The state of architecture

An interview with Lars Peterssen

The Southwest Journal recently spoke with Lars Peterssen of Peterssen/Keller Architecture to discuss the current state of residential architecture and the Uptown neighborhood he has lived in for over 30 years. Below are highlights from the interview.  

SWJ: What are some of the latest trends in residential architecture?

Peterssen: Not surprisingly, a common thread to most of our current projects is our clients’ interest in sustainable design. This could range from asking about locally sourced kitchen countertops, to the request that we design a new LEED Platinum home — merging environmental thinking with exceptional design is key to the success of every project.

We see a lot more interest in strengthening connections between the house and the yard, from adding windows and doors all the way to creating outdoor “rooms” used for cooking, relaxing, etc. Modern, busy families live more casually, and we see less interest in formal living and dining areas. Instead they are looking for spaces where they can spend more of their limited time together!

Looking at Southwest neighborhoods specifically, are there any trends or maybe some unique characteristics in designing homes in these neighborhoods?

Our Southwest neighborhoods are filled with an abundance of older, beautiful, well-crafted homes which, unfortunately, usually have a small kitchen stuck in a dark, rear corner of the house. It’s no surprise, then, that we are constantly working on additions that better connect the kitchen to the main part of the house and, often, open the kitchen to a new family room or the yard.

For families with children and pets, mudrooms are another very popular addition. And in our climate, who doesn’t want a place right inside the back door to kick off your boots and hang up your coat?

We’ve also been working a lot on screened porches, both front and back. Perhaps more families are staying home these days, but in any case porches offer a wonderful place to sit, rest and socialize. They also offer an immediate connection to the yard and grill and garden, etc. In general, our clients are also spending more money and attention on landscaping their yards, which they want to enjoy as much as possible.

How has your work been impacted by the recession?

We are a new firm, formed last December, which means we have no place to go but up! Fortunately, that has been happening, and our work is increasing steadily. We are working on both large and small projects now, with fewer medium sized projects. This may have to do with the difficulty in getting financing for home building projects. For homeowners, I would say that instead of selling their homes and moving, which is challenging in our uncertain economic environment, more people are fixing up the homes they already own.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your work?

I love helping clients discover what they are looking for in their home, translating that into beautiful, functional design and then getting to see them move in and enjoy! We are very focused on close collaboration with our clients in the design process, and I think the uniqueness of every project we do is testament to that.

What are some of the most challenging aspects?

Budgets are always a challenge, more so now than ever. A couple of years ago our clients could almost always count on the appreciation of their homes to cover the investments they made in them. Recently that hasn’t been quite the case, though things are definitely beginning to return to “normal.” Nevertheless, the constant question — will I get my money back if I sell the house in a few years? — is more pressing than ever, and the budget-managing part of my job is more important than ever. My work is not only to come up with fresh, practical design, but also to help my clients make wise choices based on a variety of options.

You’ve lived in Uptown for 30 years. What’s your take on the neighborhood these days? What else would you like to see?

My partner and I have lived in the immediate Uptown neighborhood for nearly 31 years now, and we love it for its vitality and urbanity. You turn one way and you’re right at the lake, you turn the other way and you’re at the grocery store or a restaurant or a shop. Uptown is booming right now, even during this recession, and seems more active than ever. We love the area not just for the beautiful homes and parks, but because we can walk almost everywhere. My office is just a block from our home, and it’s surprising how little I have to drive. Having a two-minute walk to my office instead of a 30 to 60 minute drive is a healthy luxury.

What would I love to see in Uptown? Well, I wish the Southwest light rail corridor were going through the heart of Uptown instead of bypassing us and cutting through Cedar Lake and the park, as is now planned. I’d like to see more smaller scale, local development along Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue — buildings like the one we share with Café Barbette and Winston’s and the residents upstairs.

What’s it like living in the Edgewater?

Wonderful. Our little community in the building is the nicest thing — there are only 22 units in the Edgewater, so we all know each other, yet we have a lot of privacy because the building is constructed so well. My business partner Gabriel Keller and I have designed 12 of the apartments in the building, and they are all completely different, reflecting the tastes of each owner and ensuring that each place feels like a real home.

Also, the views are stunning all day long, no matter the season. Time and time again people come in and comment on how they’ve never seen views of Minneapolis like this, and I agree. Not only are the lakes beautiful day in and day out, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully realized or appreciated how incredibly green our city is, so lush with trees. And Downtown sparkles, particularly on the coldest nights of January. We have a terrace on the green roof and that, too, is incredible, particularly in August when it’s covered with butterflies.

Then again, I can’t say enough how much we enjoy not being dependent on our cars. So much of our exercise is simply built into our normal day, whether that’s walking the dogs or walking to Lunds Marketplace.

Any interesting projects in the pipeline?

We are working on a new house in Kenwood and another in Edina, and both are really fun because of the challenge of designing something that is new and interesting yet blends well into an existing neighborhood.

Renovations and additions are one of our specialties, and we have a number of those underway, which is great, because I love taking an older home and respectfully “refreshing” it. This week, for example, we are spending a lot of time on two classic period homes, one an International Style house on Cedar Lake, the other a beautifully preserved mid-century modern home in Golden Valley. We work on projects around the country, and one of our most fascinating projects is a remodeling of a former Astor estate on New York’s Hudson River.

We’ve just finished a couple of new, interesting projects and you can see them and our other work at