How an Excelsior family downsized to a designer duplex

Two years ago, Lyndsie and E.J. Adams and their baby, Archer, were living in a 1990s two-story Craftsman-style home in suburban Shakopee near a golf course.

“It was 4,000 square feet, and we only used about a third of it,” said Lyndsie. “It felt like I had to walk half a mile to grab a diaper.”

The home’s size, including four bathrooms to clean, plus utility costs to heat and cool wasted spaces, sparked the couple to make a dramatic lifestyle change.

“We decided to downsize at a time when our family and careers were growing,” said Lyndsie.

E.J. had read the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” which inspired them to look for a multiunit investment property to buy. The family could live in one half and rent out the other. And Lyndsie, a full-time marketing manager and part-time interior designer, could restyle and update the spaces.

The couple focused on buying in the western metro area near the Life Time Fitness corporate office in Chanhassen, where they both work. They yearned for an older neighborhood with sidewalks for Archer’s stroller rides.

While house-hunting, they ruled out split-entrys and tuck-under garages, and narrowed the search for that rare one-level, two-unit dwelling with a big yard.

“We wanted a small-town feel – like Excelsior,” said Lyndsie, who frequented Commons park on Lake Minnetonka to watch boats with Archer. “But we figured there was nothing in our price range.”

Over six months, they scrutinized 10 properties that were either rundown, had an awkward layout or were too costly to remodel. Finally, their real estate agent found a side-by-side duplex built in 1960, surrounded by a wooded lot on a dead-end street. All they had to do was walk across the Mill Street bridge and then a few blocks to reach downtown Excelsior.

“We were inside for three minutes,” said Lyndsie, “and I was ready to make an offer.”

Among the selling points were beautiful hardwood floors hidden beneath carpet, and space to add a bedroom and family room in the walkout basement.

“It had so much potential, and we could see that it had been taken care of over the years,” added E.J.

The duplex was listed for $300,000 and attracted multiple offers. The couple gambled and offered $330,000, which was accepted. They agreed that one of the current owners could continue to live in his side of the duplex and pay them rent.

The Adamses sold their Shakopee home in 90 days and were ready to roll on the duplex remodeling, working with contractor Racbern Design Build in Minnetonka.

The couple started with cosmetic improvements, such as removing worn carpet and refinishing hardwood floors, as well as installing new electrical and energy-efficient windows throughout the home.

Lyndsie reconfigured the main floor, placing the brand-new kitchen in the former family room. One big hurdle to overcome was whether to keep the original massive two-sided wood-burning brick fireplace, which divided the living and family rooms.

“At first we painted it white, but realized it was taking up too much space in an already small house,” said Lyndsie. “We had to give it up.”

But it was worth it. The family gained about 40 square feet in the living room, which helped open it up to the new kitchen. Now they could watch 2-year-old Archer play while preparing dinner on the kitchen’s generous-sized island outfitted with a vegetable-cleaning sink.

For the kitchen’s black-and-white color scheme, Lyndsie chose durable Dekton on the island and countertops and white appliances, to better blend with the cabinets and oversized subway-tile backsplash. When you walk in the front entry, your eye is drawn to the star-patterned tile on the island front, rather than a huge stainless-steel refrigerator, she noted.

The stitched leather “saddle-back” chairs for casual meals add warmth and contrast with the modern straight lines.

In the adjacent dining room, Lyndsie removed the dark laminate wood-look paneling, and covered the walls with a fresh coat of white paint, accented with a large mirror leaning against a wall. “Light from the new French doors bounces off the mirror and makes the space feel larger,” she said.

Finally, the Adamses closed off a doorway and converted the original narrow galley kitchen into a multifunctional flex space that serves as Archer’s playroom, Lyndsie’s home office and even a mini-mudroom with coat hooks on a far wall.

Lyndsie strung lights across the cheerful primary-colored playroom, which is furnished with a cowhide-covered toy box below framed pages from a vintage storybook.

Like the playroom, the other interiors are “fresh, fun and modern,” said Lyndsie. She painted the walls gallery white as a backdrop to vibrant jewel tones and pale pastels in furniture, artwork and accessories.

For eye-catching interest, Lyndsie juxtaposed “rural rustic” reclaimed barnwood and bold rooster artwork with sleek modern elements, such as Tom Dixon-style copper-shade pendant lights.

“In furniture, I like more of a midcentury modern look, which is hot right now,” she said.

Lyndsie and E.J. spent $80,000 on the remodeling, which adds undeniable value to their duplex investment. That doesn’t include sweat equity, such as tilework, painting, finishing work and floor-plan design, which the couple did themselves.

Although Lyndsie and E.J. knew it was the right move for them, downsizing to a home half the size of their previous one wasn’t easy.

They were forced to prioritize what they were gaining – and what they were giving up. For example, the tiny master bedroom doesn’t have a walk-in closet, and the family shares one main-floor bathroom. But the Adamses are cool with that.

“Just about everything that made us comfortable in the old house, we have that here,” said Lyndsie.

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