Photos by Spacecrafting
It all started with a refrigerator. Or rather, the need for a larger one. When Padideh Safavi and her husband bought their new home in Golden Valley back in 2014, they had no intentions of renovating it. The couple, both Minnesota natives and entrepreneurs (Safavi is currently launching Piarri, her own line of luxury loungewear, at the end of August, and her husband helped co-found a local company in Minneapolis), had previously rented in the neighborhood and loved the area. “It’s only 15 minutes from downtown, which was great since my husband was going back and forth all the time for work, and it just felt like a little hidden gem by these two lakes,” says Safavi.
The 4,800-square-foot house they settled on was perfectly adequate and relatively new with a big backyard that led down to the lake. In fact, the only issue Safavi had was with that refrigerator. “It was tiny, I mean really tiny,” she says. “We had two kids at the time—three now—and we were always entertaining family, friends, and neighbors. Sometimes we’d have a dozen people or more over at a time! So, I knew when we bought the house that we’d have to get a new fridge.”
The couple brought in contractor Jorj Ayaz to shuffle things around, and Ayaz, owner of Aspen Builders & Remodelers in Minneapolis, took one look at the space and knew it was an opportunity for bigger, better things. He introduced the couple to James Henke, a designer and longtime collaborator. “Jim came in with such a vision for the home that we ended up updating every inch of it,” Safavi laughs. “We definitely didn’t plan it; it just happened.”
“We were literally just trying to make the kitchen slightly better,” Ayaz adds. “At first it was, ‘The drawers are ugly, so let’s add some liners.’ Then Jim said, ‘This wall needs to go. Let’s add an arch. And we might as well add a huge island, too.’”
Before anyone really realized it, the entire kitchen had been gutted and redone. Then the couple mentioned their dislike of their master bedroom’s entrance, and soon the “minor” kitchen renovation had spread throughout the entire main floor. Walls were knocked down to create an open-concept living space, a new fireplace was installed, a spare room was converted into a home office, and the master suite received a facelift—complete with a dressing room for Safavi and a luxurious burl wood cabinet in the bath (inspired by the glossy dashboard of a Rolls-Royce).
“The team who put everything together did amazing work: A kitchen backsplash usually takes about one day to put up and half a day to grout…they took a week and painstakingly measured every single tile to make sure everything was perfect to make Jim’s vision a reality,” says Ayaz. “And every time we’d update an area, it made what was left over look really ugly—like wearing a tuxedo jacket with pajama pants—and we all wanted everything to match.”
With three children under the age of 10, one thing Safavi did request was storage, and lots of it. Her wish was granted with hidden drawers, closets, and built-ins, and as a bonus, Henke added laundry areas on both of the levels. These creative solutions ended up forming Safavi’s favorite spot in the house: the reading nook off the living room. “Jim designed these huge built-in sofas with drawers underneath where I store books and blankets for the kids, and it’s so comfortable and cozy in there,” she says. “It’s like a little sunroom, and the kids all love going in there to read and take naps.”
Another way Henke elevated the design of the house was with wallpaper. “We were doing Venetian plaster in the living room, and I told them we needed to break it up a little bit,” he explains. Although the couple wasn’t interested initially, a few trips to the Holly Hunt showroom later found them pulling papers alongside him. Now, every single wall in the home features some kind of finish, whether a pretty paper or chic plaster.
With such a successful makeover of the main level, everyone agreed the lower level and outdoor spaces warranted a renovation, too. Downstairs, a series of bedrooms for children, grandparents, and guests received a refresh, and the level’s two show-stoppers include a spacious area for the kids to play and study (complete with a custom built-in sofa and work station) and an additional kitchen that can easily service the outdoor entertaining area as well. “There used to be a small bar/kitchenette down there, and the idea was to get a refrigerator down there as well since the family was going to be spending so much time in the lower level while construction was going on upstairs. Then Padideh suggested a stove…and, well, that’s a full kitchen!” Ayaz laughs.
As for outside, everything was oriented to face the lake. A large deck off the main level features a fire pit with half a dozen bubble chairs plus a pair of chairs the couple brought over from their previous home, while an expansive walkout patio off the lower level includes a grilling area (which Safavi’s husband was particularly excited for), along with an eight-foot gas fire pit surrounded by Adirondack chairs, a 12-top table, and a more intimate dining table for four. A sunning area with chaises and a pair of custom swings made from two queen-sized daybeds with thick, upholstered cushions provide plentiful places to relax.
“We’re outside 90 percent of the time we’re up here, in the backyard or at the lake, so that was really the focal point,” says Safavi. “We really wanted the patio to be an extension of our home that just happens to be outside. And the swings!” she gushes. “I saw them in a magazine and showed Jim, and he created even better ones.”
Although the couple hadn’t planned on such a large-scale renovation, Safavi says they thoroughly enjoyed themselves along the way. “We had so much fun showing photos to Jim, and pulling inspiration from Pinterest and Houzz,” she reminisces. “We knew what we liked—we wanted an elegant, upscale feel, but also classic so it wouldn’t go out of style—but we weren’t able to imagine it all working together. Luckily, the team had the wonderful ability of taking things we liked and making it all cohesive, and surprising us along the way.”