As a high school foreign-exchange student in Finland, Ben Horn explored the culture and language of several Scandinavian countries. Many years later, that 12-month stint abroad continues to influence his life.
“I started to appreciate the Scandinavian look — simple, clean, fresh and timeless,” he said. “A huge change from anything I’d seen growing up in Chicago.”
Today Horn owns FinnStyle, a Finnish-design home store in Minneapolis, and lives in a glass-walled contemporary home on a wooded lot bordering Theodore Wirth Parkway.
It took nearly 35 years before he was able to build a home with the understated Scandinavian modern design he grew to love in Finland.
Five years ago, Horn was ensconced in a high-rise condo in downtown Minneapolis. The lure of nature — and a yard — led him to buy property in Bryn Mawr, which reminded him of Finland.
After living there two years, Horn had the ramshackle cabin on the lot torn down. Then he collaborated with architect Tim Alt of Altus Architecture, who shares his passion for modern Finnish design, to create a new home for Horn and his teenage son Max.
“The plan has an organic Scandinavian spirit,” said Alt. “The materials, shape and the scale aren’t grand. And the landscape also plays a prominent part.”
Horn wasn’t interested in a suburban-type home that stretched to the lot line, he said. “I wanted it to be a one-of-a-kind design — smaller and special — like a jewel.”
Finland played another fortuitous role in Horn’s life when he met the woman who is now his wife. At a Bryn Mawr Neighborhood Association meeting, he met Lisa Goodman, a Minneapolis City Council member. They connected over a shared interest in the Scandinavian country; Goodman was planning to travel there for a work-related trip.
By the time the couple became engaged, Horn’s clean-lined, contemporary-style home was in the final stages of design. That’s where they planned to live after they got married. But they discovered a big hurdle to overcome: Almost every single design detail was the complete opposite of what Goodman would have chosen.
She had been living for years in a condo in the Bellevue, an 1890s brick building in downtown Minneapolis. Her decor style was steeped in traditional historic character, with crown moldings, hardwood floors, a wood-burning fireplace and defined spaces furnished with antiques and vintage collectibles.
“This architectural style is not my taste,” said Goodman, referring to the couple’s completed home today. “But I’ve really come to appreciate it.” It helped that Goodman was able to choose warmer materials and wood finishes and infuse Marimekko “pop art” fabrics and accessories in vibrant colors, which are sold at the FinnStyle store and on its website (www.finnstyle.com).
“Tim had designed a house for two men,” said Goodman, who married Horn in 2012. “I found ways to make it inviting and add lots of color.”
Goodman and Horn also shopped for a vintage dining-room table and Scottish sideboard to furnish the interiors of the wood-and-glass modern shell. She made sure that her antique Moroccan brass light fixture had a prime spot in the dining room.
Horn was open to all the changes. “You don’t have to do all modern in a modern house,” he said. “Mixing the old and new is fun.” He did get to place a sleek Jotul cast-iron stove in the corner of the living room, just like you’d find in a typical Scandinavian home.
“It’s different,” said Goodman. “I’m used to a mantel where you can display photos.”
Goodman’s final flourish for the home was a green roof surrounding the deck above the garage. She’s been a longtime proponent of green roofs and sustainability in city buildings. “I wanted to walk the talk and put one in our house,” she said.
The green roof is planted with prairie natives, sedum, hens and chicks, and chives, which can easily be snipped to add to food. “It’s fun to see the plants close-up,” said Goodman. “And it has so many ecological benefits, like stormwater management.”
Alt is a big fan of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea in Finland, and Alt echoed one of its design motifs in the Goodman-Horn home. The floating wood staircase has railings composed of simple birch dowels of varying heights. “It’s a modern vertical element and a visual cue that guides you up the staircase when you come in,” said Alt.
The sculptural staircase leads to the second floor, where Horn wanted to position the kitchen, dining and living rooms for the best views of the changing seasons through the walls of glass.
Two lounging decks — one facing east and one facing west — are ideal lookouts for gazing at wildlife, the Minneapolis skyline and people coming up the driveway. Alt designed the flat-roofed, 2,100-square-foot dwelling with dark-stained cedar and fiber-cement siding to better blend in with the serene forest setting.
Max especially likes the country feeling, while still being close to all the fun activities of an urban area. “It doesn’t seem like we’re living in the city,” said Max, who takes their dogs Finn and Sadie to romp in the woods right out the front door. “But in five minutes you can be in downtown Minneapolis.”
After a long day at FinnStyle, Horn can come home and unwind in his personal piece of Finland. And Goodman has slowly warmed up to the modern aesthetic.
“It makes him so happy, that it’s a joyful place,” she said. “It’s been an easy compromise late in life.”