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BEST FREE TOUR Minneapolis 1999 -

Dreaming of a kitchen that doesn't have parquet flooring on the countertops? Or a bathroom with adult-size fixtures? Wondering if you'll go mad if you buy, gut, and restore that dilapidated Queen Anne? Want it all but don't want to commute? The home tour is your chance to tromp through several dozen urban homes representing virtually every architectural style and era and see how other homeowners have resolved these conundrums--for free. Sponsored by the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis as well as several corporations, the tour has been showcasing great urban houses for 12 years. (The 1999 tour took place last weekend.) Each year, organizers publish a guide tourists can use to travel from one featured home to another. At most of the houses, owners and volunteers are available to describe the elbow grease that went into stripping a stretch of crown molding or the exact shade of paint that makes visitors content in a guest room. The only caveat? There are so many funky finds here, you must prioritize mercilessly. Our recommendation: The Minneapolis portion of the tour features plenty of vintage houses and up-and-coming neighborhoods, but St. Paul's selection is usually more eclectic and includes more houses like yours and ours. This year St. Paul's 21-plus tour stops included a converted power plant, a two-story carriage house, artists' lofts, and even a 660-square-foot freestanding home. The event is held annually in late April or early May; for more information, contact the St. Paul Home Tour office at (651) 266-6562.

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