A Highly Walkable Oasis of a Neighborhood

“We’re in the Ramsey Hill Historic District, a quiet and highly walkable oasis of beautiful old homes [and] gardens.”

We brag about our neighborhood, the Ramsey Hill Historic District, quite a bit here at the Cathedral Hill B&B. The above is a quote from our website, and today we’d like to show you some pictures that we think prove our claim.


This is the corner of Holly and Mackubin, facing the block the B&B is on.


A little further on you can see the B&B on the right, with the grand white porch.


And this is across the street. Lots of beautiful trees with fall color, even on a gray day. And beautiful houses.


This is the end of our block at Holly and Arundel. Posh condos on the right, and a really lovely example of a painted lady on the left. This house has windows that actually curve with the rounded bay window, and has diamond-paned windows that sparkle like anything in the sun.


The next few photos are at the intersection of Portland, Western, and Summit Avenues, three blocks from the B&B. This corner features beautifully restored houses,


and Nathan Hale Park, which has a skating rink and a spectacular light display in winter, thanks to the neighborhood association.


Summit Avenue, marking the edge of the part of the city that’s oriented to the river instead of the cardinal directions, follows the bluff for a stunning view of the river and downtown.


It was, and is again, the domain of the rich and famous of St. Paul, featuring the really grand houses, making up the longest continuous stretch of original Victorian housing in the US. And it’s only three blocks from the B&B. The dome you see peeking up there belongs to the Cathedral of St. Paul.


It also has wide sidewalks and great trees,


which offer plenty of shade in the summer and color in the fall.


Not to mention fabulous leaf crunching opportunities.


At Summit and Mackubin is a brick beauty, that was painted white when we moved into the neighborhood in 1978. Who knows what the owners were thinking?


A block the other direction from the B&B is Ashland Ave.


I think this color pops more because of the gray, not in spite of it.




A couple of blocks further north is Selby Avenue, once the place to eat, shop, and be seen, with its restaurants, shops,


and stately Victorian commercial architecture. This building at Western Street, Blair Arcade, was once a residential hotel, The Angus, and somehow survived the urban renewal craze. It’s now condos, with a coffee shop, bookshop, restaurant, and salon among its commercial tenants.


And finally, a further three blocks east, is Nina Street, one of the last brick-paved streets in the city.

I hope you enjoyed your walking tour. Come visit us and experience the neighborhood!

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Kitchen of Our Dreams

In last month’s post about the B&B’s innovative floor washing system, you may have noticed some features unusual for a residential kitchen designed and remodeled just after 1980.

Cooking Area

Like, what’s with the (over?) abundance of appliances?

Well, when we bought this house in 1978, we had five kids, and weren’t ruling out the possibility of a couple more (which happened), and the burnt orange kitchen (with a pantry that took up way too much room) we inherited just wasn’t going to cut it. So Bill (who trained as an engineer) got out his drafting pencils (this was 1980, after all) and designed the kitchen of his dreams, based on logic and reason as well as aesthetics. He wanted it to be beautiful, but above all, it had to be functional. So, he started by figuring out how many meals would be prepared and eaten in that kitchen before he and Katy suffered(?) empty nest syndrome, and came up with 186,000.


He figured with a family of 9, 2 stoves, 2 dishwashers and 2 sinks was only practical for a couple of reasons. First, when one inevitably broke down there was a backup (“no washing dishes in bathtubs,” as he says), and second, a larger family needs larger capacity. The two stoves, for instance have been a real blessing on holidays; we don’t have to worry about staging in the ovens and can bake at two different temperatures at the same time. And we get together as a family of 25 or so every Monday night, so two dishwashers are a real help.

He also included a trash compactor, so we wouldn’t be taking the garbage out daily. Given 2 stoves, he built a serious vent hood. The fan is powered by a 3/4 horsepower washing machine motor with 3 speeds built in and has a powered vent on the outside of the house. It’s loud, but really effective, and you don’t have to worry about a draft in the winter.

East Wall

There’s plenty of counter space. The peninsula offers a large stretch of unbroken counter with nothing over it, and accessible outlets on the back. There are flood lights in can fixtures over it for great lighting, and the undermounted sink has a garbage disposal so you can scrape scraps right into it.

Big Sink - Baby Bathing

Katy wanted a sink big enough to bathe two grandbabies in at a time, and that’s what she got.

South Wall

You’ll notice the microwave, next to the door in this picture, has a large surround. Bill bought Katy a $600 microwave before he started remodeling the kitchen, and it was originally mounted there. In the last 35 years microwaves have gotten significantly smaller (and cheaper!), so he put in a frame to support the smaller microwave within its larger space.

