A perfect fit

Nine properties recognized for designs that blend in with their surroundings

Five years after its inauguration, 2011 marked the first year B.L.E.N.D. awards were available to construction projects outside of Southwest.

B.L.E.N.D. committee members received 26 submissions, nine of which were deemed award winning by a jury comprised of three architects and a city planner. Southwest remains more than well represented, as eight of the recognized projects were constructed in Linden Hills, Fulton and Tangletown.

B.L.E.N.D. stands for “buildings and landscapes enhancing the neighborhood through design.” Awards are given in three categories — residential remodel or addition, commercial remodel or addition and new residential construction.

Jurors evaluate projects based on the extent to which they ensure the privacy and light access of adjacent properties, embody human-scale development and encourage redevelopment and construction of buildings that are diverse and innovative but still compatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

While door-knocking during her successful campaign for the 13th Ward City Council seat in 2005, Betsy Hodges found that the proliferation of big homes was the issue Southwest residents were most concerned about. As a result of those concerns, the Fulton Neighborhood Association created the B.L.E.N.D. awards two years later.

The same year the award competition debuted, Hodges spearheaded an effort to change city ordinance so that the size of new and rebuilt homes could be no larger than half the square footage of each lot. She said she hasn’t heard concerns from constituents about too-large homes since.

Although home size may not be the issue it was five years ago, the awards live on as a reminder that thoughtful architecture and construction doesn’t just benefit the end user of a property — it benefits everyone in the surrounding neighborhood.

The 2011 awards will be presented during a ceremony Sept. 15, 7 p.m., at Vinaigrette, 5006 Xerxes Ave. S. in Fulton.

For more information, check out the BLEND awards website at blendaward.org.

Here’s a look at the eight 2011 award winners from Southwest:


Residential remodel or addition

4037 Linden Hills Blvd. in Linden Hills

Saddled with an ugly 1970s addition at the back of their home, the property owners of a two-floor bungalow in the heart of Linden Hills decided to attempt a significant renovation without dramatically altering the existing building.

Jurors were impressed with the result of their efforts, remarking that “they did not just lop off parts of the home, they left them in place and worked within existing conditions.”

4717 Vincent Ave. S. in Fulton

Two summers ago, Langdon and Tanya Laumbach decided they wanted to move from the suburbs to Southwest.

Unable to find a home in Linden Hills or Fulton with the type of floor plan they wanted, the couple decided to buy a place they could modify to their liking.

The Laumbachs ended up buying a home at 4717 Vincent Ave. S. in Fulton. As Tanya put it, the home, as it stood, was “far from cute,” but Langdon built an inconspicuous addition in the back of the home including a large sunny kitchen and an office. A pillared front porch with lots of shade was also added.

In selecting the Laumbach’s home for a B.L.E.N.D. award, jurors said the old floor plan was “awful” and commended the couple’s remodel for successfully transforming the home from a plain box into something appealing.

“They took a mundane house and gave it character,” the jury wrote.

5316 Abbott Ave. S. in Fulton

As avid cooks, the property owners of this century-old, one-floor home were dismayed by its small, isolated kitchen.

When entertaining, guests would walk past the living and dining rooms and crowd the small kitchen space.

Though they only added 80 square feet to the original structure, the property owners opened up their home by removing walls separating the rooms and by adding a small peninsula between the dining room and the redesigned kitchen.

B.L.E.N.D. jurors commended the project for demonstrating “the possibilities that exist when an interior space is made more efficient.”

Commercial remodel or addition

4831 Nicollet Ave. S. in Tangletown

With his dental practice growing while his building grew more antiquated by the year, Dr. Brad Isaacson decided to reimagine his commercial property with a 600 square-foot addition and remodel.

What was once an inconspicuous, residential-looking dental office became an angular, cedar- and stone-sided structure complete with permeable pavers and a rain garden.

In addition to representing an aesthetic upgrade and improving the building’s energy efficiency, the renovation also allowed Isaacson to double the number of treatment rooms from two to four and enlarged the lab, reception and waiting areas.

B.L.E.N.D. jurors noted that “the gardens and landscaping are a great asset to this project.” With regard to the commercial property’s location in the midst of a residential area, they added that “the business owner shows a real commitment to serving the neighborhood not only as a dentist, but as a neighbor as well.”

115 E. 54th St. in Tangletown

The design of the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation’s 30-unit multi-family affordable housing complex, Creekside Commons, was the result of extensive collaborative between Tangletown neighbors and Urban Works Architecture LLC.

More than 150 area residents attended meetings held during the building’s development, sharing their input with project architects. As a result of those meetings, the building’s height was reduced by a floor, reducing the total number of units by 25 percent relative to the initial plans.

To blend in with its context, a survey of common materials in the area was conducted. The building’s stucco and narrow-gauge clapboard siding were chosen for their prevalence throughout Tangletown.

B.L.E.N.D. jurors commended the project for going “farther than required to minimize the impact of a larger scale project by scaling down elements of the design to a more residential scale.”

4201 Sheridan Ave. S. in Linden Hills

In selecting St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church’s 2,000 square-foot addition and remodel for a B.L.E.N.D. award, jurors noted that “the addition steps back and respects the existing church while establishing a new ‘residential scale’ for the addition.”

New Residential Construction

4415 Zenith Ave. S. in Linden Hills

With their old house too small to accommodate a growing young family, Nick and Bre Walton decided to buy an old house and rebuild while preserving the foundation and main-floor structure.

As a result, they expanded a one-bedroom bungalow into a four-bedroom home while keeping the design and materials of the structure consistent with neighboring homes, most of which are at least 100 years old.

B.L.E.N.D. jurors commended the Walton’s home for its use of classic details and as a representation of a “successful solution to a narrow city lot.”


2612 W. 45th St. in Linden Hills

A retired couple purchased this 1910 cottage with the intent to extensively remodel, but quickly realized it would be less costly to just preserve the foundation and build the whole thing from scratch.

The new house has the same footprint has the old except for a small addition in the back. To reduce the scale of the two-floor building, the roofline was refashioned in a Dutch Colonial style. A rain garden was also added.

B.L.E.N.D. jurors gave this project perhaps the most effusive praise of any of the award winners, noting that it is “the hands down winner.”

“They took a run of the mill home and gave it an edge… It looks like it always has been and always will be a part of the neighborhood,” they wrote.