. She has an affinity for Asian antiques. She suspended a centuries-old Chinese wood door from the dining room wall, and displays a rice paddle from Thailand in the living room.

For striking contrasts, she intermingles “hippie” accessories, such as a woven blanket with long fringe, scored at estate or garage sales. She buys most of their modern clean-lined sofas and chairs from retailers including Room and Board and CB2.

Michelle found that midcentury modern architecture poses some design challenges. “The sloped pitched rooflines are very funky,” she said. “It was hard to get my head around ceiling height and making sure light fixtures were scaled properly.”

Unlike their old Lake Harriet home, the refurbished rambler is not only comfortable, but helps to make the Fries family feel more connected, said Michelle.

“It’s really easy and fun living in this house,” she said. “There’s so many spots to nest in.”

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