Alan and Sandy Law

Local couple spends one year renovating historic home on White Bear Lake.
Alan and Sandy Law relax in the kitchen with children Gabby and Parker.

For years, Sandy Law walked her dog along a block of historic homes lined by 100-year-old oak trees just steps from the picturesque lakeside. Her favorite house? The one on the corner with a white picket fence. One day, a friend noticed that a small handmade “For Sale” sign had gone up in the yard of that house and alerted Sandy. “I called immediately,” says Sandy. The children of the late owners were selling the five-bedroom, three-bath home built in 1913, which had been in their family for forty years. On the outside, the palatial lakeside beauty is the definition of curb appeal, and on the inside, Sandy and her husband Alan saw all its potential.

Purchasing the home in November 2013, Alan and Sandy set out on an adventure to tackle their first major remodel, although they lived in their existing home during the renovation. “I am her boss at work, but she is mine over this home,” laughs Alan—the couple works together at Dental Specialists, where Alan is an endodontist and Sandy is an orthodontist. They hired Olov Strole of Strole & Company in St. Paul to do a modern remodel that would still retain the charm and historical character of the house. “Historical home renovations are definitely a niche for us on an ongoing basis,” says Strole, who calls the home a “melting pot of architectural styles.”

Before and after photos of the four-season porch prove the year-long renovation was definitely worth the wait.

All electric and plumbing was replaced. The original radiant heat was upgraded to a forced-air HVAC system. Almost every window was replaced to maximize efficiency and enhance the abundant natural light in the home. “We unraveled the existing layout by moving some walls and opening it up. We found a mixture of multiple renovations and at least four previous additions,” Strole adds.

And that was only the beginning. “Much of the existing millwork had been modified in previous remodels with a cheaper product, so we replaced it by matching the profiles of the window casings, upgrading to taller baseboards, as well as entryway wainscoting. We wanted to bring back the quality,” explains Strole. They preserved much of the original quarter-sawn white oak floors, and Strole’s team matched the original wood so impeccably you cannot tell the old from the new. But when the team offered to fix the creak in the staircase, Sandy said no. “I love that,” she says. “It’s part of the charm.”

The built-ins, with original leaded glass cabinet doors, were preserved in the formal dining room, which is decorated with a dramatic damask wallpaper and stunning crystal chandelier. In the living room, they exposed a partially coffered ceiling, which was finished, adding architectural interest in the space. Surround sound was added throughout.

Before and after renovation of the family room.

On the main floor, the most dramatic change is the kitchen. Walls were moved to open up the space, and brightened with custom white cabinetry, white quartzite counters and professional-grade appliances. A classic subway tile backsplash and an apron sink add to the classical farmhouse kitchen style. The new configuration allowed for an island, built-in breakfast nook and butler’s pantry. You still know you’re in a 100-year-old house, however, as a broom closet with secret passageway led to what was rumored to be a speakeasy. “I’ve seen a lot of speakeasies restoring older homes in St. Paul,” says Strole. “We also found a pulley mechanism and chalkboards in false walls that possibly were old menus or signs for gambling, and the doorbell warned if law enforcement was coming.”

To complete the modern remodel, the Laws decided to repurpose the attached garage into a sunken family room that would provide a great room space. “I have six brothers and sisters and we normally host the family gatherings with no less than 30 people. We needed a large space,” says Alan. The compromise to the modern floor plan was learning to live with a detached garage. (“At least it has heated floors,” says Alan.) Upstairs, the attic was finished into additional play and sleep space, and the master bedroom was opened to increase the size of the bath, adding a large steam shower and soaker tub.

The yearlong, top-to-bottom renovation was finished in November, and the couple, along with 14-year-old twins Parker and Gabby, and dog Simon, is finally calling Clark Avenue home; the house was a stop on the White Bear Area Historic Home Tour in September. “There are so many reasons this house was meant to be ours. We love living near downtown and being able to walk to everything,” says Sandy, who recently started a master gardener program and is looking forward to using her skills in the large yard. “I want to retire and spend my days gardening this yard.”