Parade of personality

I have always loved houses. In junior high I would plead with my parents to drive me into and around the western suburbs (as far into the metro as they would venture) so that I could twice annually tour homes on the Parade. From the beginning, I was selective, picking those that stood apart from the others in miniature pencil renderings.

I learned quickly that square feet and sale price said nothing about the experience that awaited eager feet clad in little blue booties.

It was with this same anticipation that I visited homes on this year’s Homes By Architects Tour. Created by a tireless committee at AIA Minnesota and a number of industry sponsors, this year marked the third annual for the growing tour featuring Architect designed homes across the metro, including three in Southwest Minneapolis. The variety is intentionally broad, from a restored Beaux Arts Renaissance-style home on Summit Avenue to a newly constructed ultra modern walkout rambler in Golden Valley, conveying to attendees that architecture is a value added to any home.

The three homes in Southwest Minneapolis provide an equally diverse mix, including an extensive renovation within an existing 1920s Kenwood home, a narrow, passive-solar oriented urban infill in Linden Hills and a Craftsman-style cottage overlooking Lake Harriet.

The Kenwood renovation by Rosemary McMonigal was inspired by her client’s appreciation for belongings past and present. Smokey glass fronted Italian cabinets in the sleek European-styled kitchen playfully contrast a traditional (and original) Parisian-themed living room. The Linden Hills home, designed by Eric Odor and Chris Meyer of SALA Architects, is a LEED for Homes project, in part because it was constructed using pre-assembled panels for quick assembly and minimal waste, but it is the daylight that washes across the open plan and clear cedar paneling via a two-story dining space that delights the senses.

What sets these homes in Southwest, and all on this tour, apart from those I delighted in touring as a teenager, is that they were created for and with their inhabitants. That is the distinction of the architect designed home. The site, construction methods, materials, circulation patterns, natural light and views are all pieces to a puzzle that evolve from a client’s dreams to become a home.

At a time when so many have been affected by declining values, underwater mortgages, limited availability of loans and nearly immobile real estate transactions, our homes have become a symbol of desperation rather than of prosperity. It’s unfortunate however that they were ever a symbol at all, because at their best, they are a highly personalized shelter for our families, to nurture and inspire generations.

This tour reminds me of that. From the upper bedroom of the Linden Hills house, I watched an older neighbor hang her laundry out to dry. It was a full load of linens and the sturdiness of the line told me this was a regular occurrence, not merely intended to impress home tour enthusiasts. This was perhaps the highlight of my tour experience, because it was so hard to imagine it happening in suburban America. No, this particular moment could only happen in the city, where a young family had invested in a home specific to its personalities, adjacent to a neighbor who was exemplifying hers.

Bryan Anderson lives in Stevens Square. He works for SALA Architects.