For eight years, Molly Mogren Katt and her husband, Josh, owned and lived in a Minneapolis duplex nestled in the Lowry Hill East neighborhood of century-old houses. They always thought one in particular, an early 1900s Victorian style, was the most intriguing on the block.
The couple knew most of their neighbors, but the owners of this house kept to themselves. So when the place went up for sale, Mogren Katt took the opportunity to explore within its walls.
Having already fixed up a 1900s duplex that they were also living in, they weren’t looking to buy. It wasn’t until Mogren Katt saw the untouched oak details, tiled fireplaces and stained-glass windows that she knew this was her next passion project.
“I remember being at the top of the stairs and it was like I’d gotten struck by lightning,” she said. “I just had this moment where I was like, ‘We have to buy this house.’ “
They also knew that the house needed some love. Layers of wallpaper were falling from the walls and ceilings, and the plumbing and electrical systems needed to be completely reworked. They would need to refinish the floors and condition the original woodwork.
She decided to document the elbow grease that comes with fixing up her “new old house,” gaining a following on her Instagram and blog as she takes others along on her journey. What’s transpired are lessons learned — and shared with others — in how to transform a more than century-old home with a vibrant mix of modern decor and ornate antiques while offering tips on where to shop local in doing so.
License to modernize
While Mogren Katt wanted to decorate the space herself, she said she needed some guidance in the beginning stages of this large-scale renovation. She said she talked to a few designers who were only interested in a full design project. That wasn’t their style, so they decided on a hybrid model of historic meets modern. That’s when she hired her friend Carter Averbeck, founder and lead interior designer at Omforme Design in Minneapolis.
Averbeck gave the couple advice on how to make their space fun and functional. He helped formulate a plan to modernize their kitchen, which was updated in the 1990s but could only be accessed from the dining room through a butler’s pantry.
“That didn’t really work for our family,” said Mogren Katt, who has two young children. “And this is a great example of, you know, I don’t want to live in a museum. I want to live in a home.”
The couple kept most of the house’s original lighting but added a few modern fixtures in the stairway and kitchen from Creative Lighting in St. Paul. They completely remodeled the kitchen and converted the butler’s pantry into the main floor’s only bathroom, adorned with multicolor jungle-themed wallpaper. The statement wallpaper patterns are vintage-inspired but have an updated spin.
Mogren Katt had wallpaper professionally put in by Kurt Peterson, a third-generation installer who she said has an eye for spotting which part of a pattern should go where in context to the room. For example, in the foyer, Peterson zoomed in on a bird that stood out in the wallpaper and lined it in the center of the space above the mantel.
“One of [Averbeck’s] biggest pieces of advice was old homes want color,” Mogren Katt said. “I love color. And not that I need permission, but it kind of gave me permission to feel like we could really go as crazy as we wanted to in here.”
To seamlessly integrate those modern touches with the home’s historic nature, Mogren Katt added vintage pieces that make the space feel timeless.
She purchased most of the furnishings and decor secondhand, such as the dining room chandelier from Facebook Marketplace and framed artwork sourced at nearby estate sales.
A seasoned antique hunter, Mogren Katt also makes bimonthly rounds at the shops near the corner of 50th Street and Xerxes Avenue S. in Minneapolis. Some great finds from that block include a writing desk from Loft Antiques, repurposed as the primary bathroom’s vanity, and her tall wooden kitchen hutch from Clarabel Vintage.
Elsewhere in the city, Mogren Katt scored an old exterior door for their kitchen at Bauer Brothers in north Minneapolis.
“My general design philosophy is you just find things that you really like and eventually they’ll all go together,” Mogren Katt said.
Three years later, while most of the house feels complete, the projects aren’t done just yet. The next project is finishing the attic, which will be converted into two bedrooms and a bathroom for the couple’s children, who currently share a room.
In the midst of continuing change and construction, Mogren Katt finds comfort in the parts of the house that are still preserved over a century later.
“One of my big beliefs in design is people don’t value this idea of just leave it, just don’t do anything,” she said. “Sometimes things are great as they are.”
Jessy Rehmann is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune. Reach her at [email protected].