sneak peek: mary jo and steve hoffman

Located just 15 minutes from both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Mary Jo Hoffman and her family live tucked away on a sheltered remnant of 30 acres of woods and lake, one acre of which they call home. The overarching style of the house is something they call “prior-owner-with-good-taste,” as it features many 1970s-era renovations that they currently love: vaulted ceilings, clerestory windows, an open interior, horizontal banks of windows, multiple skylights and a terraced deck. The decor is always in transition, shifting from budget-constrained and family-friendly to an idiosyncratic adoption of what they love most about Danish and Swedish design, such as spare white interiors and views of the natural world. Although Mary Jo experiments in multiple creative endeavors, she is probably best known as a photographer who has been active in the Twin Cities’ artistic community for the past ten years. In addition, she runs STILL blog, her image-a-day photography project. Thank you, Mary Jo and Steve, and thanks to Mark Andrew of Studio 306 for the lovely photos! — Shannon

Image above: When we pulled up the worn carpet in the living room, we painted the plywood subfloor as a way of sliding by until we could afford to do wood floors the way we wanted to. The white floors have since endeared themselves to us despite the fact that white floors + 1 dog + 2 kids + 1 lake = yikes. Someday we hope the coffee table from local drool-worthy furniture designer Blu Dot will be joined by a sibling Blu Dot couch. Our current couch, if it were one of our children, is old enough that it would be heading off to college about now. The fireplace chimney is tiled with trial images for STILL blog. I had started using the wall as a temporary place to tape up my images to make sure the color balance was working. But it wasn’t until 13-year-old Eva decided to arrange them in neat rows that it turned into a semi-permanent art installation. The breathtakingly beautiful wooden urns are created by friend and Minneapolis artist Bradley Royce.


Image above: The bedroom is my effort to stop dreaming and actually try out a lifelong wish to live in a white room with a bed, white linen sheets, and almost nothing else — a paring down to the essentials. There is a serenity in the room that does not feel at all antiseptic, which we originally feared an all-white room would convey. The bed is an interesting story. The bed frame is made from two dock sections and the trunk of a fallen 100-year-old white oak in our back yard. It is a good thing that two dock sections laid side-by-side happen to be exactly the width of a king-sized mattress. Otherwise, Steve, despite his skills, would have stopped the build-your-own-platform-bed project right there. For the legs of the bed, Steve used a chainsaw to make six legs from the oak logs. With 48 deck screws to hold the whole thing together, it is now the sturdiest thing in the house. If there is a tornado warning, we will all crawl under the bed.

See more of Mary Jo and Steve’s Twin Cities home after the jump . . .


Image above: My dreams of minimalist restraint run counter to a lifetime of gathering creative clutter from nature, walks, and travels. More recently, possibly related to the presence of a certain second-grade boy in the house, these gatherings have been supplemented by a surprising amount of shells, bones, and insects both dead and alive. The shadow boxes above the table are mine, part of a show I had at CorAzon in Minneapolis several years ago. In them, you can see the seeds of what is now the STILL blog aesthetic.


Image above: The benefit and curse of an all-white bedroom with north-facing windows is its ability to serve as an impromptu photo studio. Diffuse natural light with an all-white backdrop: Yay! Photo materials cluttering my empty white room: Damn! The Eames chair was bought to be my desk chair but is proving more valuable as a styling prop. As a desk chair, it sits a little low. As a styling prop, it is perfect!


Image above: I have been experimenting with printing my STILL blog images on organic linen, creating pillows, tea towels, napkins, etc., with a view to hopefully licensing the images. Jack the puggle is not particularly impressed.


Image above: All of the art in our home is made either by ourselves or by artists we personally know. For a few years, I curated the art at a salon/gallery in Northeast Minneapolis called Foiled Again. Since I invited artists I personally admired, it was natural to acquire pieces from each artist. When it comes to art, our household has no preferred style. To keep things fresh, the art in our home is nomadic: on the walls, stacked on benches, lost in the bowels of the basement, found again, and hung back on the wall. It still amazes me how much the mood of a room can change just by switching an art piece — especially once the backdrop is almost entirely neutral.


