The architects touch: The stories behind five architect-designed home projects

Summer is home-tour season. There are luxury tours and garden tours, city tours and small neighborhood tours. These have been going on for years. Architects, meanwhile, have stood mostly on the sidelines despite oftentimes having designed the best work.

This year, however, they get to take center stage.

On Sept. 20–21, the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects is putting on a tour of 29 homes in the metro area, all of which were designed by certified architects. It’s a chance, organizer Jennifer Gilhoi said, to show that architects are a smart sounding board for all types of home projects.

“It’s the details that add up to the whole,” architect Jean Rehkamp Larson said. “That’s where architects play a big part.”

Featured on the tour are small homes, big homes, green homes and loft-style homes. Five Southwest locations will be featured. Here is a preview.

No. 13 – All about the garden: 4007 Beard Ave. S.

LINDEN HILLS — Talk about a sad situation: Here were two homeowners who love to garden but who lived in a house with limited yard access and barely a view of their work. Meanwhile, they also wanted to double the square footage of their home on an urban plot of land with very tight boundaries.

What to do?

“Go straight up,” said Eric Odor, of SALA Architects.

He was brought in with a request to expand the square footage. He brought with him the idea that much of the house was aching to be opened up and that the garden could become the home’s highlight.

The first floor was overhauled, taking out a bedroom and making the living room a wide-open space. The walls that faced the garden were turned to glass, with floor-to-ceiling windows giving a broad view of what Odor called a beautiful garden.

The doubled square footage came from the addition of a second floor, one whose galvanized-metal exterior adds a contemporary look to what was otherwise a traditional rambler. Its interior has more windows overlooking the garden, while a cantilevered deck reaches over the backyard.

One room, in particular, has a plethora of windows. It holds — what else? — an indoor garden.

No. 14 – Old (but actually new):4116 Zenith Ave. S.

LINDEN HILLS — It looks like a classic family home, with an open porch in the front and traditional millwork inside. Stone is stone. Doorknobs are glass.

It sure looks like a house that’s been around for almost a century. But it sure hasn’t.

The home was built from scratch only a few years ago, a result of homeowners who moved deeper into the heart of Linden Hills but didn’t want to leave behind the experience of living in a 1920s-style house.

Knocking down the old structure and starting anew wasn’t the first idea that came to mind, architect Jean Rehkamp Larson said. That’s a decision never taken lightly. But what was there was too petite and didn’t have very good scale.

The new house is a twist on old ideas. For example, classic 1920s homes don’t always have front doors, leaving exits to the side. That was reinterpreted here with a mudroom on the side that opens to the front- and backyards.

Rehkamp Larson said many people have had no idea that the house wasn’t always a part of Linden Hills’ center. Some neighbors have been known to ask where the old stops and the new begins. They can’t tell that there is no old.

“That’s the biggest compliment,” Rehkamp Larson said.

No. 15 – Expanding but blending in: 5257 Washburn Ave. S.

FULTON — This home’s owners had expanded once before, without the help of an architect. They weren’t particularly pleased with the results. Yet they also were growing a family, already having one young child and hoping for another in the near future. Plus, they didn’t want to leave Fulton.

Their house would have to get bigger, and it would have to do so within the small lot of a tightly packed urban neighborhood.

They ended up hiring Bryan Anderson, of SALA Architects, to help them out. His concept was to build straight up with the home but avoid becoming the latest “monster house” in the neighborhood.

The end result is a home with two floors, the first featuring the traditional stucco exterior of a classic bungalow and the second the modern flare of blue fiber-cement panels. The interior shows a similar dichotomy, with a more traditional first floor and a cork-floor, simple-drywall second.

Despite the house’s new look, the neighborhood was a fan. The Fulton Neighborhood Association gave it a BLEND award in 2007 for fitting in.

(Disclosure: Anderson also is a columnist for the Southwest Journal.)

No. 16 – ‘Our own professionals’: 2205 W. 52nd St.

LYNNHURST — Architects Christine Albertsson and Todd Hansen bought their home knowing they’d have to make it bigger. They just wanted to be able to live by Minnehaha Creek.

“To us, it was just another challenge that we knew how to negotiate through,” Albertsson said.

Simply calling it a “challenge” is a bit of an understatement. They wanted to incorporate the surrounding landscape into their home, but they also faced the tight restrictions of a small, Southwest lot.

They used a combination of tricks to save space and bring in natural light. Their house had never before had a dining room; they kept it that way. An addition they built has large corner windows that overlook their natural surroundings.

“In the winter, it feels like we’re in the middle of a kind of meadow,” Albertsson said.

The living room’s openness is a trick unto itself. The couple wanted large windows to the open world. But they also wanted to avoid having their house easily looked into from the street.

So they put up bubble-glass cabinets, allowing natural light in and, unless opened, keeping unwanted stares out.

“It’s nice to be our own professionals,” Albertsson said.

No. 17 – Experiments galore: 1805 W. Lake St.

EAST CALHOUN — The Edgewater features indoor styles ranging from the classic to the modern or — in the case of one its residents and principal architects — the very modern.

Lars Peterssen’s loft features experiments galore, interesting design elements he said he’d much rather try out on himself before using with clients.

Being on the sixth floor, his penthouse has expansive views of Lake Calhoun on one side and the Downtown skyline on the other. He has quirky Dutch light fixtures shaped like brooms and a cigar-shaped nebula of intertwining wires. It’s all very open, but it can be closed off if necessary by massively sized doors, one as large as 7 feet by 12 feet.

“It’s a place for the two of us [Peterssen and his partner] to live in but can transform into a space for many people to visit,” he said.

For Peterssen, who lived in Uptown for three decades, it’s an admittedly unique treat to have this style of home in the location he’s in.

“We’re very lucky,” he said.

The tour

What: 29 architect-designed homes

When: 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Sept. 20–21

Where: Throughout the Twin Cities, including five Southwest locations

Tickets: Tickets can be bought for $25 at a number of Twin Cities restaurants, including Southwest locales Bar Abilene, Broders’ Pasta Bar, the Herkimer and Stella’s Fish Café. They’re also available during the tour for $30 or $10 per home, cash only. Or buy tickets online at

More information: Go to