Restoring a Forest Park Mid-Century Modern

It was love at first walk-through for Jill and Cal Russell, who couldn’t resist this Forest Park home, despite the work that lay ahead of them.

We love a good home reno story, and this Mid-Century Modern overhaul in Forest Park delivers. Formerly known by locals as “The Duffy House,” previous owners John and Joyce Duffy made a statement with epic Christmas light displays in the ’70s and ’80s. We chatted with homeowner and self-taught renovator Jill Russell, who worked on the home with her husband Cal, to learn more about what they did and what it’s like to rehab a home with history.

Photograph by Natasha Bunger Photography

Tell me about the home—the history, the process, and what it looked like when you bought it.

There was a lot to tackle—opening up the main living space and kitchen, creating a cozy gender-neutral nursery, expanding and bringing the master bedroom suite up to the 21st century with a custom walk in closet and ensuite sitting area. Perhaps the most impressive transformation [was] taking a 1970s “red room” (complete with electric organ, red drapes, and plush red carpet) and turning it into a family game room with a custom bar with a wine fridge.

Is this the first home you’ve renovated? Or have you done something like this before?

We are no strangers to hard work, but our first home was primarily a cosmetic upgrade including new floors, fresh paint, faux fireplace mantel, bathroom upgrades, and painting the kitchen cabinets. This renovation was definitely the most extensive project we have taken on.

Photograph courtesy of Jill and Cal Russell

What was your main inspiration when renovating? Did you have a style in mind?

Our recent travels to Sweden had us striving for Scandinavian design, including clean lines and minimalist architecture that would allow the home to speak for itself. During our renovation we attended a Mid-Century Modern home show for inspiration on furniture design and color palette. Custom-built in 1969, the house possessed an original charm that we wanted to preserve. While we decided brown shag carpeting wasn’t for us, we preserved the original stone fireplace and smoked mirror wall to maintain the nostalgia of the home.

What was your favorite part of the renovation?

Photograph courtesy of Jill and Cal Russell

Perhaps the most rewarding project was converting the indoor wood-burning fire pit to a high top table with gas burner. This included removing the six-foot diameter concrete top and creating a negative air space inside our dining room so we could grind down and refinish the top, cutting in a chase under the floor to run the gas line from the nearby utility closet, and removing the hood above the top and shortening it to the proper height above the high-top table.

What was most challenging?

Collectively the project was a challenge to complete while still living in the space and trying to operate our daily life in a construction site. We remember wearing face masks and shoes while relaxing at the house in order to avoid the lingering dust! One project that sticks out in both of our minds was the addition of the range hood from the cathedral ceiling. While a seemingly simple addition to our home, the effort to re-work the electric, reinforce the ceiling, refinish the drywall, and fitting and refitting to ensure it was hanging plumb was second to none.

Jill Russell drilling into the concrete to make room for a gas line for the fireplace

Photograph courtesy of Jill and Cal Russell

Cal Russell converting the indoor wood-burning fire pit to a high top table with gas burner

Photograph courtesy of Jill and Cal Russell

What is the best advice you have for someone who’s ready to renovate a home?

Have commitment and a vision. While we did not have a perfect image of what the home was going to look like in the end like you see on HGTV, we committed to the style and based our construction decisions around that criteria.

What is one detail in the home that will never go out of style? Is there a detail in the home you think is probably trendy or only appealing to you but you just had to have?

A feature of the house that we loved from the start was how bright and open everything felt—despite walls we took down later—due to the large windows throughout. One item that may not appeal to all is the geometric mirror wall. While mirrors were used throughout the home, we chose to turn the floor-to-ceiling mirror wall in the living area into a mural of geometric shapes and colors that complement our choice of furnishings and colors. Although this design is in line with the mid-century feel of the home, someone else may find it too bold.

Photograph courtesy of Jill and Cal Russell

Is this your forever home? Or do you think you’ll do another renovation? What’s next?

Our love for our home and our love for renovation and unique construction are equal. We enjoy staying busy and are always on the lookout for the next opportunity while enjoying our finished home.

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