Written by Jill Kirchner Simpson / Photography by Steve Henke / June, 2012
Many couples, when their children are grown, sell the place where they raised their family, and downsize to a smaller dwelling. But when Becky and Bob Pohlad’s three sons left home, the Pohlads decided to stay put and reconfigure their house in Edina, Minnesota, for the next stage of their lives. “We’re in a wonderful neighborhood, and we didn’t want to change that,” explains Becky.
Collaborating with prominent national designer, Billy Beson, and Jensen Homes, their contractor, Becky and Bob decided to renovate rather than move. But instead of redoing the rooms to feel smaller and more intimate, now that it was just the two of them, Becky decided to create larger, more open spaces to comfortably accommodate ongoing visits from their expanding family.
“We turned what had been the living room into a spacious dining room that can seat as many as 16,” says Becky. “Then we took down walls to create a more open space that flows into the family room and another eating area, giving us a lot of flexibility.” And for those times when it’s just Becky and Bob, there’s a cozy breakfast room with a fireplace off the kitchen, perfect for a quiet meal for two.
But like so many empty nesters, the Pohlads appreciate being able to host family events, and now can do so comfortably thanks to the easy flow from room to room. And that’s important because even though the Pohlads’ sons may not live at home anymore, with their wives and children as well as Becky and Bob’s own siblings and their families, there’s always a crowd for barbecues, holidays, and impromptu get-togethers. “It’s a lot of fun when we can all be together,” she says.
The extended Pohlad family, which includes Bob’s two brothers, Jim and Bill, has played a quietly integral part of Minneapolis life for decades, in part because of the wide-ranging business portfolio of the family patriarch, Carl, a successful entrepreneur. Through hard work, the family’s ventures have now grown to include real estate, financial, technology, retail, and entertainment businesses. But for most locals, the Pohlads are best known as the beloved longtime owners of the local baseball team, the Minnesota Twins. In addition, the family also contributes to a wide array of charitable endeavors all around the Twin Cities through the Pohlad Family Foundation (www. pohladfoundation.org), which was created nearly 20 years ago by Bob’s parents, Carl and Eloise. Humble as the family continues to be, the upper Midwest is ever thankful for their behind-the-scenes efforts. Nearly two dozen local organizations, from youth counseling centers to low-income housing advocacy programs to community centers, benefit from the family’s generosity.
A KITCHEN TRANSFORMED
Since Becky loves to cook, and she and Bob both enjoy entertaining at home, which they do frequently, it was natural that the kitchen would be an important part of the renovation. Becky and Beson decided to make the kitchen more modern and airy, to flow naturally with the look of the rest of the first floor.
Becky knew this was an opportunity to scale back on upkeep, but she still wanted to maintain her strong sense of style. So she and Billy conferred closely on materials, picking only surfaces that look great and are still easy to care for.
For the counters, which are used daily, the Pohlads had initially settled on limestone and Calacatta marble counters, but quickly discovered how easily they stain. “You could see the soiling and ring marks on our counters left from glasses; someone squeezed a lemon and that left a stain, too. The installer tried different buffing and sealing techniques, but it just didn’t work for us,” says Becky. A serendipitous trip to a Twins game sparked the idea for a solution: Cambria. That’s when the Pohlads noticed how beautiful the Cambria looked in Target Field’s new Cambria Design Center, which sees constant use from entertaining. After sharing her epiphany with trusted designer Beson, Becky says the pair came to a decision. “We decided to have the limestone and marble ripped out and replaced with Cambria. I love it. I would put it in any home,” she recalls. “Cambria is easy to clean, holds up to heavy use, and always looks beautiful”— another important factor, since like many families, the Pohlads usually end up in the kitchen during a get-together.
Becky was also determined not to sacrifice an inch of storage. “You can change anything,” she told Beson, “but I need all my cabinets.” The Pohlads opted for streamlined Poggenpohl cabinetry, with three different door fronts to keep the cabinets from feeling monolithic or overbearing. Driftwood-grained doors made of resin line the perimeter lower cabinets, while glass doors with a satin mirror finish on the interior lighten the look of the upper cabinets. A darker oak finish colors the island.
