Archive for the 'Architecture' Category

Remodeling Your Duplex? Think Like A Picker

said on June 17th, 2013 categorized under: Architecture

Comments Off on Remodeling Your Duplex? Think Like A Picker

bauer brothersWhat should you do if your 1920’s duplex is missing the built-ins and charm that made them so popular?

After all, there aren’t a lot of carpenters doing that kind of work today. And those who do? Well, they’re usually backed up and/or expensive.

Over the weekend  I stumbled into what may be a faster and less expensive solution for many Minneapolis duplex owners.

Bauer Brothers Salvage in north Minneapolis is roughly the equivalent of American Pickers, on steroids, for architectural pieces.

Located in a giant warehouse, the place is four full floors packed with anything you could ever need to take your Craftsman duplex back to its original condition.

Need a period door? Odds are they’ve got one. How about the small bookcases that once helped differentiate the living room from the dining room? They’ve got those too.

And if you’re simply in the market for a conversation piece, odds are a porcelain embalming table or theater seats from Northrup Auditorium could do the trick.

Bauer Brothers will also buy or take in trade unwanted architectural items. And if it’s too big and cumbersome? They’ll even come pick it up.

These places exist elsewhere. In Los Angeles, for example, you may have similar luck downtown at Santa Fe Wrecking.

And if you’re not in Minnesota or southern California, you may be able to find comparable businesses by simply searching the Internet for architectural salvage in your area.

It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon and improve your property all at the same time.

Brad Pitt Builds A Duplex

said on July 19th, 2012 categorized under: Architecture

Comments Off on Brad Pitt Builds A Duplex

GehryDuplex3Even Brad Pitt loves duplexes.

Two years after the destruction of Hurricaine Katrina in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward,  Pitt toured the area and noticed absolutely nothing had been done to rebuild it.

To help change that, he founded the Make It Right foundation, with the goal of building affordable, well-designed homes in the Lower 9th Ward.

Pitt raised money, and solicited help from well-known architects like Frank Gehry.

This week, the foundation announced the completion of Gehry’s contribution to the project; a four bedroom, three bath duplex.

The property features a three bedroom, two bath home in the front, where the owner will reside. In the back, there is a one bedroom, one bath rental unit.

The duplex helped Make It Right reach the halfway point in its goal to build 150 homes.

Comments Off on Minneapolis Duplex Owners Recycle Parts For Charity

habitat for humanityWhen the Re-Use Center closed last year, Minneapolis duplex owners lost a valuable resource for replacing hard-to-match items, as well as dispose of gently used but still useful pieces of housing and excess building materials.

I’m happy to report that while the Re-Use Center hasn’t been reborn, Habitat for Humanity has stepped in to fill the void.

The ReStore store accepts donations of things like used kitchen cabinets, unwanted doors, leftover paint and floor tile.

It then resells these items at discounts of up to 75 percent of their retail price, with proceeds benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

This is a great idea. Not only does reusing material keep it out of landfills, it also provides duplex owners an opportunity to save money and match hard-to-find architectural pieces, but it also provides revenue for a great charity.

The ReStore also offers free electronics recycling for things like computer hard drives, cell phones, dvd players and ipods.  The items are then either refurbished or the raw materials recycled.

The ReStore is located in New Brighton at 510 County Road D W. They are open from 9-6 Tuesday-Friday, and 9-3 on Saturdays.

Minneapolis And St Paul’s Favorite Duplex Era

said on November 17th, 2011 categorized under: Architecture

Comments Off on Minneapolis And St Paul’s Favorite Duplex Era

craftsman  duplex built-inWhen I sit down with a prospective Minneapolis duplex buyer, one of the first questions I ask is whether or not they have a preference for an architectural style.

Most don’t have an answer.  They can tell me, however, that they like built-in buffets, fireplaces, hardwood floors and would like to be close to the lakes or river.

In both Minneapolis and St Paul, that description usually fits what’s known as an Arts and Crafts or Mission style duplex.

Inspired by a European movement, the Arts and Crafts style was a knee-jerk reaction to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century as well as the ornate architectural workings of Victorian architecture.

Arts and Crafts designs are simple in form, without the extravagant flourishes of the Victorian era.

Running from between 1910 and 1929, the philosophy of Craftsman-era architects and designers was that it was not only time to simplify life, but also that even the “common man” deserved good design.

The central theme of this movement in the United States was that by moving back to simpler aesthetics and utilitarian design,   people would become more rational and help contribute to a more harmonious lifestyle.

In other words, it was a hope that architecture would help return an increasingly mechanized and hurried society to the important things in both design and life, like the quality of not only the materials employed, but also the life they helped a duplex’s inhabitants to enjoy.

While I don’t have concrete statistics, I believe it would be fair to say the bulk of the duplexes around the lakes in Minneapolis and St Paul, on Summit and Grand Avenues, as well as those along the Mississippi River are from the Craftsman era.

And they seem to be the ones everyone’s looking for.

