Built for $1 million for Nanjing restaurant owners, Mid Century St. Louis Park house

Judy Ingber has been an architecture buff for as long as she can remember. She grew up in a home designed by award-winning modernist architect Elizabeth “Lisl” Close in Minneapolis.

When she and her husband Jerry went house hunting and came across a modern mid-century modern home designed by Saul Smiley and influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, they knew it was right for them.

“It reminded me of Lisl’s house that my father and mother had created. It was spacious without a lot of room,” Ingber said.

Originally from St. Louis Park house was built in 1952 for Nanjing restaurant owners Carl and Yetta Chalfen.

Twin Cities architecture critic Larry Millett said the house is one of several buildings in the western suburbs designed by Smiley, who also designed the legendary Thunderbird Motel in Bloomington.

“With its striped brickwork and low profile, Chalfen House brings to mind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia homes of the time,” Millett said. “The courtyard is a distinctive feature that mid-century architects, including Ralph Rapson, used so effectively in their designs.”

Millett described the Chalfen House as “an elegant design with extremely fine details and an outstanding example of medieval architecture in the Twin Cities.”

up close and personal

The Ingbers became the third home owner when they bought it in 1982. They appreciated the Prairie School design, which started outside with a strong connection to nature, with details like a courtyard that wraps around a birch tree. The house comes with a porte-cochere ledge for transition to exterior and interior.

“The house is an example of the many elements of the Prairie School that Saul Smiley used,” Judy said. “Starts outdoors with natural elements [such as slate and brick] and carries it indoors.”

Once inside, a row of windows just below the ceiling lets natural light into the asymmetrical rooms.

“When you look at the living room and the dining area, it’s L-shaped. It’s not a 90-degree room like Wright and it’s 1½ stories high,” Judy said.

The house came with another Prairie style trademark that Ingbers were particularly grateful for when they first moved in.

“When we got this, our house was utterly poor. But fortunately, as with Prairie styles, there were built-in pieces—beds, cabinets, dressers, and other cool features—so we didn’t need the furniture right away.”

Over the years, the Ingbers have had the chance to learn the history of the house from the architect himself. They had met Smiley twice and she was more than happy to talk about the unique details, like how a set of slatted doors in the living room came to be.

“She told us that Mrs. Chalfen and her husband were watching a movie the night before with these revolving doors. After that, she saw exactly how she wanted that space to be divided,” Jerry said.

“Saul says he’s seen the movie 11 times. Because there was no repetition, he scratched the doors like crazy whenever they were shown in the movie. … The result was pretty good.”

Protection and update

The Ingbers took on many projects such as updating brick and cork flooring. By combining stone, granite and cherry wood, they gave a great refreshment to the kitchen.

“We wanted natural elements and brought it to the original yellow wood when it was built,” Jerry said. “The second homeowners painted the yellow wood with walnut.”

Previous homeowners had also put a pool in the backyard that the Ingbers and their two sons have enjoyed over the years.

Ingbers made her own improvements to the outdoor living space by adding a second patio, hot tub, a gazebo, redwood hedge, wildflower garden, and an olive tree.

Now, the couple, whose children have grown, have listed the one-story, three-bedroom, three-bathroom residence that spans 3,675 square feet and sits on 1.5 acres.

While they shrink, they maintain their commitment to architecturally unique homes. “We’re moving into an old house that used to be a granary,” Jerry said.

Ingbers hopes future homeowners will appreciate living in such a unique home in a location with easy access to downtown Minneapolis, lakes, and bike trails.

Listing agent Ed Bell said the house was designed to bring the outside in beautifully, from the vaulted ceilings to the floor windows.

“The house captures the timeless features of both medieval and Prairie architectural design,” he said. “It’s great to live on a single level.”

Ed Bell ([email protected]; 612-720-4747) of Coldwell Banker Burnet has $1 million. listing.

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