A designer with a flair for modest, beautiful spaces

A kitchen in a Golden Valley home designed by architect Sarah Nettleton. Submitted photo

Minneapolis architect Sarah Nettleton’s design for a couple’s home in Golden Valley started with inspiration from a Cicero quote: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

The couple gave her a bookmark from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum with that quote and from there she drafted plans for the house overlooking Theodore Wirth Park that showcases the couple’s impressive collection of 10,000 books and love of gardening.

“Those were then the design determinants that the house was designed around,” Nettleton said.

The home has large windows with picturesque views of the park and couple’s landscaping. Shelves lined with books create a lovely frame for a window in a hallway and the Cicero quote is featured prominently on the wall in the kitchen area. The house is LEED Gold-certified and has many energy-efficient features, including sliding solar shades on its exterior.

The Cicero quote lining the kitchen inspired the homes design. Submitted photo
The Cicero quote lining the kitchen inspired the home’s design. Submitted photo

Nettleton, a noted expert in sustainable design based in the Warehouse District, recently received a prestigious fellowship from the American Institute of Architects. She was one of 149 architects of nearly 88,000 AIA members to be inducted into the College of Fellows this year.

In the early 1990s — before the development of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program — she helped craft sustainable design guidelines for Hennepin County that later shaped mandatory guidelines for state funded projects.

In her book, “The Simple Home: The Luxury of Enough,” she advocates for beautiful design practices that have minimal environmental impacts.

One of her most notable projects is an award-winning cabin she designed in Tofte for Medura Woods.

The 1947-era, 950-square-foot cabin overlooking Lake Superior was fully renovated and has become a model for net zero, cold climate design. The cabin was outfitted with solar panels and a wind turbine to generate renewable energy.

“My approach to design combines building and landscape design, architecture and gardens,” she said. “Beauty is more than a space that looks good in a photo. The experience of living there is what’s important in the end. I consider daylight a basic form giver, which means control the glare, let in the light and offer the view.”

As for what the “luxury of enough” means to her, she said it’s an emotional thing.

Architect Sarah Nettleton
Architect Sarah Nettleton

“Do you want a giant fancy marble encrusted house that is separate from everything, or do you want to be minimally enclosed, kept warm and safe and more connected to your outside? If you’re connected to your outside, then you want curated views so you’re not staring right at the truck stop next door,” she said. “That’s where design comes in. We’ve lost track of that personal comfort level and somehow we’re all about spending money on marble counters.”

The “luxury of enough” philosophy also guides her design work and lifestyle.

“I think it means so often we choose things without thinking about the implications of them, and then we end up with too much stuff — then we have to build space to store it,” she said. “We build a huge house in Eden Prairie, but we didn’t really want that much space. Instead what we wanted was special, just right space that works. That involves design and editing and knowing one’s self — what you authentically want. If your garden is so important to you, let’s make sure that’s a beginning point for design.”


At a glance: Sarah Nettleton Architects

Where: 126 N. 3rd St. / 612-812-6075

What: An architecture and landscape design firm focused on sustainable design.

Website: sarahnettleton.com