A landscape designer at home in nature

East Harriet renovation
Landscaped stone terraces gradually lead up from the street level to the front entrance of this East Harriet renovation. Submitted photo

While Locus Architecture collaborates with our clients on every project, it’s rare to have the opportunity to truly work hand-in-hand with a homeowner in their area of expertise. For a 2018 home renovation in East Harriet, we worked with landscape designer Matt Davis to create a home for him and his family. Davis, the founder of Shaw Design, designed the grounds and served as general contractor as our team created a single-family home that blends building and landscape.

Although we considered numerous options to save a significant portion of the existing house, we determined the limitations posed by its substandard materials and poor layout were just too great to save it. Consequently, aside from three foundation walls and sewer and water hookups, the home is completely new.

backyard

Landscaped stone terraces gradually lead up from the street level to the front entrance, an intentional move by Davis to soften the boundary between interior and exterior. “On my projects I tend to work with the ground plane quite a bit — how I can push the ground up and down to create interesting space,” he said. “It’s a very important part of any landscape, any architecture.”

The home’s facade further softens the transition between outside and inside while accentuating different planes of space. Free of columns, a suspended pergola floats above the front patio, visually articulating the entry while enabling the stone terraces to freely assemble below. A shallow hip roof and modest scale help to soften the otherwise modern exterior of the house, helping it to appear at home with its neighbors. Horizontal cedar slats interface with different tones and sizes of greenish blue siding, creating a palette that feels vibrant, but doesn’t steal the spotlight on this calm, tree-lined boulevard.

back of the house

Inside, it’s apparent that the relatively small footprint packs a lot of space. The second level includes two bedrooms, the master suite, a bathroom and a rooftop patio overlooking the backyard. In the basement is an additional guest bedroom, bathroom, laundry room and family room.

On the main floor of the house, nearly floor-to-ceiling windows welcome in an abundance of sunlight, so much so that Davis’ family can usually wait until sunset to turn the lights on.

When sitting in his office at the front of the house, Davis says the effect of the windows is “just short of installing a rollup door”. Moments like these help to create an almost seamless transition from exterior to interior, an effect enhanced by the open plan of the first floor. Views to the outside can be experienced from the kitchen, living, and dining rooms, as centralized circulation leads one naturally to the back patio. Throughout, a palette of soft, airy blues and deep browns bring the tones of nature inside the home, the colors shifting as sunlight fills and moves through the space.

back of the house

In the back of the house, multiple levels of horizontal planes are also used to connect the inside with the outside, echo nature and define space. A second suspended pergola lightly shades a south-facing patio, making it great for cooling down on sweltering summer days or staying warm on sunny fall afternoons. Steps that appear to float (but are really just cleverly anchored) lead you off the patio down to the fenced-in backyard, where various stone landscaping elements and platform levels mirror the smooth transition into nature seen on the front of the house. Directly beneath the patio one discovers a covered enclave that leads into the walkout basement, an outdoor space perfect for taking in a summer thunderstorm. A large outdoor sectional (and matching armchair) invites the notion of staying here a while; this backyard has hosted many (pre-COVID) neighborhood and family gatherings, made possible in part by the cascade of decks and levels that provide ample seating and views.

In a city of ever-increasing numbers of high-rise condos and shiny steel towers, it can be easy to feel distant from the natural world. This house proves it’s possible to create a natural oasis in the middle of the city, a place to really slow down and absorb a little of what nature has to offer.

Hailey Haferman is an architectural designer at Locus Architecture.

This home was the recipient of a BLEND Award in 2018. BLEND is a local organization that recognizes the builders, architects, and owners of new buildings in the Twin Cities for successfully blending with the vibrant, historic character and identity of their surroundings.