Blu Dot cofounder and CEO John Christakos found the perfect home for his contemporary art collection and eclectic furnishings: a midcentury dwelling built for a notable sculptor by a pioneering Minnesota architectBy Joel Hoekstra
For years, John Christakos had admired the house down the block. The midcentury manse in Minneapolis’ Lowry Hill neighborhood was low-slung and set back from the street, and featured an immense paneled-wood, double-door entry. “I always said, ‘That’s a good house. Somebody with talent did that house,’” recalls Christakos, CEO of Minneapolis-based furniture maker Blu Dot. “But I never knew much about it.”
In 2012, Christakos and his wife, Debby, had a friend in real estate inquire about the house, which afforded them the opportunity to walk through the place. (The owners just happened to be thinking about downsizing.) Behind the facade, they discovered a residence that was generously scaled, had amazing views of the downtown skyline, and was indeed designed by someone with talent: Elizabeth “Lisl” Close, among the first female architects to practice in Minnesota.
Close, who was born in Vienna and grew up in a house designed by the famed modernist architect Adolf Loos, had conceived the Lowry Hill house for a University of Minnesota art professor and his wife in 1949. The client, John Rood, was a sculptor of international renown, and Close not only included a studio with a high ceiling in her plans for the house; she also incorporated several of his stone and metal sculptures into the design. From the start, the residence was half home, half gallery.
Christakos, whose firm specializes in contemporary furniture designs with cheeky names such as the Hot Mesh chair and the One Night Stand sleeper sofa, liked the home’s horizontal profile, open interiors, big windows, and other midcentury details, including a tree that poked through a cantilevered roof next to the entry. But the house needed updating. Gold-plated fixtures in the bathroom and other elements added in a 1970s remodel now looked dated. Plus, Christakos and his wife wanted to add a pool for their four kids. They hired a friend, architect James Dayton, AIA, to oversee the residential refresh.
Dayton agreed that some small changes and a kitchen update were required. But he liked the unique quality that Rood’s sculptures added to the place, and he didn’t see much reason to tinker with Close’s overall design. “The spaces are scaled well and flow just right,” says Dayton. “It’s done in a very sensitive and subtle way that you don’t often see in contemporary construction.” The remodel, both architect and owners concurred, had to be equally elegant and subdued.
Fresh white paint was applied liberally to the living and dining areas. Banks of windows and glass doors in the living room, dining room, and kitchen were expanded to stretch from floor to ceiling, and now all three spaces flow outside, onto a new pool deck.
A long, curving gallery/hallway that leads to another living area had a flagstone floor that Christakos originally viewed as “something out of a 1970s Hollywood producer’s house.” But Dayton and Debby persuaded Christakos to keep the flooring and even pull flagstones from the outdoor patio to use in a powder-room remodel. In the end, it became one of Christakos’ favorite features. The hallway is now filled with paintings, photographs, and even video art.
Christakos affectionately refers to the long gallery and the large, open living space it leads to as “Terminal E.” Interestingly, that living space is built on the foundation of an older structure—a turreted carriage house that was originally part of Thomas Lowry’s 19th-century estate. Close’s design integrated the smaller dwelling and placed Rood’s studio on the far side of it. Now painted dark gray, the room houses a grand piano, a wet bar, a 16-foot-long dining table for larger dinner parties, and a comfortable corner for TV viewing and video games.
Back in the main section of the house, the master suite, which previously had few closets and two baths in need of a refresh, was modernized with clean lines and white paint and fitted with walk-in his and hers closets and sumptuous his and hers baths. Dayton created four bedrooms complete with built-in desks for the kids, and a bathroom shared by the three boys features a urinal and a pair of shower stalls and sinks, as well as tile flooring designed to look like wood grain. The Christakos’ daughter, of course, got her own bathroom.
As with most midcentury remodels, the kitchen needed the most attention. Stainless steel appliances and expansive white Carrara marble give the space a timeless look. A walk-in butler’s pantry with open cupboards allows kids and dinner guests alike to help themselves to whatever they’re hungering for. And a TV room adjoining the kitchen provides the perfect place for kids to crash after coming home from school: The flooring is fumed white oak, and one wall is lined with a lettered wallpaper, an installation by artist Shannon Ebner.
Dayton credits Christakos with many of the design changes. “John had a clear understanding of what he wanted for the house and how it was going to come together,” says the architect. “There was a lot of dialoguing and collaboration, but for the most part it was his vision.”
But it was the vision of Christakos’ business partner that shaped the landscape design. Blu Dot’s Maurice Blanks pointed out that the optimal site for the desired pool was not in the biggest part of the yard but in a smaller section that had a magnificent view of downtown. Locating the pool there, raising it a few feet off the ground, and surrounding it with a stone-tiled deck made it the perfect spot for entertaining. Landscape firm colberg|tews designed all of the outdoor spaces, including the pool deck and a pergola with a contemporary fireplace made of Cor-Ten steel.
Christakos and his wife say the house, the yard, and the location are ideal for their family. “I didn’t grow up in a city, so I love being this close to everything while at the same time having the privacy more typical of the suburbs,” says Christakos. “We were lucky to land here.”