Respectful design

AIA MN Homes by Architects Tour

Whether it’s a remodeled older home or new construction, historic or contemporary — no matter the kind of house — design inspiration starts not with architects but with the people who hired them.

That’s the opinion of Andrea Swan of Minneapolis-based Swan Architecture, who had one of her designs featured in the fourth annual American Institute of Architects Minnesota (AIA MN) Homes by Architects Tour Sept. 17–18.

“The end result of the home is really driven by the client,” Swan said. “It’s what they are. It reflects their personality, their lifestyle.”

This year’s tour showcased more than a dozen new and remodeled homes designed by registered members of AIA MN, including a Swan-designed residence in the historic cottage district of Linden Hills, one of two tour stops in Minneapolis. Along the tour one meets the architects and can hear from them about the design process and the importance of the architect-homeowner relationship.

“I will say it’s important, the rapport you have when you connect with … an architect, because you spend so much time with them and trust them with your dream house,” said Sarah Huss, owner of the Linden Hills home. “If you don’t have that connection it’s going to be a tough time.”

Contemporary, but warm

The Linden Hills house was inspired by a home Huss saw featured in “Better Homes and Gardens.”

“What I loved about it was the flat roof and the clean lines on the outside, just how it had a Prairie Style look to it,” she said.

The outside of the house is made up of slatted and stacked dark and light browns with large expanses of windows. The design is very vertical, with a series of steps leading up to the deep-set front door.

“We had to pay careful attention to try and remain respectful to the neighbor in context with the exterior,” Swan said. “We did that by scale [and] proportion, and by giving depth to the front façade, in terms of three dimensions.

“Imagine if it was just one coplanar box; it would stick out like a sore thumb.”

The house that previously occupied the lot, built in the 1910s or 1920s, was torn down, leaving a lot of 50 feet by 170 feet.

“There is only so much that you can do with this lot,” Swan said. “It’s going to be a long, narrow house to fit a long, narrow lot.”

The interior of the house is in a minimalist style. Light, volume, color and texture bring warmth into the home.

The kitchen has its own kind of warmth that only a kitchen can bring to a family. Set facing a floating staircase, one can see the entry, the family room and the dining room — and even gaze into the backyard — all without moving. This is made possible by having everything connected through open space, only separated by pillars and ceilings of differing heights.

“With the home design, the client had contemporary taste but there was an interest to keep it warm,” Swan said. “So, how do we introduce warmth to a contemporary look and feel?”

She did this by connecting everything, making the kitchen the heart and adding wood and stone to the modern design.

“A lot of people think it’s modern when they see it from the outside, then they come inside and they are just blown away because it’s not cold,” Huss said.

A lakeside landmark

Another stop on the tour is a Minnesota historical landmark: the V.M.S. Kaufman House on Cedar Lake in the Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhood. Built in 1935, the home is an early example of the International Style.

“That was a time where houses were often built to replicate styles of the past, so you have Tudor homes, Colonial homes,” explained architect Lars Peterssen of Peterssen/Keller Architecture, who updated the home for its current owners. “What was interesting about this one was that it wasn’t a style trying to replicate something of the past but it was trying to break completely from the past. The International Style was revolutionary.”

Despite how avant garde the home was then, it was lacking in terms of contemporary comforts. Until recently, only change it went through since 1935 was an addition built in 1989 that added a second-floor room over the garage and expanded a bathroom.

“What everyone was worried about was that someone would come and see the house and say that this was a tear down,” Peterssen said.

Peterssen’s design included a master suite in a new third-floor addition, and another new bedroom on the first floor. The project also enclosed the north terrace while replacing windows and upgrading the mechanical systems. Minneapolis-based Coen+Partners handled landscape design.

“The house being very historic, very much of its time and style, was the inspiration for the design,” Peterssen said. “What we needed to do, and what our client wanted us to do, was to work within the style and not do anything that would change the house dramatically besides add on to it.”

The design introduced wood and stone and more color to the interior. Two additional fireplaces were added, one to each level.

The Art Deco influence evident in some of the rooms was mimicked in the additions with curved shelves and stripes. Spiral staircases and views were repeated on all floors because they were key components of the original structure.

“The rooms, the design — it all flows together,” said Andrew Edwins, an associate at Peterssen/Keller Architecture who worked on the project. “Even the pieces of things, like the cove lights on the first floor, (are) repeated. Or how all the rooms tie together with transom glass and pocket doors. It all became a little pocket watch: Where one thing got out of alignment, the whole thing would.”

“The idea was not to make a third floor that was distinct,” Peterssen said. “We got the first and second floor to tie together and work together better so that the add-on would feel more natural.”