City Spaces: A historic former storefront in Northeast turned DIY marvel

A former butcher shop makes for a bright and open gathering space.

A former butcher shop makes for a bright and open gathering space. Lucy Hawthorne

Twin Cities neighborhoods are peppered with little pockets of commerce -- a corner store surrounded by houses or a barber shop at the end of the block.

Some of these storefronts have long since been converted into living spaces, with funky layouts and lots of history. Pete and Kathryn Sieve live in one of these former shops, and have added their own touches to the century-old space.

The building has been split into two units of roughly 1,000 square feet each. The Sieves currently live downstairs and rent out the upstairs as an Airbnb. Be sure to check out our slideshow for the full tour.

Who: Pete and Kathryn Sieve
Where: Northeast Minneapolis
How long you've lived here: Two years

What's your favorite thing about your space?
Pete: So, it was built in 1902 and it used to be a grocery and a butcher. Ukrainian, I think. One of the coolest things is right where you’re standing, this is where the butcher stood and you can feel the indentations of where his feet were.

That is cool!
Yeah, a ton of this is still original. It got converted to a residential space in the ‘70s I think, and a lot of owners have done crazy stuff to it since then.

Like what?
A previous owner built this wall [between the living room and the kitchen] so this is like a hidden door. And then I built and installed the Murphy bed so this front space is also technically a bedroom.

Murphy beds and hidden doors? This is like every kid’s dream house.
Yeah, when I was a kid I always fantasized about having a house that had like a secret bookcase. I think everybody probably did. And there are some things in this house that are like that. Not nearly that ambitious, but things that have a little bit of mystery. So when the hidden door is closed nobody knows anything is back there and then the Murphy bed comes out of nowhere. And then there’s this huge screen and projector. [At the click of a button, the screen descends from the ceiling.] Lots of cool things hidden in plain sight.

What's the one thing you like to show off in your home?
I guess I’m proudest of the Murphy bed. It’s just such a cool thing to have a bed that appears out of nowhere.

How does it work?
It’s just on these gas pistons and then this leg pulls down to go underneath. Then I built this outlet in here [and added] a dimmable light. It’s actually a really comfy bed.

What other stuff have you built here?
The kitchen I recently gutted and built the cabinets and made the countertops. They’re concrete. I cast them in the garage. It’s the first time I ever did anything like that, but it worked. The upper cabinets were there, so I just stripped and painted them and then I built the lower cabinets. This whole house is always a work in progress.

What's your least favorite thing about your space?
I think it’s a plurality of things that are probably pretty common to any old house. Just stuff that’s old and breaking down and you have to fix. Last fall our 60-year-old boiler crapped out. But the cool thing is we were able to remove all the radiators and get radiant floor heating installed. It’s like the whole floor is a radiator.

If you had the budget, what would you do here?
Well, the thing that’s been annoying me the most, and it sucks because it’s a love/hate relationship, but it’s these massive storefront windows. They’re really, really great, but they’re so old and they’re so leaky that on the sub-zero days it’s fucking freezing in here. If I had the money, which I don’t, I would have someone who knows what they’re doing replace these with equally beautiful, modern windows that are really well insulated but still in keeping with the character of the house.

The space is so cool and historic, you must feel like stewards of something really special.
Last year we found a plastic bag hanging on the door and we thought “what the fuck is this?” And it was the most thoughtful, wonderful gift. It was left by some people who used to live here in the ‘80s and raised some kids here and so they created this binder of old original photos of the place from when they bought it. And they left this note on it:


That’s incredible.
Yeah. And she is actually a really well known children’s author. She wrote On the Day You Were Born and she started it here in this space. So probably my absolute favorite thing about this space is that there’s a ton of history, a ton of lives have come through here.

And now yours. So what's your best memory here?
The thing I think about most fondly is the sum of all the gatherings we’ve had here. The open, welcoming vibe we try to cultivate.

What’s your next big project?
I have long-range plans to build a wood-fired oven in the backyard and a sauna. Actually within the next two months, I’m going to turn the garage into a tiny house apartment. My plan would be to move in back there.

How big is the garage?
It’s 300-square feet with a hip roof, so the idea is I’m going to rip out the drop ceiling and then build a bed up there as a sleeping loft. It’ll be half vaulted ceiling with a skylight and half lofted bed. It was built out pretty well as a shop, so it’s fairly insulated and drywalled already.

Sounds like an impressive undertaking.
Yeah, but I really wanna do it because it seems like it’s going to be fun. It’s another big project just to dig into and spend some time doing and learn some shit. I’ll have some people help me but I want to do most of it by myself.


Have a home you'd like featured in City Spaces? Email us.