In 2016, Joe and Sara Rogers were living in what they thought was their “forever home” on 15 acres in Avon, Minn.
But a devastating fire changed everything.
The couple and their three boys had driven to the Twin Cities for the day. They rushed back to Avon when they found out their home was engulfed in flames.
All that remained of their Victorian-style house was a smoldering shell and the brick chimney. The fire had started in the utility room, and the cause was never determined.
But the barn and shed on the property were intact, and firefighters had rescued the family’s dog, Ruby.
“We were in shock,” recalled Sara. “We lost everything — but we were all together.”
After the structure was demolished, Joe and Sara knew they wanted to rebuild on that same property. The bucolic setting was a tapestry of rolling hills and pastures where their five Icelandic sheep grazed, including several ponds and dense woods.
The couple had moved to Avon because of Joe’s job in international education at nearby St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict.
“We believe the land is sacred, and it’s special to us,” said Sara.
And there was no doubt which architectural firm would tackle the project. Joe’s parents were friends with the parents of Jean Rehkamp Larson, co-founder of Rehkamp Larson Architects in Minneapolis. Rehkamp Larson is also the author of “The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home.”
“We had read Jean’s book,” said Joe, “and we had a barn and sheep.”
“We wanted a home that really connected with the land and reflected the feeling of being in the country,” added Sara.
Rehkamp Larson’s design for the two-story new-fashioned farmhouse was inspired by the existing red metal-roofed barn covered in weathered board-on-board cedar siding.
The farmhouse-meets-barn-style architecture is simple and practical. “It has a steep-pitched roof and a welcoming farmhouse gable,” said Rehkamp Larson. “When you pull up the drive, it says ‘Come on in.’ ”
“They wanted something really down-to-earth from the get-go,” added architect Sarah Nymo, who also worked on the design. “It was to be comfortable — and not overstated.”
In fact, the front entry is recessed and understated — except for the “fun and modern” teal front door, Sara noted.
The front steps are composed of carefully salvaged red bricks from the previous home, which were originally from a cobblestone sidewalk on Minneapolis’ Nicollet Island.
For the exterior, the couple chose an Eco Wood treatment for the cedar siding to give it a dark, aged look similar to the barn siding.
“Eco Wood helps preserve the wood, is durable and low-maintenance,” said Joe.
Inside, the couple didn’t want a repeat of the “dainty cute” rooms of the Victorian-style home that had burned down.
Rather, they requested a modern open floor plan accented with rustic materials that would be locally sourced when possible.
“We wanted clean lines and big windows to bring the landscape indoors,” said Joe.
“Yet have some warmth — with nooks and crannies,” added Sara.
Large picture windows are juxtaposed with white pine beams and posts. The raw knot-filled wide-plank floor is reclaimed Douglas fir.
“The common thread is honest materials,” said Nymo. “And the warmth of natural wood versus painted wood.”
The layout includes a pottery studio with a view where Sara makes clay vessels, candleholders and tiles. She can gaze out the window at their five pet sheep by the barn. She has them sheared for their wool to knit scarves and hats.
“Seeing them every day makes me happy,” she said. “They each have their own personalities.”
In fact, Sara’s handmade clay tiles, which she created from molds of plants found on their land, decorate the kitchen backsplash, “to bring in a little bit of nature,” she said.
Since Sara is a baker, and Joe an ardent cook, the kitchen is equipped with a compact-car-sized island that offers ample work space.
The white oak cabinets are fronted with clean-lined vertical slats crafted by Timber Ridge Custom Woodworks.
Sara and Joe’s favorite architectural feature is the central Douglas fir staircase shaped by black steel railings. “It’s like a screen that gives a layer of separation, but allows you to see through it,” said Rehkamp Larson.
The vaulted great room anchors the main floor with a massive fieldstone-clad wood-burning fireplace. When excavating the property, the workers unearthed hundreds of rocks. The Rogers family hand-picked the age-old fieldstones for masons to use to build the fireplace surround. Finally, they chose live-edge walnut for the mantel. “We put a lot of ourselves into it,” said Joe.
The side of the home, which is oriented toward the pond, wetlands and woods, holds three different outdoor living spaces — a sunroom, a covered terrace for grilling and a screen porch “because we live in Minnesota,” said Sara.
The green-hued sunroom is a nod to the Breakfast Room in the historic Glensheen mansion the couple had toured in Duluth. The sunroom’s pocket door creates a restful space for Sara to meditate each morning.
Since this is their new “forever home,” a must-have was a main-floor owners’ suite “so we can grow old here,” said Joe.
Although it appears timeless, the Rogers’ farmhouse is firmly in the 21st century. It was designed and built with the latest eco-friendly features and technology, including a geothermal heating-and-cooling system, spray-foam insulation and thermal-mass concrete foundation.
“We wanted to use the best techniques and sustainable materials to minimize our use of fossil fuel,” said Joe. “The red metal roof will outlive us.”
Yet their new abode feels organic and soulful, thanks to the family’s personal touches and strong connection to the land.
Sara stepped outdoors to listen to the sheep baaing and the spring peeper frogs peeping.
“We have the best of all worlds,” she said. “It’s our little slice of heaven.”