A note from our editors: 

It’s time for one of our favorite traditions! Each year, we spend the holidays reflecting on the stories and articles you loved most. It’s the “Best of Rue” and this is one of 2020’s top stories. Enjoy!

Previously published on March 31, 2020:

An “architectural mutt.” That’s how Victoria Sass, owner and principal designer at Prospect Refuge Studio, endearingly describes her turn-of-the-century home. Built in 1900, when Sass’s Minneapolis neighborhood was a rural blueprint of the bustling lake culture it is now, the home lived many, many lives before Sass unearthed its potential. 

“We always knew this home would be a lifelong project,” Sass says. “There’s always something to do: fireplaces to repair, bathrooms that need updating, the historic elements of the exterior require a lot of maintenance.”

Little is known about the home’s original structure, but Sass and her husband have discovered a few clues along the course of remodeling, like that there was once a private dirt road that ran through the side yard of the home to a little barn in the back. The house had grown incrementally over the years, from the original modest single family home, into a more stately single family home, then into a duplex and then, in the 70s, a triplex. When Sass bought the property in 2017, it had been reverted back into a single family home by the previous owners, but not well. Think an awkward back staircase, choppy layout and a myriad of little rooms that had clearly been converted from bedrooms into kitchens into bathrooms.

Still, Sass isn’t scared of a project. The pluses of the property were too alluring to ignore: an abundance of bedrooms and bathrooms (when they bought it there were seven bedrooms, five baths, two kitchens, plus an unfinished basement), an original formal dining room that could host an entire extended family (a longtime dream of Sass’s), a double lot (for kids and a garden) and an ADU (for Sass’s husband’s family from Denmark to visit and stay). 

“We like to dream and work, and work and dream,” says Sass. “A ‘move-in-ready’ property was never in the cards for us. I love a home that grows and evolves, like a member of the family. That’s how memories are made.”

Sass tapped her design wisdom during the remodel to blend the historical charm of the original parts of the home with the more updated quarters. The results juxtapose pomp with approachability, classic details with lush textures, unlacquered brass with ebonized oak.  

Here, Sass discusses with us her thoughts on the evolution of her home.

How do you describe your style and the style of the house? How did you marry the two?
I love that you use the word “marry” because I often use the marriage analogy when describing this home. It definitely keeps me interested. It might challenge me some days and romance me another, but I never get bored with it. It has plenty of secrets and I learn something new about it with each project. It has lived a lot of lives, and I like hearing its stories. I feel like we coexist, which suits me.

How was it designing for yourself? How did that process vary from working with clients?
Designing for yourself is definitely more challenging than you’d think. You don’t have the gift of perspective. It’s a little bit like therapy. I often say, “I know why people hire people like me!” When working with clients, we spend a lot of energy to get to the root of a problem in order to solve it. When you are doing this for yourself, you have to be very patient and honest.

On the other hand, I get to experiment with my home in ways I probably wouldn’t with a client. I try out new materials to see how they perform; I work with artists and craftspeople to learn about their trades. I think it’s important to know how things live and I love to be able to bring new elements into our design practice with confidence and personal experience.

What are your favorite spaces, nooks, moments, materials in the house?
It changes with the seasons, with the days of the week, with whatever work is being done. I might detest a space in my home, then do a little work on it and start to see it in a new light. There are lots of little places to escape to. Generally speaking, I love the height of all the ceilings and the tall windows. It makes me feel like I can breathe.

Finally, what is a dream day at home like for you?
Ooh, good question. I enjoy a day when something new comes into the home – a painting or a rug, maybe a plant or new drapes. It feels like we just added another sentence to the story. I like watching the slow evolution of the space around me.