A window on the city

301 Kenwood provides panoramic views of the urban landscape

Chuck Pexa, a Lowry Hill resident and emergency room doctor at North Memorial Hospital, stood in the foyer of his condo at 301 Kenwood, gesturing toward the kitchen while his black Lab and bouvier-type dogs yelped in concert near his feet on a recent afternoon.

His wife Carol, an anesthetist at an Edina clinic, meanwhile, ate lunch at their stainless steel kitchen island they helped design. Behind her, a panoramic view of the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden, Loring Park and Downtown skyline figured prominently from floor-to-ceiling windows. The kitchen has become their favorite place to gather when they’re home.

The empty nesters previously lived on a hobby farm on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in Medina. Before that, they lived in a house they built, surrounded by woods, also around the lake. By the time their children Aaron and Caitlin reached adulthood, the couple sought to downsize, opting for a new home that would require less maintenance.

The 301 Kenwood is a sleek, contemporary eight-story development with extensive glass. It stands in contrast to the stately mansions and estates built at the turn of the century that otherwise dominate the Kenwood neighborhood.

“We love it here,” said Chuck, looking out the windows. “The views are spectacular, especially at night.”

Michael Lander, head of the Lander Group, a Southwest-based development firm, developed 301 Kenwood and worked to take full advantage of the building’s impressive views by emphasizing glass. Its residents moved into their units in 2003. Lander was the primary designer/builder with the help of two other firms, including Loring Park-based Altus Architecture and Elness Swenson Graham Architects at 500 Washington Ave. S. The 12-unit building features spacious 4,000-square-foot condominiums. The Lander Group is building a similar project called 2626 Lake Street on the north shore of Lake Calhoun.

Personalizing the lofts

Because the 301 Kenwood lofts are sold as “white boxes” to be customized by homeowners, some units are reminiscent of the neighborhood’s historic mansions while others feature a more contemporary style. The 301 units sold in the $1 million-plus range before the building’s construction was completed three years ago, according to Kelly Ligday of the Lander Group.

“The idea was to have the nicest and largest single-family homes that we could for people who’re at a stage where they want a spectacular condo,” Lander said.

Even though living in a condo in the middle of the city is a drastic change from their former homes on Lake Minnetonka, the Pexas said they still feel as if they’re in the middle of nowhere. While they enjoy the massive windows, they can retain their privacy by closing out the outside world with shades. Plus, they have a private elevator that delivers guests right to their foyer so they rarely bump into their neighbors.

Their unit has a kitchen, casual living and dining rooms, wine cellar, office, three bedrooms, formal living and dining rooms, bathroom, powder room, laundry room and two terraces.

The condo has a calming effect on visitors. D/cor is minimal. The walls are painted muted tones (such as taupe and light green) in the common areas. Dark hardwood floors contrast with light blonde wood cabinets and stainless steel in the kitchen. The casual living room is furnished with a wicker sofa and chairs. It’s illuminated mainly by natural light.

Hanging throughout is original artwork from such notable artists as Alfred Stieglitz, David Lachapelle, Pablo Picasso and Isaac Mizrahi.

While the Pexas are satisfied with their loft, they plan to downsize even more into a smaller condo. Their next home will be the penthouse suite of the Lander Group’s 2626 W. Lake St. location, which they plan to move into in 2008. Their present loft is on the market for $3.25 million.

In their Lake Calhoun-area condo, they’ll make rooms multipurpose rather than separated and will experiment more with textures instead of just paint and sheetrock.

“Part of the fun is designing it to fit our lifestyle,” Chuck said.

Fitting in

One challenge to developing 301 Kenwood (and its counterpart at Lake Street) was to ensure that it didn’t end up looking like an office building and to make it blend seamlessly into the neighborhood, Lander said.

The 301 Kenwood borrows some attributes from its neighbors for a mix of old and new. It has a classical base, mid-section and top. Near the bottom, its faade is composed of locally quarried stone — an attempt to connect the building to its landscape and history, Lander said.

A cantilevered roof adds emphasis to its eight stories. Recessed terraces for each of the 12 units create a pattern of alternating glass panes and shady spaces.

The way the building sits on the lot is also important. It has to feel comfortable, welcoming, safe and pedestrian-friendly, he said.

A porch that winds around two faces of the building resembles old-fashioned porches of typical Southwest homes but is composed of unique materials.

For a more edgy twist, the entryway has an awning comprised of steel beams. One level of parking is underground while the other is discreetly enshrouded by the first-floor architectural elements. Above all, the goal is to make the building appeal to all of its inhabitants.

“Everyone needs to be able to pull up to the front and feel good about it,” said Lander.

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or [email protected].