“Amazing, life changing,” Michelle O’Neill summed up the gift of a home remodel from her Juilliard school housemate Viola Davis, Oscar, Emmy and Tony award-winning star. In an episode of Celebrity IOU that aired Monday, April 27 on HGTV, the Property Brothers revealed their makeover.
O’Neill, an actor, and husband Lee Mark Nelson were first attracted to their Columbia Heights home in 2002 for its spacious back yard that proved a great place for their now teenaged daughters and friends, dogs, and rabbits. “Oh, the birthday parties that yard has seen,” O’Neill said.
“The home was filled with love and fun,” she said, but with a kitchen from the 1970s, drafty original windows, and the 1950s Cape Cod style inherently “all cut up into little rooms,” it was time to make it more of a sanctuary. O’Neill and Nelson trusted Davis’ knowledge of her tastes. According to the Star Tribune, the Cape Cod in Columbia Heights (is) where the self-described “warrior chicks” had shared much wine and laughter over the years.
“It was a little bit scary. I trust her, but it was weird. I had no idea of what they were going to do, and I knew I couldn’t change it back if I didn’t like it,” O’Neill told the Northeaster.
But the family did love it.
“I’d just gotten off a plane and had all these messages from Viola,” O’Neill recalled how it all started. “She said to go somewhere where I could scream. You can imagine my reaction,” screaming in an airport bathroom. “From then it went really fast. The director meets you with his team of people so they can measure the house, but everything was kept from me. I had to go outside so I couldn’t hear them talking when they were here.”
The Property Brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott conferenced a lot with Davis, who stars in How to Get Away with Murder. She teamed with their designers and came up with the plan while the couple moved out into a downtown Minneapolis apartment for five weeks. “I never even drove by. I wanted to. I got a couple blocks away but Vi said ‘don’t do it,’” O’Neill said.
The previous layout had living and dining rooms across the front; kitchen, bath, and one bedroom at the back, two bedrooms upstairs. The new layout moved the main floor bedroom to the basement, opened up the rest to expand the kitchen and turn the bedroom into a Zen room/office. All windows were replaced.
Snippets of the episode posted on Instagram show the Scott brothers picking out vintage record players and Viola Davis in goggles smashing walls.
“She is such a generous person,” O’Neill said of her pal. “She does a lot for charities and is generous with her time. It was a gift from the heart. And the Scott brothers couldn’t have been nicer, such lovely people. This was such a fun thing to do with your best friend.”
O’Neill and Nelson moved back in November 7, 2019 and now, “I’m so thankful to be quarantined in THIS house. It’s open, it’s light,” O’Neill said. When the stay-home orders were issued, she had just finished a well-received show, The White Card, at Penumbra Theater, “an important work with a great cast. It was a pleasure to work on. Plus I was teaching. I’m not working now, and don’t know when or in what form we’ll go back. I’m doing what other people are doing. I’m thankful the kids are here.”
Nelson was also an actor in the Twin Cities before they married in 1999. Now a family physician, he has remained very busy at the Mill City Clinic and at a call center doing tele-health visits.
And as many families have, O’Neill said, to go with the dog who was already part of the family, “we adopted a puppy.”