From a diminutive Arts & Crafts bungalow to a modern glass-walled retreat, a home is a life-changing investment. But does your abode make you happy at the beginning and end of the day? Does light stream deep into rooms? Is your kitchen a multifunctional hub for cooking and socializing? Is it a snap to organize and store all your stuff?
Strategically placed new windows, a mudroom bump-out or a complete interior makeover just might do the trick. Architects are expert problem-solvers who can create light-filled, smooth-flowing floor plans that fit your lifestyle — and express your personality. Or they can design the new home you’ve always dreamed of.
On April 25, a panel of local architects, along with homeowners, will share insights on smart design techniques, and take questions at “Your Ideal Home,” an event presented by AIA Minnesota and the Star Tribune. You’ll also get a sneak peek at the Home of the Month projects we’ll be spotlighting in the Star Tribune over the next year.
We asked the architects on the panel — David O’Brien Wagner, Christine Albertsson and Andrea Swan — to talk about designing for better not bigger, kitchen must-haves and low-cost solutions if a major remodeling isn’t in the budget.
David O’Brien Wagner
Not just a box on a lot: When building a new home, it’s not just picking a style and how a house looks aesthetically that drives the design. It’s about how it functions within the surroundings, responds to elements around it, how you experience indoor and outdoor spaces, and how to make it feel a part of the neighborhood.
The best money can buy: Windows are the eyes of the house, and the No. 1 feature that’s worth the investment. They draw in daylight and passive heat in the winter, and with deep overhangs, they can provide shade in the summer. Use triple-pane glass to reduce heat loss. High clerestory windows give you privacy.
Worth-it green features: Everyone should be converting to LED light fixtures, which drastically reduce the amount of electricity needed in a home, and have revolutionized how we use light. LED fixtures are more flexible, and can be hidden away and integrated into cabinets and other areas.
Not bigger — just better: People often think they have to expand the amount of living space to make improvements. Sometimes they can use the existing space more intelligently and with greater efficiency. We can knock down walls, add windows and use built-in furniture to expand a sense of visual space.
Make a home livable for the long run: Aging-in-place features are a common request from homeowners, such as main-floor bedroom suites, wider doorways, and bathrooms with a wide turning radius. Design, such as a front porch, also connects people to the community and neighborhood, which is important for long-term livability.
Smart products and materials: Radiant in-floor heat in stone, concrete and tile floors is comfortable for Upper Midwest climates.
Bring the outdoors in: We can design a series of spaces that create indoor and outdoor flow, and allow you [options], depending on the time of year — from a three-season porch to a full sun terrace in the summer.
The Wagner abode: My wife and I did a major remodel of a 1910 bungalow by tearing off a half-story and building a full second story. It’s warm, woodsy modernism, and fits in its St. Paul neighborhood.
Hire an architect because: We problem-solve in creative ways to bring about unexpected and ingenious solutions.
Albertsson Hansen Architecture
What drives many remodeling projects? Growing families need to accommodate more children, or empty nesters want to use spaces differently. Two people can’t work in a cramped kitchen, or a back door knocks someone down the stairs. Often, remodeling is driven by a house that really doesn’t work — but owners want to stay in the neighborhood they love.
Timeless, not trendy: Well-crafted and well-proportioned interior spaces that feel good for gathering, that use natural light and resources responsibly. Homes built to last, so you are saving resources in the future. Center-hall 1920s Colonials and bungalows with front porches are good examples of timeless design.
Breathe easy: Healthy indoor air is a big part of sustainable residential design. Be careful about the types of paint and floor finishes used, pay attention to air exchanging, and make sure the home has proper air sealing.
How to stretch your remodeling dollars: Determine your priorities — what do you really need? — to hit your budget. We can reconfigure the way a kitchen is laid out, or repurpose existing spaces, rather than add on.
Islands rule: Clients want good family space in the kitchen — and that often involves an island. We do a lot of stone, butcher block and synthetic countertops — very little granite — in simple muted colors. There’s a lot of fun tile full of pattern and color — but it may not have lasting appeal. Subway tile is affordable, has a range of textures and colors, and is incredibly timeless.
Why hire an architect? We work with clients to distill down their goals and most important values. We bring a vast amount of experience working with different families and lifestyles.
The future of residential design: We have a critical shortage of contractors and labor, and there’s so much demand — so costs are rising. The future may be in prefab housing made in a factory and delivered to a site. I’m teaching a design studio on modular housing at the University of Minnesota. Our biggest challenge will be designing smaller energy-efficient, better-value homes.
Top must-haves: The kitchen is the nucleus. People want large islands — sometimes two — and breakfast nooks. The art of cooking is popular, so there’s a wide variety of innovative appliance options, like steam and side-hinge ovens. Mudrooms with lockers and cubbies — I have two because we live in Minnesota. Golf simulators are as popular as indoor sport courts — and not as expensive.
Unusual request: We tore down an existing house to build a new one, and there was an underground solid concrete shooting range beneath the driveway. The owner wanted to preserve it, so we turned it into a wine cellar. A bookcase door opens to a game room that leads to the cellar.
Low-cost enhancements: Freshen up exterior dark brick and stone with a gray or white stain. New lighting, such as sconces and pendants, can significantly impact the feel of a space. Upgrade outlet and light switch plates with screwless plates in colors that match the walls.
Go-to materials: The majority of our homes and remodels use low-maintenance fiber-cement siding. JamesHardie has new options, including a contemporary shiplap siding. Modern farmhouses have metal roofs that will last a lifetime.
Going green: We use recycled reclaimed wood, salvaged from old barns, in beams and mantels. It’s durable and timeless. Low-maintenance native prairie plantings instead of a large lawn. Design a home to capture the sun in winter and shade it in summer.
Future function: We encourage clients to think ahead so we can provide flexibility for spaces that will work now — and in the future ... like a walk-in closet that can be converted into an elevator someday.
What’s hot in the kitchen: Sinks are getting bigger. One of my projects had a 5-foot-long stainless-steel sink with two faucets, and trays, cutting boards, strainers. It’s like a little workshop.
What an architect brings to the table: We’re trained to bring critical components to a project — creativity, good design, proper building methods and value in cost and quality. We represent our clients and have their best interests at heart.
Water and design: We’re seeing more rain in Minnesota, and we have to plan how to handle stormwater and protect our homes from flooding and water damage, with resilient materials that can handle moisture.