Storage is another must in a kitchen. There are 4 rows of storage (all custom-built) on this wall. The cabinets under the ceiling are the soffets and store things that just don’t come out that often, like holiday dishes. Next are relatively standard upper cabinets, but with hidden hinges and fully adjustable shelves. (Bill made the middle upper cabinet on this wall as a dumbwaiter to the second floor where the laundry room is, but after everyone moved out changed it into a regular cabinet.) Next, at counter level, is the original toaster garage, liquor cabinet, meat slicer, and another cabinet. Under the counter is all wide, fully opening drawers with metal slides that hold 100 pounds. There are only three cabinets at this level in the entire kitchen:  under the sinks, and one for large cutting boards and cookie sheets, etc to stand on edge.

Drawer - Glasses

The rest are (custom-built) drawers of varying depth

Drawer Silverware

and configuration depending on what Bill thought might go in them.

Drawer - Pots

This one is up above, I know, but look how deep it is, and it goes all the way back!

Another thing important to a kitchen is adequate lighting and power.

Switches - Back door

These are the switches by the back door, including outdoor lights and basement lights.

Switches - Front door

This is by the door into the kitchen from the front of the house. It controls task and ambient lighting at different levels, the sconces in the eating area, and the winch for the floor washing system. Everything is dimmable, and everything is controlled from this one panel. At its brightest, you could probably do surgery on the peninsula, if you were so inclined. (We discourage guests from doing surgery in our kitchen, btw.) :)

The power outlets are similarly available, both on the walls, under the upper cabinets, and in the cabinets where appropriate, such as the toaster garage and the meat slicer cabinet.

Eating Area

The peninsula also acts as a divider between the working and eating areas of the kitchen. The working area is clean surfaces, white appliances, a classic blue and white color scheme, and very modern. The eating area is all warm woods and sconce lighting, reflecting the style of our historic Victorian home.


However, it’s not all traditional. Bill wanted to use every inch of space, so he cut off the top of the cavernous stairway to the basement, and made it into a play loft for kids.

Loft Stairs

It has its own lighting and stairs, and is a place for kids to be under supervision without being under foot. And it’s definitely kid-sized. The grandchildren have as much fun up there as the kids did.

And Bill used the space under the loft’s stairs for a set of drawers. Did I mention he wanted to use every inch of space?

Table - Seatbelts

This last picture hearkens back to the floor washing system blog entry again. Here’s how the seatbelts that hang the table from the ceiling look at their under-table attachment point. In case you were curious.

So that’s are kitchen. If a lot of this looks familiar, take a look at the current trends in kitchen design, and you’ll see that Bill was way ahead of his time. The extensive use of oversized drawers, the lighting, having more than four burners, the clean lines, extra storage, all of these are things that people want in kitchens now. And I can see why; they make the B&B’s kitchen a delight to use.

This kitchen was two years in the making, and worth every minute.

Published in: on October 31, 2015 at 8:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Yard (And House) Beautiful

We’ve completed the final phase of the outside renovation of the B&B – landscaping.

Last autumn ended with a newly elegant house on a bare patch of ground, soon hidden by the grace of winter. No one expects much landscaping in a Minnesota January.

Landscape 1 - IMG_7051

This spring, we first finished the last details on the house, including completing the lattice under the porch and reinstalling the original porch light fixture.

Then we started creating an outdoor setting that would complement our gracious B&B. As the backyard remained untouched through the renovation process, our efforts focused mostly on the front yard, with some attention paid to the side yards, as well.

The first step was cleaning up and grading the front yard. This included a lovely new layer of top soil to welcome the soon-to-be-arriving sod.

Landscape 2 - IMG_7082

We also put in a stepped retaining wall, with room for a planting bed, thus eliminating the hill down to the sidewalk.

IMG_7097 IMG_7084 IMG_7100

We used Chilton Wall Stone both for its shape and its natural varied coloration. It definitely adds pizzazz, don’t you think?

We also put stone borders around the porch, leaving room for a gravel bed (3/4 gray trap),

Landscape 4 - IMG_7110

lined the new herringbone walk, which now matches the width of our grand porch steps,

Landscape 6 -  IMG_7145 Landscape 5 - IMG_7135

and created two interesting, if small, planting beds designed to visually ease the transition between the differing widths of the walk and the cement stairs down to the sidewalk, and play with the fact that those stairs are off-center to the walk. They are, however, aligned with the walk to the street, which in itself is visually off-kilter due to the extra concrete pad designed to make alighting from vehicles less messy due to snow and mud. The visual geometry’s a little complex.

