Having their first child got Josh and Rachel Berger thinking about how they wanted him to grow up — with space to play, sidewalks for walking and a network of connected neighbors.
“We wanted a neighborhood that was set up for kids to be kids, where it was safe for them to walk to the park,” said Josh.
“Idyllic — like the way we grew up,” added Rachel.
The couple loved their older home in Falcon Heights, but knew they would soon outgrow it as their family expanded, plus it was requiring more and more upkeep. “It had great character, but the old bones kept failing,” Josh said.
They wanted a new house that they could design to their liking, but with some traditional elements, like a front porch.
Their search for that blend of old and new led them to Victor Gardens, a planned community in Hugo, a small historic city in Washington County. Victor Gardens was designed to reflect the “new urbanist” movement, with sidewalks and walkable destinations, such as retail stores and restaurants.
“We have the best of both worlds: the lot and home we want, plus the ability to dine and shop,” said Rachel. “And this is Eden for kids.”
But after the real estate market collapsed, the network of connected neighbors was slower to materialize. Weary of waiting for the vacant lots to fill in, the Bergers decided to take matters into their own hands — and become real estate developers themselves. They founded the Nest, a “pocket community” of 10 architect-designed, eco-friendly homes designed to attract more neighbors who share the Bergers’ interest in what they call “modern traditionalism.”
Josh, who has some background in architecture, collaborated with an architect on home plans, and partnered with a local contractor, Bald Eagle Builders, to construct a model home on one of the lots, with an option to develop the others, currently bank-owned.
Now the Bergers have a lot on their plate. In addition to raising their family, which now includes three young sons, and running their business, Goodwell & Company, which produces soap and personal-care products, the couple also have two houses to keep up: their own and the model home directly across the street.
“We talk about wanting to move over there,” Rachel said with a laugh.
Some of their furniture does move back and forth between the two houses, such as the ash-wood coffee table that was designed for their home but migrated to the model home for showings and photo shoots.
The couple spent years searching for the perfect coffee table. “It was like Goldilocks, trying to find the one that was just right,” Josh said. Finally he sketched what they wanted and found a Colorado furniture maker who was willing to produce it.
That attention to style and detail is a shared passion for the Bergers.
“Design is part of our life. We’re visual junkies,” Josh said. “When we go to restaurants, we look at the design.”
He originally aspired to a career in architecture and studied it at Iowa State University. “But it was before CAD [computer-assisted design], and I didn’t have the fine motor skills for sketching,” he said.
Rachel, a natural entrepreneur, was sure, even as a child, that she would run her own business someday. “I always knew what I wanted. I was stubborn,” she said. “When I was student of the month, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, who I wanted to work for. I said, ‘I’m not working for anybody. I’m going to be the boss.’ ”
When the couple met, “we bonded over design and entrepreneurship,” she said.
Design is a big part of their main business, Goodwell & Company. Its Motif product line (available at Target) and Daub & Bauble (available at Patina) are both distinguished by stylish packaging, with prints and color schemes coordinated to reflect the fragrances inside.
The Bergers’ other big design collaboration was building their own Dutch Colonial-inspired house in Hugo, with interiors so photogenic they were featured in Better Homes & Gardens. That was three years ago, and the house has already been redecorated.
“My husband has a constant state of wanting to change things,” Rachel said.
Josh had a different take. “Our tastes have evolved,” he said.
When the house was photographed for the magazine, the color scheme was butter yellow and chocolate. “It was Pottery Barn come to life,” he said. Now it’s taupe, with pops of color, including a bold teal accent wall and a bright-orange table. “I wouldn’t have bought that five years ago, but why not?” Josh said.
Making a model
The 2,350-square-foot model home across the street reflects yet another style evolution. Designed by Josh and his architect collaborator, it’s a modern take on an English Arts & Crafts cottage, with an open floor plan on the main floor, white-oak flooring and ceiling beams, plus today’s popular colors and finishes, including gray enamel woodwork and a Caesarstone countertop.
The house also meets modern sustainability standards, built to Minnesota Green Path certification requirements, with R-21-insulated walls, controls to save on water use and low-VOC paints and finishes. (The model is currently for sale for $399,900.)
The Bergers are committed to making sure that the Nest is developed in a way that fosters a close-knit community, with traditional architectural standards. All the homes will include some kind of front porch or covered entry, and eight of the nine remaining lots will be situated on an alley, so the garage doesn’t dominate the streetscape as it does in so many suburban cul-de-sacs. All homes will feature four-sided architecture, with the same materials and detailing on the back and sides as on the front, according to Josh.
The “modern bungalow” home plans are all rooted in traditional architectural styles but can be modified to suit the homeowner. All homes will be built to Minnesota Green Path standards by Bald Eagle Builders of Hugo, and prices start at $375,000. (For more information, visit www.thenestcommunity.com, or call 651-644-2195.) The Bergers hope to break ground soon for another model home, which is already listed on MLS for $369,900.
In addition to shaping their immediate neighborhood, Rachel is also involved in shaping greater Hugo, as a member of its Parks and Planning Commission. Outdoor recreation is important to a community, and to them as a family, she said. “We do a lot of parks.”
And, yes, the Nest will have sidewalks, so that kids and other residents can safely access those parks without worrying about traffic, and can interact easily with neighbors sitting on those front porches.
“I read that book about pocket neighborhoods [“Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World” by architect Ross Chapin],” Josh said. “That resonated with me. That’s what we’re trying to do here.”