Did Your Duplex Come From Sears?

said on May 4th, 2011 categorized under: Architecture


Today’s post is courtesy of Rosemary Thornton, who is universally regarded as the nation’s expert on Sears Homes and kit houses. She is the author of several definitive books on the subject, including: “The Houses That Sears Built”, “The Sears Built Homes of Illinois” and “The Mail-Order Homes of Montgomery Ward”.

What’s better than a Sears kit home? How about a pair of kit homes, joined at the hip (roof)!

Cataloge Page For Sears Lakeland Double Bungalow

Cataloge Page For Sears Lakeland Double Bungalow

From 1908-1940, Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes and offered 370 designs. A few of those were “income bungalows” (also known as duplexes), designed to help homeowners meet that $55 a month mortgage payment.

The typical kit home arrived by boxcar with about 12,000 pieces of house. About 50 percent of the time, these homes were built by the homeowners themselves. A 75 page instruction book and detailed blueprints (purposefully designed for navices) assured swift and error-free construction.

Aspiring homeowners were attracted to kit homes because of their cost-saving benefits. Building a traditional stick-built home cost about 30 percent more than buying and building a kit home. These two-family bungalows didn’t cost much more than a single-family home, and you’d build equity a whole lot faster with a renter living in the upstairs unit.

Sears Lakeland Double Bungalow, Alton, Illinois

Sears Lakeland Double Bungalow, Alton, Illinois

The Sears Lakeland was as a “cozy double house”, and each unit had more than 1,400 square feet. In fact, this Lakeland in Alton, Illinois (see photo) has been converted into a four-family house, with about 700 square feet per unit. (The home’s design made this conversion simple. A spacious kitchen pantry, situated directly below the second floor bathroom made a perfect space for a tiny first floor bathroom.)

Sears Manchester Double Bungalow

Sears Manchester Double Bungalow

The Manchester was much more popular than the Lakeland. A man on a galloping horse would never notice it was a two-family home. It was designed to look like every other adorable bungalow on the street, and yet hidden upstairs was plenty of room for a renter or two. Sears estimated the mortgage payment for the Manchester was less than $55 a month. A rear staircase and entry added to this duplex bungalow’s ingenious disguise.

Montgomery Ward also offered duplex bungalows. Their kit home, The Ferndale”, was touted as “A doubly profitable investment.” Like the Manchester, this was a secret duplex, with a single front door opening up to a tiny vestibule with two doorways.

So, how do you identify these kit homes now? It’s not easy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Off on Stop By And See A Rare Minneapolis Mid-Century Modern Duplex!

Minneapolis mid century modern duplexWhen’s the last time you saw a mid-century modern duplex…in Minneapolis?

Until yesterday, my answer was “never”.

Why? Mid-century modern architecture of any kind in the Twin Cities is exceptionally rare, and a duplex even more so.  In fact, it’s more commonly associated with places like Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and even Las Vegas.

But guess what?

There’s one on the market. Here. One block, maybe two from the Minneapolis city line.

It needs work but it is one of the better mid-century modern homes I’ve seen in the Twin Cities; duplex or single family.

small side mcmBoth units have fireplaces (one double-sided), much of the original cabinetry, and many original fixtures. While both units have basements, the side with four bedrooms also has a second full bath and kitchenette. The two bedroom unit features a private patio and the original kitchen.

The duplex is located at  6129 France Ave S, in Edina.

It’s listed at $309,900 and should not only cash flow, but have a long term upside as well.

Even though it’s a holiday weekend for many, I’ll be there on Saturday from 1-3 and Sunday from 2-5. So if you’re sick of your relatives, or would just like to see some wonderful architecture and say “Hello”, please stop by.

Mom will forgive you.

After all, I’d be willing to bet you might never get another chance to see a mid-century modern duplex in Minneapolis again.

Did Your Minneapolis Duplex Start As A Kit?

said on April 20th, 2011 categorized under: Architecture

Comments Off on Did Your Minneapolis Duplex Start As A Kit?

rosemary thornton's wardway homes, duplexesHave you ever noticed that a lot of Minneapolis and St Paul duplexes look a lot alike?

Drive down Grand Avenue; either in Minneapolis or St Paul and you’ll see them;  up/down duplexes with a living room, archway to dining room with a built-in buffet, two bedrooms, with a bathroom in the middle, average to mid-sized kitchen and sometimes, a third bedroom in the back.

In fact, many single family homes or bungalows often have the same floorplan, sans the second story, of course. The Longfellow neighborhood is packed with them. So too are the Town and Country and Como neighborhoods in St Paul.

So was there one builder with a single good idea?


But a number of Minnesotans had the exact same idea at about the same time…

Why not leaf through a catalogue and simply order a duplex? Or a house?

In the early 20th century, companies like Sears and Montgomery Ward’s published catalogs of not only house plans, but all the materials that went with them as well.

Light fixtures could be ordered from the catalog. Boilers. And the latest rage; indoor plumbing.

For somewhere around $2500-$3500, Minnesotans could order the house or duplex of their dreams by mail. And some time later, they simply went down to the train station and picked it up. All they had to do was put all the pieces the company sent together.