Image above: I am the only person in the house without a room that is entirely my own. The desk faces out into the living room with a view of the fireplace, the front door, and the back yard, and it serves as my winter studio. It also inevitably serves as homework station, social gathering place, specimen display board, and occasional dining room table. So, as soon as the weather permits, I also create a little space for myself on the screen porch. My art supplies are kept organized on two large lucite trays and can easily move from the Blu Dot watermelon strut desk in the living room to the table on the screen porch.


Image above: Steve’s closet was a joint experiment in reducing choice as a form of paring down and eliminating clutter. It felt like an extension of the attempt at minimalism in the bedroom as a whole. We wondered if eliminating the morning “what should I wear?” dilemma would be something we appreciated or felt restricted by. Steve has found only relief in not having to think about clothes and fashion among all the other balls he has in the air, and he has proved adept at picking out his white t-shirt each morning.


Image above: Two words about the espresso machine: Life. Changing. Steve doesn’t care who calls him a yuppie as long as they don’t get between him and the Breville in the morning. No surprises here, our choice for dishware tends toward white basics. But honestly, how can you not make an exception for those Inside Out bowls from Anthropologie? Perfect in every way.


Image above: Introductions, first. Meet Jack the Puggle: Pet, third child, beloved sleeping companion to our daughter, daily walking companion to myself, ill behaved, ugly-cute, and loved by all. When we painted the bedroom last summer, I innocently suggested that we move the bed onto the screen porch for a few nights. Eight-year-old Joseph (and, let’s be honest, 40-something Steve) thought that this was the coolest idea to come along in a while. To no one’s surprise, Joseph decided a nightly camping trip with Dad was a pretty great way to live. To quite a few people’s surprise, however, “a couple of nights” ended 8 months later on a February morning, after the requisite below-zero overnight temperature had officially been recorded. The boys have been back inside since February, but it appears a family tradition has begun. Winter is over. The bed is back outside. The adventure resumes.


Image above: The previous owner of the house had no kids. When he renovated the home, he had no reason to include anything resembling a mud room. So our front entrance serves both as guest entry and backpack drop zone. I have two favorite things in this picture. The coat rack is custom made by Saint Paul furniture artist Willie Willette. It is a simple design of salvaged wood and doorknobs, but everyone comments on it, and I love it. The other piece I want to point out is the painting just above the coat rack. My lavishly talented friend, artist Rosa Kittsteiner, painted that while spending an afternoon floating in a kayak among our cattails and water lilies. She surprised me with this as a gift of gratitude that still leaves me a little breathless.


Image above: There is a particular kind of perfect day that often ends here in the dark with an empty bottle of wine and frogs singing deafeningly in the cattails.


Image above: Last summer Steve and his dad installed a zip line for our daughter’s 13th birthday. Eva wanted a cell phone but got a zip line instead. That’s because I had just finished reading Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography where she goes on and on about the zip line she had in her yard when she was young — that and the fact that we have a gently sloping yard that just happens to descend at 10 feet for every 150 feet of run. Destiny. See the platform there? It’s made from the same recycled dock sections that our bed was made from. Who knew those old dock pieces would be quite so handy?


Image above: We spent much of last summer watching these twins grow up. Sniff. They grow up so fast. Sniff. We’re so proud of those kids! Sob.

  1. Moira says:

    I took a minute to go through this sneak peek a second time. I loved the serene and practical esthetic, and the love and humour in the description. I have a white room too, but colourful stuff keeps sneaking in there! Thanks for the tour.

  2. kanderso says:

    can you tell me more about painting your sub floor? I am highly tempted, and love the aesthetic it provides while saving for a flooring investment. Was it difficult to do?

