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Sustainable Modern: Two new Twin Cities houses that fuse the edgy and the earthy

Sustainable and modern--and small--are fast becoming the keywords that design-conscious, creative-industry clients are sharing with their architects as they begin collaboratively designing a new home. Call it sustainable modernism.

Two new architect-designed homes for just such "cultural creatives" and their families are drawing attention for their keen integration of a modern aesthetic with a "green" mindset and earth-friendly technologies. One has a clean verticality that allowed it to be slipped into a tight lot in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. The other is low-slung and horizontal on its broad lakeside site in Golden Valley. Yet both relate easily--in design, form and massing--to their neighborhoods.
Both homes also have energy-conserving thermal-mass foundations (poured concrete with two inches of rigid insulation suspended inside the wall, so neither interior nor exterior need finishing). Both have striking exteriors of cedar siding juxtaposed with another durable material. Inside, the houses feature open plans that encourage family togetherness and an easy flow among spaces. Both replaced outdated, crumbling houses formerly on their lots, but neither is a McMansion or a monstrosity.

Designing for Designers
"A lot of the modern work we're doing is for designers," says architect Christian Dean, a founder and principal of CityDeskStudio, Inc., Minneapolis. Dean and his partners recently completed the 4,500-square-foot Golden Valley walkout for a graphic designer and his family, and were inspired, in part, by the homeowner's interest in mid-century modernism.
"There are a lot of 1960s modernist homes in Golden Valley, which provided us with a stylistic context for the house," Dean continues. "The houses nearby are all walkouts, with modest single-story fronts, which then drop open in the back with big views of Sweeney Lake. But the client also has a strong sense of restraint and an interest in minimalism that really simplified the design."
So the new flat-roofed home is a simple white stucco box with cedar accents that maintains a discreet profile at the front, then "opens up to the lake with fantastic views through walls that are 60 to 70 percent glass," Dean continues. Because the house is a walkout, it's partially buried in the ground, which extends the energy-saving capacity of its t-mass foundation. But the home also has a progressive heating system: a geothermal well field under the front lawn that heats and cools the structure.

Green From Floor to Ceiling
Erinn and Shane Farrell's tastes "lie in a more modern aesthetic," says Erinn, Lead Project & Creative Resources Manager at the space150 marketing agency in Minneapolis. But they are just as concerned about sustainability, so going green "made the most sense," as Erinn puts it. Because they were building a new 2,250-square-foot home in Linden Hills, Erinn says, "we thought of course we should take advantage of the newest, most ideal products and techniques. In addition we felt a responsibility to be thoughtful to our neighborhood, our community, and, obviously, our planet."
Erinn and Shane, a software engineer, were so enthusiastic about the sustainable initiatives brought to the design by their architect, Eric Odor, a partner at SALA Architects, Inc., Minneapolis, they acquired LEED certification for their home. In addition to the t-mass foundation, the house has panelized construction (it was erected in one day, without dumpsters), fiber-cement siding juxtaposed with cedar, and recyclable galvanized gutters and downspouts. Inside the house features bamboo flooring, a recycled-timber staircase, and natural ventilation, and is heated and cooled with a high-efficiency two-stage furnace.
 "It made sense with all the effort we had put into the house and planning regarding sustainable materials that we go for the LEED certification," Erinn explains. "Plus, we felt that if people like us started to do it, it may become a realistic goal for others." The couple (they just had their first child) was also concerned about their modernist sensibility fitting into the neighborhood.
Fitting Into a Lot--and a Neighborhood

Odor says he "shoehorned" the two-story, rectilinear house onto the lot while providing south-side exposure for daylighting and passive solar gain. He topped the house with a notched Prairie-Style roof, pitched just enough so it fit in with the bungalows next to it. He juxtaposed tall narrow windows that emphasize the verticality of the structure with horizontal cedar siding and iron-grey pre-finished hardy board.
"The house is an eclectic blend of Prairie Style and modernism, but has the materials and detailing of the existing homes," Odor says. To introduce the home to the neighborhood, he held a construction open house. "About 12 people showed up and thanked me for not making a huge house on the site. Even though the style is different, the scale and mass are in keeping with the neighborhood and people said they thought the house was a lovely addition to their block."

Both of these houses are featured in AIA Minnesota's annual Homes by Architects Tour, to be held this year on September18-19.

Camille LeFevre is a Saint Paul-based arts journalist.

Photos, top to bottom:

Midcentury modernism with a difference: The Golden Valley house, designed by Christian Dean.

The bathroom carries on the house's airy openness.

A minimalist kitchen for a designer's family

At the rear, the Golden Valley house opens onto sloping green space.

The Linden Hills house is part Prairie Style, part 2010 green-tech.

Architect Eric Odor (l.) and Erinn and Shane Farrell relax in the house's open-plan interior.

The second-floor hallway

The youngest Farrell, with family and architect, gets used to his new designer-built home.

All photos by Bill Kelley

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