The 1981 Minnesota Ranch House That Once Embarrassed Them Is Now a Showplace

For a long time, Alicia and Craig Oberg disliked their house so much that they didn’t want to invite anyone over.

“We were actually embarrassed,” Ms. Oberg said of the house in Plymouth, Minn., which had a dated 1990s interior that “was just so far from what we felt our aesthetic was.”

But the 3,800-square-foot ranch house, built in 1981, had a few things going for it. For one, there was plenty of space: The couple, whose twins are now 14, bought it in August 2013 for $584,000, after outgrowing their previous home. And they loved the bucolic setting, between a horse farm and a small lake, but just 15 minutes from the center of Minneapolis.

“There was a necessity to find a place, and the lot was unbelievable,” said Ms. Oberg, 47, the founder of Destination Directive, a travel company.

“When we bought the house, we knew we’d have to remodel it,” said Mr. Oberg, 47, who works in investor relations and mergers and acquisitions at a public company.

But it took more than seven years to get around to renovating. “We were saving our pennies,” he said.

Finally, stuck at home during the pandemic, they decided they couldn’t wait any longer. In 2021, they contacted Anne McDonald, an interior designer in Minneapolis who had done work for a few friends.

“What I love about Anne is the depth of her work. There’s color, and there’s feeling and emotion behind everything she does,” Ms. Oberg said. “I didn’t want white-gloss anything.”

Better still, Ms. McDonald frequently collaborated with her father, Jim McDonald, a builder who ran McDonald Remodeling before recently retiring, so hiring her seemed like a turnkey solution.

Ms. McDonald, for her part, felt as if she had been given carte blanche. “Their disdain for this house, to me, was a green light to give it a whole new life,” she said.

With her father at her side to confirm what could and couldn’t be done, Ms. McDonald proceeded with an ambitious gut renovation. To create a more generous living room and maximize views toward the lake, they moved the staircase leading to the walkout basement and vaulted a previously flat ceiling. They added arched doors and doorways, installed more windows, and refreshed the exterior with new fiber-cement siding and a new roof.

To complete the transformation, the Obergs gave away their old furniture and worked with Ms. McDonald to find new vintage and contemporary pieces. The living room is now centered on a fireplace clad in Arabescato Corchia and a slender TV mounted in a custom wood frame that resembles a painting. For furniture, Ms. McDonald found vintage leather sling chairs, a tree-root coffee table and plum-colored swivel chairs. And Ms. Oberg picked out large photo-based artworks by Xan Padrón to add to the mix.

In the dining room, the McDonalds removed an unused fireplace, flattened the wall and added an antique cabinet that Ms. McDonald found at the Original Round Top Antiques Fair in Texas. The walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s dusty pink Dead Salmon, a color Mr. Oberg initially resisted because of its name.

“We put three swatches in front of him and told him to pick the one he liked best,” Ms. Oberg said. “He picked Dead Salmon.”

Ms. McDonald designed the kitchen around an oversized island with room for seating on three sides, confident that the Obergs would spend much of their time there. And sure enough: “We live at that island,” Ms. Oberg confirmed, “even though we didn’t have one before.”

They painted the kitchen cabinetry a deep green and created two pantry-like enclosures finished in black zellige tile: One serves as a breakfast area and garage for smaller appliances; the other contains a bar filled with special bottles the couple has collected while traveling.

“I just came back from South Africa and brought Craig some amber gin,” Ms. Oberg said. “It’s so fun to open that up when people come over now, because it tells our story, in a way, based on what we’re serving.”

Since completing the renovation in August 2022 at a cost of about $215 a square foot, they regularly invite people over. The interior is so appealing, in fact, that it has earned them a little extra income by serving as a photo-shoot location for Target, which is headquartered in Minneapolis.

“It just feels like it really reflects us now,” Ms. Oberg said. “And that makes all the difference.”

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