  3. Ashley says:

    One of my favorite home tours to date! So peaceful and I love her sense of style (and humor!) Just the kind of home I hope to have one day. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Mary Jo says:

    Kanderso,
    The floors were not much harder to paint than painting walls. We put down one layer of basic primer, followed by 3-4 layers of the best quality high-gloss wall paint we could find. We rolled it on using a 1/2 inch nap roller. Steve is looking over my shoulder and suggesting that I add that he thinks we should have done a light sanding before the last coat of paint to make it look extra smooth.

    We tried using deck and floor paint at first, but they didn’t wipe up well. We also tried using semi-gloss, but that didn’t have the bright shiny look we wanted. We have been living on the painted floors for one year now, and the wall paint is holding up to the traffic just fine.

    We saw our painted floors as temporary until we could lay wood. So we didn’t research other options like epoxy. I would love to see an article on what the Swedes use on their white floors. We are liking the white so much, we will probably make it more permanent at some point.

    Good Luck.

  5. arounna says:

    beautiful mary jo
    what a peaceful looking space!

  6. Alison says:

    Living in Minneapolis, this Sneak Peek has the touch of ‘home’ I often miss in others–love the peeks into the outdoors, the deer, the zip line! And the minimalism!! Ah, no matter how I strive, I can’t resist color and clutter. Thanks for the inspiration Mary Jo, I hope to run into you in the Cities sometime!

  7. A zip line? Yes please. It’s called a flying fox here but either way who wouldn’t want one in their back yard?

  8. Just in case you didn’t know…you are living in a paradise! Lovely home, the essence of warm modernism.

  9. Angie says:

    I’m in love with this home.

  10. Aunt Geri says:

    Mary Jo,
    I love the simplicity,the clean lines,and the calmness. You are very talented.I admire your artistic ability.

  11. Rosa says:

    It isa beautiful place, love to see how you are shaping your life , to live your dream

  12. Kathleen Hagen says:

    Your home is so beautiful, crisp and clean. I would choose the screen porch bedroom, too. Thank you for sharing your lovely home with us. <3

  13. Leslie says:

    Could you please tell me where you got the zip line? I want to get one just like that – love the wood seat. thanks, Leslie

  14. Mary Jo says:

    Hi Leslie-
    I am quite sure that this is the zip line we bought:
    http://www.ziplinegear.com/viper-deluxe-zip-line-kit.html
    Good luck!
    Mary Jo

  15. Azil says:

    The zip line sounds so fun! I love the bed in the screened porch. As a child, when my family visited grandma, we would sleep in the front porch, no screen though. So if it was during mosquito season, it was a nightmare. Any other time, a heavenly experience!

  16. Bill Surgin says:

    It’s an over-used expression here in the UK, but ‘wow’ was invented for homes like this (awesome, stunning, amazing would also fit). What is not to like about your lovely home. I am also very embarrassed when I realise you stay in our house in France, which just does not cut it by comparison! Everything about your home simply screams out good taste…

  17. Mary Jo says:

    Thank you all for your heartwarming and gracious words.
    It meant a lot to us,
    Mary Jo & Steve

  18. Patty & Thomas O'Gorman says:

    Hello, Mary Jo & Steve,
    Out here in Scandia on Bonne’ Lake, living by farms and meadows, we are fortunate to enjoy a lot of nature including the deer, fox and coyote’s and yet the feelings of serenity your home vibrates is something we’ve never seen … it’s awesome!! Thanks to our dear friend, Carol, for sharing your website with us and thank you both for showing us how ( each in our own way) we can bring a peace and calm to the world we live in.

  19. Vanessa says:

    “Parallel play with the children,” ha – in the company of the people you love but still comforfortable with your own thoughts, advancing your own ideas. Glad you held your daughter off on the phone, we made our son wait until he was 14 to get one. I too was beginning to think he was the only kid in Oregon without one.

    Nice house by the way, very beautiful, clean and cleanable!

  20. Mary Jo says:

    Hi Vanessa, Too funny, our Eva turned 14 this year, and she just got her first phone for Christmas!

  21. kk says:

    Lovely. Considered but warm – and you make it look easy! The happiness of your family shines through in your home.

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