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DIY Network star renovates his midcentury ‘time capsule’ home in Falcon Heights

November 23, 2018

As the star of a home-makeover show, Matt Muenster delivered instant gratification to TV viewers.

The show was DIY Network’s “Bath Crashers,” and for six years, Muenster was the contractor who helped homeowners create their dream bathrooms — in a single episode.

But in his own home, he’s been taking his time. He hasn’t even “crashed” either of his bathrooms, although he’s tackled several other big projects.

“Patience is hard,” said Muenster of updating the 1960s house in Falcon Heights that’s home to him, his wife, Kate Walthour, and their 13-year-old son. They bought the place about five years ago, and have been gradually making it their own.

“We watch DIY shows,” Muenster said. “Seeing a project done in 22 minutes gives a demented, warped sense of reality for homeowners — knowing full well I contributed to it,” he added with a grin.

Remodeling slowly and deliberately was the right strategy for this house, the couple’s third.

“This house feels like our forever house,” Muenster said. “I’m approaching it differently. I’m less concerned with immediacy. I’m not compromising, not having regrets, things I wish I had done. In the long run, I’m very OK with that.”

Muenster’s careful, take-it-slow approach is rooted in respect for his home’s history and pedigree.

The house was designed by Minneapolis modernist Ralph Rapson in 1962, the same year he was finalizing details on the original Guthrie Theater.

Rapson, who died in 2008 at age 93, was a prolific architect who designed U.S. embassies in Copenhagen and Stockholm, as well as many homes, including a handful in Muenster and Walthour’s neighborhood, University Grove.

They discovered their Rapson five years ago while on a tour hosted by Docomomo, a modernist preservation organization.

“It’s an unassuming house when you drive up,” said Muenster, with a simple shape, stucco and redwood exterior, a flat roof and a band of blue highlighting the roofline. “You have to get into the house to see what it’s all about.”

Inside, it was like stepping back in time. The original owner had collaborated with Rapson on the home’s design, and had lived there for more than five decades, caring for it meticulously and altering almost nothing.

“She added one [electrical] outlet,” said Muenster. “It was a time capsule.”

Muenster and Walthour, both fans of midcentury modern design, were smitten with the house, which was conveniently close to Walthour’s job on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. So they bought it, intending to make some respectful updates, while preserving its integrity.

The home’s time-capsule character complicated remodeling decisions, noted Muenster. “It presents you with a dilemma. It’s midcentury modern to a T” — including its original 1962 kitchen, which like most kitchens of its era was closed off from the main living areas.

“The ways we use space have evolved,” Muenster said. “The kitchen needed to feel like part of the living room.” But he still wanted to preserve the original vision of Rapson and the owner who had lived so much of her life there. “I wanted to pay it respect.”

Muenster didn’t tackle the kitchen right away. His first project was refreshing the home’s unusual center courtyard. “That’s an interesting thing in Minnesota,” he said. Inside it was a tree that had grown too large for the space. “I felt we could use it better,” he said.

But before removing the tree, he checked with the previous owner, to see if it had any sentimental value to the family. She encouraged him to take it down and make the most of the courtyard.

So the oversized tree was removed. “We couldn’t get equipment in, so everything in the courtyard had to be done manually,” he said. “The tree was dug manually, the concrete was poured manually.”

Muenster also designed a new water feature to complement the architecture of the house.

“Now it’s a really awesome space,” he said. “You can go outside in your PJs and have complete privacy — with the sound of water trickling.”

The backyard also got a complete makeover. The couple took down two huge cottonwood trees, relandscaped and added a patio with a grill, to create an outdoor living space off the kitchen.

Kitchen recipe

After living in the home three years, Muenster was ready to take on the kitchen.

Some of the original birch cabinets had been designed by Rapson, so Muenster reached out to the architect’s son to ask if he had any personal attachment to them. Again, the answer was no, so Muenster proceeded with a clear conscience.

He also removed the load-bearing wall separating the kitchen from the dining room. “It opened the whole house up,” he said.

For a dining table, Muenster chose a thick slab of walnut, bolted to the new center island and resting on metal legs that he designed. A skylight above the table supports an eye-catching modern chandelier of hanging LED lights.

The light fixture originally came with a solid base but Muenster didn’t want to cover the skylight, so he designed a metal grid, cut the fixture apart, then rehung the individual lights from the grid. “Even when the lights are off, it’s still pretty,” he said.

The countertops are Cambria quartz in soft gray with white veining. Muenster chose a matte finish, in part because of the skylight. “If you put in a shiny surface, you’d have light bouncing off — it would be glare city,” he said.

To help him make design decisions, Muenster consulted with Amanda Maday, Studio Grey, a friend from “Bath Crashers.”

“I’m a contractor and a designer, but I’m my own worst client,” he said. “When it’s for me, it’s never done. I knew I wouldn’t know when to stop. She was really helpful. It’s OK to admit you can use a hand.”

Walthour also weighed in on a few decisions.

“I was particular about drawers,” she said. “I was focused on utility. I was getting excited about the paper-towel drawer, while he was excited about the glass shelves.”

The couple’s most recent project was replacing all their original windows with new Renewal by Andersen windows, a Minnesota manufacturer used by Rapson, including enormous panes overlooking the re-landscaped backyard. “The windows were a big deal,” said Muenster.

Next chapter

Remodeling Rapson’s creation coincided with a career shift for Muenster.

His TV career had started by accident. “I was sitting at a desk at a design firm, and a local producer called and asked me if I wanted to be on TV. I said, ‘No, not really.’ She was persistent.” They shot some video, and he was offered a show. “I was scared to death,” he recalled. “Fake it till you make it. I got better at it. It got easier and, eventually, fun.”

Young, telegenic and quick-witted, he had a good run, appearing on other home improvement shows, including “Bathtastic” and “Ellen’s Design Challenge,” as well as “Bath Crashers.”

“Bath Crashers” ended production in early 2016 after six years. “It was one of the most expensive shows. That became a challenge,” he said. “And TV had started to change. It was more presented, and became less and less what we started off doing.”

When the show ended, he decided to “hit the pause button.”

“Going back to design didn’t sound good,” he said. “I like the storytelling part.”

So he decided to launch his own video production company, Spoke 612 Productions, “producing digital content for companies I believe in.”

Working behind the scenes and closer to home comes with a side benefit — more time with his family.

“With ‘Bath Crashers’ I was traveling a lot to the West Coast,” he said. “You give up a lot. Now I’m able to coach my son’s baseball team. That’s a big change from missing most of the games. It feels good.”

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

@Stribkimpalmer

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