Landscape 3 - IMG_7124

Here we are with the stone in, the sod laid, and the boulevard seeded.

Next, the plants!

Landscape 8 - IMG_7203

We planted tuberous begonias alternating with hostas in the retaining wall bed and just hostas around the tree,

Landscape 9 - IMG_7440

astible in the little beds next to the stairs,

Landscape 10 - IMG_7259

and hydrangeas in the side yard.

Landscape 11 - IMG_7402

Beautiful grounds

Landscape 7 - IMG_7214

for a beautiful house.

Published in: on October 1, 2015 at 6:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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Floor Washing Magic

In visiting our fine B&B, have you noticed the drain in the kitchen floor, and that everything in the kitchen is built up off the floor? Well, this post is going to reveal the heart of this mystery:  Cathedral Hill B&B’s floor washing system!

When Bill remodeled the kitchen in the 1980s, he had 5 children with more on the way, and keeping the kitchen floor clean was not easy – a mop just wasn’t cutting it, and hands and knees is so 19th century. So he decided to install a complete system that was (and still is) effective, efficient, and enjoyable.

The first step is to get everything off the floor. All of the built-ins are designed that way, so that just leaves the chairs…

Floor Washing 1 - WP_20150908_12_28_19_ev2_Pro

and the table.

Floor Washing 2 - WP_20150908_12_30_02_ev0_Pro

A winch comes out of the ceiling at the touch of a switch, and the table gets hooked to it using a contraption built out of a steel plate and car seatbelts, which are, of course, rated for a lot of weight. The other ends of the seatbelts are on the bottom of the table. When the winch is raised back into the ceiling…

Floor Washing 2.5 - WP_20150908_12_30_42_ev2_Pro (2)

the table goes with it and is out of the way. (You do have to be careful not to bump your head on the legs.) The decks are cleared for the warm water.

Floor Washing 3 - WP_20150908_12_31_39_ev0_Pro

A key is required to turn the water on, thus preventing accidental flooding. Smart, Bill!

Floor Washing 4 - WP_20150908_12_31_49_ev0_Pro

There are pipes just above the floor in different parts of the kitchen…

Floor Washing 5 - WP_20150908_12_32_14_ev1_Pro (2)

four in total…

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giving complete coverage.

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Then soap is added; squirted directly onto the floor.

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There’s a long-handled brush for scrubbing,

Floor Washing 9 - WP_20150908_12_36_25_ev2_Pro (2)

and a long-handled squeegee to coax the water down the drain when the floor’s clean.

Floor Washing 10 - WP_20150908_12_40_11_ev0_Pro

The final step is to wrap a large towel around the squeegee to dry the floor.

Even if the floor is swept first (which we heartily recommend!), there’s often detritus to clean off the drain as well.

Let down the table, and you’re done.

Floor Washing 11 - WP_20150901_11_45_21_Pro

With a half-hour’s work, you’re left with a sparkling,

Floor Washing 12 - WP_20150901_11_46_31_Pro

clean floor.

Floor Washing 13 - WP_20150901_11_47_04_Pro

The family has a lot of good memories of this system.

One year the house was on the Ramsey Hill House tour, and the newly renovated kitchen was the prime attraction. Bill built a bridge from the kitchen door to the back door and ran the floor washing system the whole time. People were very impressed.

Over the years there’ve been a lot of kids in and out of this house, and they love to slip’n’slide across the wet kitchen floor. The adults enjoy watching them. That last happened a few months ago.

I know Anona is wearing shoes in the above pictures, but as kids, we often didn’t. Who wanted to forgo the opportunity to go wading and splashing during a Minnesota January?

Another mystery solved.

Published in: on September 28, 2015 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Lushly Colorful Back Yard

The lush backyard is another restful place to sit and enjoy your stay at Cathedral Hill Bed & Breakfast.


It’s colorful with flowers and greenery, and the fire pit is welcome when the weather starts getting crisp.


The covered seating area on the deck offers shelter in inclement weather for a smallish group.


From the deck you have a view of the carriage house with a reminder of its former inhabitants.


You are also shaded by the pussy willow tree, that displays its fuzzy flowers in the spring.


The other seating area has an almost French café feel, with the intimate groupings of tables, the umbrellas, and the profusion of vines.


