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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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,

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

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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.

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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.

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It also has wide sidewalks and great trees,

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

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Not to mention fabulous leaf crunching opportunities.

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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?

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

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

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Gorgeous.

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

Wow.

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.

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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.

Loft

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.

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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.

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

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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),

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

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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.

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

Next, the plants!

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

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astible in the little beds next to the stairs,

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and hydrangeas in the side yard.

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Beautiful grounds

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for a beautiful house.

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