Becky chose cabinet fronts for appliances such as the refrigerator/freezer and dishwashers, again for easy-care reasons: “I used to have stainless-steel refrigerators, but they showed every handprint. We live with three German shepherds, and now we have grandchildren. Cabinet fronts are so much more forgiving.” The beautiful hand-hewn walnut floors were also selected for their canine-friendly qualities. “We had soft pine floors the first time, and that was not good,” says Becky. “The walnut can tolerate the nails of three German shepherds.”
In addition to opening up the main rooms on the ground floor for entertaining, Becky and Bob embraced some other changes to suit their empty-nest freedom: One son’s bedroom became a gym, and the former dining room was turned into Becky’s office and sitting room. A home office is a real boon to a woman who manages a wide range of philanthropic projects, from the Humane Society to the Walker Art Center, not to mention her own family’s activities. “It’s wonderful to have my own space, where I can shut the door and people have to knock,” says Becky. “It’s also a great place to sit and enjoy coffee with a friend.”
A MORE OPEN, CONTEMPORARY FEEL
As they contemplated this renovation, with fewer rooms, more open space, and a more modern feeling, Becky wondered, “Can we really make our traditional red brick Colonial work with this new look?” By keeping traditional elements, but going a little bolder in scale and palette (deep neutrals shot through with cheerful pops of color), Beson made it all come together. “I call it ‘new traditional,’” he says. “It’s still traditional, but the excess and ornamentation have been stripped away. There’s less wall-to-wall carpeting and more hardwood floors, and we’ve exchanged the swags and jabots for simple tailored draperies.”
Even the two-story entrance hall got a dramatic makeover. In place of the traditional spindled staircase, Beson designed a grid of iron and walnut. Sheathing the walls are panels of faux woven leather detailed with bands of stainless steel. Through the center of it all floats a stunning three-sphere chandelier fashioned from twists of hand-blown glass, each piece suspended from a thread of steel wire.
Becky’s office, located between the foyer and the kitchen, means she is within a few steps of all that requires her attention at home. The vibrant palette was sparked by the striped velvet upholstery fabric on the sofa and chair and a custom rug Billy Beson designed and had made by Richard Rehl of Aubry Angelo. The rest of the room remains quietly neutral to maintain visual continuity to the entry and the kitchen, glimpsed through doors at either side.
In the end, the risk the Pohlads took in transforming their traditional family house into an open, airy home for entertaining has paid off handsomely: The house’s latest incarnation still suits family living, whether it’s just Becky and Bob, or the entire Pohlad gang for the holidays, or a cocktail fundraiser for 100. Who knows what the home’s next life might bring?
Becky’s Tips: Design a Great Kitchen for Entertaining
Having overseen a number of kitchen renovations, in both this house and the Pohlad vacation home, Becky knows the key factors that make a kitchen, or any frequently used living space, work well:
DON’T DO AWAY WITH UPPER CABINETS. It seems to be the fashion, but I can’t imagine giving up all that storage. It’s easy to just unload the dishes and glasses from the dishwashers directly into the cabinets above them.
I SWEAR BY MY THREE SINK BASINS. One for rinsing, with a garbage disposal; one for washing; and one for draining. I also have two dishwashers flanking the sinks, which I think is essential when you do a lot of entertaining.
CHOOSE EASY-TO-CLEAN SURFACES. I like my Cambria countertops and cabinet-fronted appliances. They are important in this hard-working space and get constant, daily use. I appreciate that their being easy to clean doesn’t mean sacrificing beauty.
DESIGN YOUR KITCHEN TO WORK FOR YOU. I’m left-handed, so it’s important for me to have plenty of counter space to the left of the sink, oven, and so forth. It’s much harder for me to work in a “right-handed” kitchen. I’m also short, so we created spots to tuck stepstools into cabinets.
TREAT THE CENTRAL WORK AREA OF YOUR KITCHEN LIKE YOUR COCKPIT. You want people outside, not in it. Our peninsula with comfy barstools helps keep people out of the workspace.
GOOD LIGHTING IS ESSENTIAL. Lighting really defines the space and sets a mood. I learned from Billy that it’s better to have a lot of lights and dim them down, rather than a few turned all the way up. Once we’re finished in the kitchen, I like to leave some under-counter lights on, or a few up lights, or just use the outdoor lighting to create some mood lighting. And beautiful fixtures, like the pendants over our peninsula, are like adding a work of art.