Inside the ‘Blue Zone’ house

Legendary explorer Dan Buettner has traveled all over the globe studying the habits of the world’s healthiest people.

He’s revealed what he’s learned about longevity in his best-selling book, “The Blue Zones,” and makes frequent national media appearances to share tips on living a longer life with more energy and vitality.

So does Buettner walk his talk on the Blue Zones lifestyle?

He’s inviting the public inside his home facing Lake of the Isles to judge for themselves and take a look at how he applies a number of things he’s learned from people living in the world’s Blue Zones — regions where people are living to 100 with low rates of chronic diseases.

Buettner’s home was selected to be part of the 14th annual American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Showcase Home Tour. The other home on the tour is a 2,230-square-foot condo in the Edgewater building overlooking Lake Calhoun.

“When we heard of the opportunity to feature two homes and two distinct styles we really jumped at the chance,” said Martina Willegalle, chair of the 2010 ASID Showcase Home steering committee, in a statement about the tour. “Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones philosophy of living well and the gorgeous space at the Edgewater gave our team of designers wonderful material to work with, and visitors to the tour get two great houses for the price of one.”

The Showcase Home Tour event typically features the complete makeover of one Twin Cities home. Proceeds of this year’s tour will benefit four local nonprofits — the Jeremiah Program, Cornerstone, Second Harvest Heartland and the Junior League of St. Paul.

Buettner has been “couch surfing” at friends’ places for the past few months while designers have been working on his home — a 3,800-square-foot house built in 1905.

In most cases, ASID Showcase homes go through major construction to be part of the tour, but the changes at Buettner’s East Isles home have been largely aesthetic. The previous owner of the house, Lars Peterssen of Peterssen/Keller Architecture, had already done major renovations to the house. He also worked on the latest renovation project.

The updates for the home tour took about nine months, Peterssen said.

“[The house] really feels a lot like Dan now,” Peterssen said. “[The restorations] achieved something wonderful. It feels like a home again. I like the openness.”

One of the main elements of the redesign is to “maximize the lake effect,” Buettner said, noting that research shows that people who live near water are measurably happier than those that don’t.

Buettner’s favorite spot in his house is the front porch. It’s a tranquil gathering place for friends and family. The dominate colors are blueberry and lime green. It features a specially commissioned table from a furniture maker in Guatemala.

The lake views are also prominent in rooms on the house’s second and third stories.

“The connection to the water is a wonderful thing,” Peterssen said.

Many elements throughout the house are designed to make Buettner and his family members “move naturally,” an important aspect of the Blue Zones lifestyle.

In one of the rooms on the main level, there is a chess table with two small cushions nearby. Getting up and down from the cushions takes some effort and is like a squats workout.

In the kitchen, the dining table has small 10-inch plates and tall narrow glasses, which promote smaller portion sizes.

Junk foods, like tortilla chips, are hidden away in the pantry to prevent mindless munching, while a bowl of nuts, a healthier option, is easy to find on one of the countertops. There’s a wood-burning stove, too, which encourages more activity since someone has to chop and haul in wood for it.

Some of the features designed to encourage a healthy lifestyle might seem subtle, but they can make a big difference, Buettner said. How one shapes his or her environment can promote lasting change.

Photos from people he’s met in some of the Blue Zones are on display in the kitchen, too, including a centenarian riding a horse in Loma Linda, Calif. The other four places identified as Blue Zones include Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Penisula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece.  

Another favorite feature of the redesign for Buettner is a shrine of sorts featuring several photos of his children and other family members and other meaningful items, including a National Geographic cover page featuring one of his stories.

In Okinawa, people take time to visit similar shrines honoring their ancestors.

“It’s a form of meditation,” Buettner said. “A reminder that we’re not alone.”

The house also has a new Okinawan Owner’s Suite, which features a beautiful view of the lake and a new porch with an herb and vegetable garden.

Buettner’s eclectic collection of art and unique objects from around the globe are displayed throughout the house. Highlights include a gorgeous wedding kimono Buettner bought in Tokyo and ancient Chinese furniture.

Buettner has lived in the home for three and half years. He’s been working on his latest book, “Thrive,” which reveals the practices of the happiest people around the world. It’s due out in November.

Soon the house will be jam packed. He’s planning on hosting 40 people who have joined him on expeditions.

He’s got an open door policy and is eager to be as generous as people have been to him on his many trips.

“People have opened their doors for me all over the world,” he said.


FYI

The ASID  Showcase Home Tour runs through June 13. For more information, visit mspmag.com/hometour. To learn more about Dan Buettner and Blue Zones, visit bluezones.com.