After reading a 2012 story in the Star Tribune’s Travel section, Mary Jo Stocco and Bob Gardner’s family decided to visit Palm Springs, Calif., for spring break. They’ve returned every year since then.
The couple were entranced by the palm trees, desert and mountains — and they loved to drive around and gawk at the iconic midcentury modern vacation homes of Old Hollywood celebrities, in all their teal and tangerine glory. On return visits, they even rented authentic Atomic Age gems for lodging, and shot photos of their favorite retro looks.
What started out as a spring-break getaway sparked a passion for midcentury modern architecture. “We get a lot of inspiration from those trips,” said Stocco.
In 2015, when the couple had the opportunity to build a new home in Savage, they envisioned bringing a piece of Palm Springs to their suburban neighborhood.
The family had lived in a 1998 rambler in Savage for 15 years, but as their household grew to four kids, they outgrew their house, needing more bedrooms and larger gathering spaces.
When developers snapped up parcels of farmland, new homes started springing up all around them.
About a mile from their rambler, they found a terrific lot on the highest point of a wooded bluff overlooking wetlands and the Credit River. They could stay in the community, be close to neighbors, and their children could remain in their school district.
“We’ve always wanted to build a house someday, and this was our chance,” said Stocco.
The couple paid a premium price for the property so they could pick their builder, and enlisted Peterssen/Keller Architecture for the custom design.
Gardner is CEO of a Minneapolis commercial construction company, and was familiar with P/K’s work. Stocco also researched the firm’s portfolio. Architects Ryan Fish and Lars Peterssen understood their mission to design a “Minnesota version of a midcentury modern Palm Springs home,” she said.
That included incorporating characteristics such as abundant big windows, a wide-open floor plan, clean, sleek lines and splashes of bold color — as well as that hallmark of modernism, a flat roof.
“We wanted our home to fit in the neighborhood,” said Gardner, the project’s general contractor, “but still build something unique.”
Fish took on the challenge of following the city’s design-related covenants, which didn’t allow a flat-roofed dwelling.
His creative solution is composed of two steep-gabled wings connected by a flat-front entry “box.” On the second story, the vaulted wings are connected by an interior catwalk. The completed home is modern farmhouse style bookended by two flat-roofed “boxes,” which contain an office and side garage.
“We couldn’t give Mary Jo and Bob a completely flat-roofed house, but we got them the next best thing — a modern compilation of flat roofs and steep-pitched gables,” Fish said. Another modern aspect is that the vaulted gables on the outside are carried through on the inside, creating actual living space.
The city approved Fish’s innovative blueprint. “We were able to achieve a cohesive modern design on a suburban lot that had constraints,” he said.
Visitors are greeted by a vibrant sunflower yellow front door, a nod to Palm Springs. “There’s even a Facebook page on doors of Palm Springs,” said Gardner.
Inside the front entry, a grand see-through walnut staircase wrapped in a steel railing is the centerpiece of the open floor plan.
The home’s interior design by Betsy Vohs, of Studio BV, is “fresh and fun and not too serious,” said Vohs, “with lots of play with color and texture.”
Unlike many suburban houses, the Stocco-Gardner kitchen is positioned at the front of the home, with a massive picture window above the sink facing the street so parents can keep an eye on kids playing out front. “When I do dishes, I love standing in front of the sink and waving at the neighbors,” said Gardner.
The galley-style kitchen is similar to those in the Palm Springs rentals, but the couple’s boasts a super-sized quartz-topped island painted cobalt blue on all sides, which “anchors and sets the space apart,” said Vohs.
A minimalist industrial-style light fixture mixes brass and polished nickel above the island.
The built-in breakfast nook’s cantilevered table doesn’t have legs — making it easier for the kids to slide in and out. A generous walk-in pantry stores the coffeemaker and toaster, keeping clutter out of the prepping and serving zones.
The adjacent dining area emits a cool retro vibe with its flashy Sputnik-style chandelier suspended above a Saarinen oval tulip table. An unexpected element is a vibrant yellow Dutch door. “You can open the top in nice weather like you see in old farmhouses,” said Stocco.
As in traditional floor plans, the living room is centered around the fireplace — only this version has a floating bluestone hearth with a streamlined black steel linear box. When not in use, the TV is hidden behind a sliding door so it doesn’t compete with the view of the fireplace.
The family can sit on a long built-in walnut bench and take in sweeping views of the wooded landscape through corner windows. The walnut flooring and built in storage cabinets, along with the West Elm navy velvet sofa, add warmth to the gallery-white minimalist spaces, said Vohs.
The second floor holds two vaulted wings — one for the kids’ bedrooms and one for the owners’ suite — connected by a catwalk that overlooks the spaces below. The Gardner kids chill in a reading nook “where you can get glimpses out to the river valley,” said Fish.
The owners’ bedroom’s unique closet “box” is wrapped in dark green felt to contrast with the white walls and exotic wood floors, said Vohs.
“It’s peaceful, calm and a nice oasis in the trees,” said Stocco.
Finally, the bathroom feels like you’ve stepped into a Palm Springs spa, with heated floors, egg-shaped tub and midcentury-inspired teak double-sink floating vanity.
Eco-conscious and energy-efficient features also were high on the couple’s priority list. Water-resistant black ash on the exterior and screened porch was harvested in northern Minnesota by a Duluth company. The walls are constructed of structural insulated panels (SIPs), creating a tight envelope and reducing energy consumption. And the family hardly ever has to flip a light switch, thanks to skylights and expanses of glass drawing in natural light.
While the couple drew inspiration from Palm Springs architecture, and it reflects their appreciation for modern design, their home “also had to function well for an active family with kids,” said Stocco. “I think we’ve done that while still fitting into the aesthetic of the neighborhood.”
One of the best qualities of minimalist design is that it promotes decluttering, she said. “It encourages us to purge and have less stuff.”