Adding to the European flair is the lion-headed fountain, peeking out from the greenery, ready to fill your outside sojourn with the restful sound of burbling water.

As our guest, we urge you to use our outdoor spaces as you would our indoor rooms, to relax, recreate, and meet up with friends.

Welcome to Cathedral Hill B&B.

Published in: on August 25, 2015 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Porch of our Dreams

Cathedral Hill Bed & Breakfast is as beautiful outside as it is inside, with many charming and comfortable places to relax and congregate.


Put our grand new porch to good use as a scenic spot for a little R&R.


Behold, our new porch furniture, that not only gracefully complements the style of house, but is also really comfortable.


While away the afternoon chatting or reading with a glass of something cold.


The B&B’s wifi is easily accessible.


And the views can’t be beat. Whether it’s the historic details of the porch itself,


encouraging you to imagine you’re back in 1897 on the original newly constructed porch surrounded by potted palms,


or taking in the area’s Victorian architecture,


and lush greenery. Sit and watch the neighborhood go by, seeing and being seen.

Our front porch is one of the new amenities we’re proud to offer our guests.

Congratulations! It’s Victorian!

So, let’s review.

488 in c.1930s

Here’s the house in about 1942. Our goal and inspiration for change…

488 from the outside, C. 2003, probably taken by Katy Gray

…from this. The legacy of mid-century modernistic tendencies (i.e. clean lines), practicality (because that never-have-to-paint siding really is much more practical than wood), and budget. None of which aesthetically serve a 1896 Victorian built by a banker wanting as gracious a home as his substantial wealth would allow. Our lovingly playing catch-up with that aesthetic service brings us to (drumroll please)…


…this. Not bad. Pretty darn spectacular, in fact, if we do say so ourselves. Hardly recognizable as the same house.


No matter what angle…


…you view it from, the transformation is astounding,…


…the results elegant, gracious, and welcoming,…


…and already offering new places to congregate or step away from the crowd.


Our home feels like a Victorian mansion from the outside as well as the inside, finally,…


…and it wears its vividly historic colors proudly, from up the block…


and down.

I think the banker would be pleased. I know we sure are.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 7:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Tying Up the Loose Ends

We’re at the point of cleaning up some final details.


We created replica lattice for the bottom of the porch. The original idea was to clean up some original we found, but it would have been prohibitively expensive.


We finished up the faux stone paint treatment on the foundation of the house.


The front door trim has been created…


…and painted, giving the front door surround a substantial and clean look. Especially as it’s contrasted by the naturally finished original oak door.


A new house number display and a painted and rehung mailbox finish off the entry. (The wreath, while fetching, is not part of the holiday decorating plans. The letter carrier would not be happy as the mailbox opens from the top.)

The last big project is a new roof for the house, which, while not adding to the aesthetic, does have the benefit of keeping out the weather. And then we just keep working away at the last small details until the project is finished. At least for this round. You know what they say about historic houses….

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Exciting developments!


We have added  most of the standard porchy frills, including…


fluted pillars, round and square…


and railings, complete with ranks of turned spindles.


These elements work harmoniously with the existing trimly furbelows…


to add a truly elegant character to the sheltering and structural functionality of the porch.


Some of the round pillars were original to the house, making up the first porch. They were cut down for the little porch, and built back up for our new beauty.


Unfortunately, measuring twice doesn’t always prevent mistakes, so we had to do some adjusting to get a perfect fit.


But, you’d never know it from the final product.


The square pillars were constructed in situ. (That’s almost a visual history of the clamp right there.)


Those were the last major elements needed to make the house look like it truly belongs in our historic neighborhood.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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Corbels and Consultations

We’re busy and excited.


Still no pillars, but lots of activity on site. The fellow in the dark shirt on the right is shaping corbels out of blocks of wood.


And here they are being painted, along with spindles, and doesn’t the paint gun make that job a heck of a lot easier!


Here are the corbels installed, along with a glimpse of the finished paint job on the third floor dormer.


A view of the porch’s completed yellow pine ceiling, and someone already enjoying its expansive shelter.


A close-up of the faux finish on the house’s foundation. We decided, upon experimentation, that removing the green paint would be way too resource intensive. It’s a much better fit with our color scheme than the green would have been.


The owner, architect, and contractor consulting. We’re much closer, but there’s still a ways to go before all the details are taken care of.


A beautiful Minnesota October day, one of the last hurrahs before the snow flies, part of which we spent lunching outdoors. Maybe next October someone will be enjoying lunch on this welcoming front porch watching the world go by.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 12:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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