While I’ve been aware of the history of kit houses for some time, I only recently learned that duplexes, or, as they were called in the early 1900s, double bungalows, could be purchased this way as well.

My curiousity piqued, I tried to track down everything I could about the history of kit double bungalows.

All roads lead to Rosemary Thornton.

Widely regarded as the nation’s leading expert on kit houses,  Thornton has lectured at the Smithsonian, had her work featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, appeared on PBS’ History Detectives, A&E’s Biography, and the CBS Sunday Morning News.

Her books include: The Houses That Sears Built, Finding The Houses That Sears Built, Montgomery Wards Mail-Order Homes and The Ugly Woman’s Guide To Internet Dating.

Clearly, this is a topic that is much bigger than I’m capable of understanding and blogging about.

So, next week, for the first time ever, there will be a guest blogger on Duplex Chick, when Rosemary Thornton stops by to talk about the history of kit duplexes.

I can hardly wait!


What Exactly Is A Duplex Anyway?

said on April 15th, 2011 categorized under: Architecture

1 Comment »

double bungalow for saleI recently saw this sign in the basement of a St Paul duplex my clients are buying.

It is the original “For Sale” sign for the duplex, dating to the property’s construction in 1959.

I had never seen one for a duplex. And it reminded me of all the different names there are for duplexes.

The term “double bungalow”, was, for a long time, the description the county tax assessors used to describe duplexes, and is probably the most common description used in Minneapolis and all of Hennepin County.

I imagine this term stems from the Craftsman era of housing, when single family home designs were for “bungalows“. And, as the upper Midwest is a treasure trove of homes from the era, with many of the Twin Cities most highly sought-after duplexes built in that era of architecture, it would make sense.

In some parts of the country, duplexes are called twin homes. This is a little confusing for many of us, as a twin home in Minnesota consists of two separate homes, with separate property identification numbers, that share a common wall. These properties may be owned and sold separately.

A duplex, on the other hand, typically has one county property identification number and as a result, one owner.

Our friends in Chicago and Detroit often refer to a duplex as a “two flat”. A two flat is two separate residences, with two separate residences on a common lot that share a wall or floor/ceiling. In Chicago, most two flats are two story properties.

Read the rest of this entry »

Minneapolis Duplex Owners Lose Valuable Resource

said on January 17th, 2011 categorized under: Architecture

Comments Off on Minneapolis Duplex Owners Lose Valuable Resource

Antique molded bricks stacked on grass.One of the best resources in Minneapolis for restoring duplexes to their original charm and character queitly closed its doors last month.

The ReUse Center just off of Lake Street, which sold salvaged building materials and architectural pieces, was closed by the non-profit organization that ran it; The Green Institute.

The ReUse Center was one of the first places to look if you were trying to replace a vintage Craftsman-era door, Victorian doorknob or simply needed a small amount of paint or tile. The Green Institute ran the retail store under the premise of keeping reusable building materials out of landfills.

In short, the Center was closed because it simply wasn’t profitable.

While there are hopes that after some business reorganization the ReUse Center can re-open next year, there doesn’t seem to be a concrete date for that to happen.

Until then, the Green Institute’s other ReUse Center, at 1723 E. Highway 36 in Maplewood remains open for now.

Of course, it’s important to note that the Twin Cities are relatively rich with architectural salvage companies. Google it. You’ll be surprised at what you find.

Is That Minneapolis Duplex A Painted Lady?

said on November 20th, 2009 categorized under: Architecture

1 Comment »

Typical Queen Anne

Typical Queen Anne

Woodwork. Investors, owner occupants and single family home buyers all go crazy for woodwork.

And for whatever reason, we all think woodwork is found in those grand two story Victorian homes  and duplexes.

Ironically, when most people think of built-ins and woodwork, they say the word Victorian, but in their heads? They’re actually thinking Craftsman.

For today, let’s talk about what constitutes a Victorian property.

The Victorian age happened in the 1880s and 1890s, during the reign of England’s Queen Victoria. There wasn’t a set, specific kind of house or duplex.

The age was more about an attitude, about out-doing your neighbor, and going over the top. In fact, these homes are often called “Painted Ladies” for the highly expressive and brilliantly-colored paint schemes they once boasted.

 The construction of the era consisted of many styles that shared certain common characteristics.

Most Victorian building occured between 1880-1910. These properties were among the first to feature full basements and tend to have more complex roof shapes. They often featured gas lighting, a wood or coal furnace and  (I’ve seen this in both the northeast and Seward neighborhoods), cisterns for their water supply.

There weren’t a lot of duplexes built in the era. However, those that were share with their single family counterparts high ceilings (10-12 feet on the first floor, nine feet on the second) and in the higher end properties, ornate details like leaded glass, occasional built-in buffets with scrolls and floral patterns, and pillars with scrolls at the top.  Hardwood floors are a given, as are the headers at the top of every door; straight, capped with a little ledge, almost like a lid on the frame.

Common categories of Victorians include Neoclassical, Queen Annes And Shingle. The Neoclassical Victorians tend to grand two-story columns on the front.  

Read the rest of this entry »