For 10 years, Gayle and Phil Malcolm were cool with condo living in the Humboldt Lofts in downtown Minneapolis. They lived right by the Mississippi River, where they could stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge, to restaurants and to the Guthrie Theater.

But when they visited Gold Medal Park with their toddler, Peyton, they noticed that there were few, if any, kids around.

“We liked living downtown,” said Phil. “But there wasn’t a kid community.”

When the Malcolms started looking for a house to buy, they narrowed down the area to the walkable Linden Hills neighborhood. “It’s in the city, close to the lakes and has a trillion kids,” said Gayle.

After investigating existing homes that either required excessive updating — or had been renovated but not to their taste — the Malcolms decided the key to getting the home they really wanted was to build it.

“My friend at work had designed a house with architect Christian Dean, so I got her to confess what the process was really like,” said Gayle.

They found a lot, and were assured by Dean and Nate Wissnick of Elevation Homes that it was possible to build on the steep sloped piece of property, which luckily had a flat area in the rear part of the yard.

Everyone agreed that the 1930s-era house on the lot was in rough condition and would be cost-prohibitive to rehab, so it was torn down.

And there was no question what style of new house would be nestled among the Tudors, Cape Cods and bungalows on the block. Phil grew up in a small village in Scotland, and Gayle in a Twin Cities-area suburb, but both are drawn to modernist architecture.

“I like good architecture and materials like stainless steel and concrete,” said Phil.

“His aesthetic is more austere and simple,” said Gayle. “I’m more casual modern.” She acquired that sensibility while living in San Diego for a time, where she was close to the ocean. “I wanted a house with a modern beach-house feel,” she said. “Inside, you can be super casual and barefoot and not care if there’s sand on the floors.” The Malcolms also requested light-filled rooms with walls of glass like they had in the Humboldt Lofts.

Setback surprise

Dean devised a design that accomplished all of that and more — while feeling right at home in terms of size and appearance in the established urban neighborhood.

The rectangular-shaped floor plan spans from the front to the back of the lot, so the southern sun can flow deep into the rooms. He also positioned the home 20 feet from the property line, rather than at the maximum setback. “We did the rare exception of not building to the max,” said Dean, who started the project when he was a partner at CityDeskStudio, and completed it under his new solo practice. “They get more light, and it’s a nice fit.”

Dean’s “stepped back” design of the simple two-story structure, with a tuck-under garage, also contributed to its blending qualities. Each of the three levels is set back from the level below it, creating a layered effect. The top level is clad in cedar shakes, a familiar housing material that adds charm and character, while the other levels are clad in white painted HardiePanel siding. “Older homes have architectural layers, such as dormers and porches,” said Dean. “This is a modern way of interpreting the layers of traditional homes.”

Inside, the Malcolms’ fondness for raw concrete, stainless steel and earthy natural materials can be found in the finishes, floors and other design elements. Gayle mixed industrial modern minimalism with textural layers to give the gallery-white spaces warmth — along with a few surprises.

In the kitchen, she juxtaposed the long concrete wall and steel countertops with Swarovski crystal chandeliers, which are suspended above the center island.

“They are kind of ironic in an industrial kitchen — and I love them,” she said. “They give ambient lighting.”

In the living room right off the kitchen, Gayle arranged a neutral cotton sofa next to linen lampshades and Peyton’s furry beanbag chair. “I like to warm it up with natural materials and layers of texture, instead of color,” she said.

With built-in, easy-to-reach storage, durable materials and play space, all the rooms are kid-friendly, without sacrificing design, she added.

At the top of Gayle’s must-have list was “a really great patio,” she said. Dean carved a private outdoor room facing the south side yard of the house that’s sheltered and shaded in the summer, and warmed by the sun in the winter. And it’s easily accessed and viewed from the kitchen sink through a four-paneled wall of glass. Gayle has turned the concrete patio into a “super social oasis” with a zebra-print rug, stone coffee table and comfy furnishings. “It’s become my favorite room,” she said. “It’s so cozy when the candles are lit.”

The Malcolms were hands-on collaborators from the beginning to the end of the design and building process. They analyzed how they were going to live in the light-filled house long before the builder dug the hole, said Gayle.

“There are thousands of choices when you’re building a house,” said Phil, who oversees construction of hotels for Carlson Companies and was tuned into every detail, from the handy second-floor laundry room to the sleek European plumbing fixtures.

“Every space was designed for a purpose,” said Gayle. “It’s super practical and livable.”

Just like a kick-off-your shoes beach house.

ABOUT THIS PROJECT
What: A thoughtfully scaled new modern home in an older Minneapolis neighborhood.
Size: 2,830 square feet, not including the unfinished basement.
Design team: Architect Christian Dean with Nathan Van Wylen, Christian Dean Architecture, Minneapolis, 612-886-2814, www.deanarch.com. Dean also worked with Nathan Dodge of CityDeskStudio.
Builder: Nate Wissink, Elevation Homes, Wayzata.
Interior design: Lisa Sherry, Lisa Sherry Interieurs, High Point, N.C.