Kamil Ugurbil grew up in Turkey along the Mediterranean coast. When he moved to cold, landlocked Minnesota with his wife, Jutta Ellermann, he hungered for bright sunlight.
“I need more light,” he said, “especially in the winter.”
In 1993, Ellermann and Ugurbil moved a little emotionally closer to home when they bought a Mediterranean-style house in Minneapolis. It was even on a body of water, although it was the Kenilworth Lagoon, between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, rather than the sea.
The problem? The 1920s-era house had very few windows, which made it dark inside.
The couple’s quest for natural light led them to architect Chris Strom of TEA2 Architects in Minneapolis, who came up with a design for a modern sunroom addition to the front of the home. With its white stuccoed walls, wrought-iron railinged terrace and multi-pane windows, the exterior of the addition is in keeping with the traditional Mediterranean style. But inside, the simple clean-lined spaces showcase the couple’s modern taste.
“We are people of history, and this house captures our past and our present,” said Ugurbil.
At home in the city
Before moving to Minneapolis, Ugurbil and Ellermann lived in a farmhouse on five acres in Orono. But when a major highway was planned too close for their comfort, the couple sold their land and rented a friend’s house near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.
They were considering building a house in suburban Medina, when they discovered that the lakes, the walkable neighborhood and nearby bike trails gave their Minneapolis neighborhood a surprisingly European feel. “It reminded me of an area in Berlin where I had lived,” said Ellermann, who grew up in Germany.
Then, while walking their dog one day, Ellermann and Ugurbil happened onto the Mediterranean-style house. Not only did it have an exterior they both liked, but it boasted an expansive back yard on the lagoon. Another plus: It was not far from the University of Minnesota, where Ellermann is a radiologist and Ugurbil is a physicist and professor.
“We realized it was a rare piece of property,” said Ugurbil. “We decided to change our plans and buy it.”
From the start, they knew the more than 70-year-old structure needed a multitude of updates, but “it had so many original features, and we saw its potential,” said Ellermann. “We knew we would renovate it when we bought it.”
In the mid-1990s, the couple hired TEA2 Architects to design the first phase of the renovation, which included knocking down walls to open up the dark main floor, adding a family room and second-floor master suite. They also put in a large contemporary kitchen with hardware-free cabinets and a massive freestanding center island.
“It’s clean and modern — and was very forward for the 1990s,” said Ugurbil of the first remodeling job.
Let there be light
The family room, which had windows offering views of canoes gliding along the lagoon, solved Ugurbil’s never-ending need for light — but only in the morning. By the afternoon, the sun had moved to the opposite side of the house.
So, in 2006, the couple enlisted Strom for Phase Two.
The challenge: how to bring in natural light in the afternoon and evening for the couple and their daughter, Aileen.
They showed Strom ideas from modern architecture books and magazines, but made it clear that they didn’t want a glass-walled solarium stuck onto their traditional home. Strom designed the 400-square-foot sunroom on the southwest corner of the house.
“By projecting it out 8 feet, we were able to get three sides of light,” he said. The floor-to-ceiling divided-light windows and full-height French doors blend with the home’s existing architecture.
Inside, a continuous “floating” soffit around the perimeter of the room screens the motorized privacy shades and houses built-in indirect lighting for a clean, uncluttered look. White painted woodwork offers a crisp contrast to the heated dark gray polished concrete floors.
“When they put in the new concrete floor, it cracked and I was upset at first,” said Ellermann. “But then it looked old like the rest of the house.”
The sunroom has column-like forms in every corner, which give the room “depth, dimension and strength,” said Strom.
At Ugurbil’s request, Strom added another source of natural light — a massive skylight.
“Chris said I would need sunglasses, it would be so bright,” said Ugurbil. “I said, ‘Give it to me!’ ”
Strom joined two standard-sized Velux skylights to create the large opening in the ceiling. A hackberry tree provides shade in the summer so the room doesn’t get too hot, and warmth in the winter when the tree drops its leaves.
The sunroom’s placement also offers unobstructed views of the front-yard gardens and the lagoon.
“When you’re sitting in the sunroom, you can appreciate the connection between the front and the back of the house,” said Strom. “It gives you a strong sense of place within the neighborhood.”
As part of the project, the couple requested a European-style basement wine room, which was built under the sunroom. A raw concrete wall, unearthed during excavation, was left in place to add ambience to the cellar. The far concrete wall holds a modern sculptural wine rack, which is always a topic of conversation at gatherings. The rack is made of steel rods suspended from the ceiling. Wine bottles rest on walnut wood blocks. “I like the wine rack design,” said Ugurbil. “It’s light and has a feeling of floating.”
Not surprisingly, Ugurbil wanted some light even in the basement wine room. So Strom came up with an innovative solution: a “light slot” made of thick glass installed in the floor of the sunroom and the ceiling of the wine room that draws diffused light into the basement.
Now that the renovated Minneapolis home has so much sun, Ugurbil says he misses the Mediterranean a little bit less.