Matt Shimon and Mike Cuthbert are reminded every day that they no longer live in south Minneapolis.

This fall, they built a farmhouse-style suburban home at the Spirit of Brandtjen Farm, a development in Lakeville. Their back yard is so big that “our old Cape Cod could fit back there,” said Cuthbert. There’s blissful silence instead of airplane noise. “At first it was so quiet we couldn’t sleep,” said Shimon. And they walk their cocker spaniel on 6 miles of wooded trails, just steps from their door.

The biggest scene-changer? The big old barn they can see from their wraparound porch.
“It’s comforting for me,” said Shimon, who grew up on an Iowa farm.

Shimon and Cuthbert, who had always lived in older homes, weren’t actively seeking to build in the suburbs until they stumbled upon a photo of a model home in an ad for last spring’s Parade of Homes.

“We’ve never liked new construction,” said Cuthbert. “We thought the overall quality wasn’t as good as old houses and if it was high quality, we couldn’t afford it.”

Still, lured by the pastoral setting, they headed out to Lakeville to tour a model. They learned that Tradition Development’s 520-acre planned community was part of the 1932 Brandtjen dairy farm and that the original dairy barn had been renovated and repurposed into a community center and clubhouse, with a two-story lounge, stone fireplace, fitness room and outdoor pool. The developer had even built a replica of the family farmhouse, which is used as a selection center for buyers.

“We wanted to preserve the historical nature of the farm and create it as a centerpiece for the neighborhood,” said Jacob Fick, project manager for Tradition Development, which began offering homesites in 2006.

The massive project has been approved for 2,100 homes – a mix of single-family, twin homes and condos. Only 100 have sold so far.

Fick admitted that business has been slower than expected because of the slumping housing market and competition from existing homes and foreclosures. But he’s upbeat about future sales. “There’s been an increase in interest and we’ve sold more homes in 2011 than 2010,” he said. “Right now we have 10 under construction.”

New housing developments with the right mix of amenities are positioned to attract new home buyers as the economy recovers, said Ryan Jones, a director at MetroStudy, which tracks housing trends.

“No one was immune to the downturn in the housing market,” said Jones. “But interest returns quicker for these top-tier well-planned projects.”

Shimon said he and Cuthbert “loved how open it felt and it seemed easy to live in.” The price also fit their budget. Still, they returned to the model six times before they decided to take the leap and buy a spacious corner lot with a view of Spirit Lake from builder Homes by Tradition.

“We knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime to design a house for the next stage in our life,” said Cuthbert. He and Shimon have been partners for 20 years.

Because the model they toured wasn’t the house the men had envisioned, they worked with Tom Rauscher of Rauscher and Associates, a Minneapolis residential design firm, to modify the design. Both graphic designers (they have their own business, Matt Shimon Creative), they came to Rauscher with a three-ring binder full of ideas.

“We liked the look of a classic white country farmhouse,” said Shimon. “When Tom flipped over the sketch of the new facade with the wraparound porch, clapboard siding and third-floor gables, we knew that was it.”

The exterior looks a lot like a traditional farmhouse, but the interior gives a clean-lined contemporary feel.

“The interiors are modern Americana,” said Rauscher. “It’s not cutsey country.”

The men chose an “anti-beige” color palette of black, gray, red and white, because it’s “timeless and classic,” said Shimon.

The den functions as an old-fashioned parlor to greet guests. They dressed the staircases with vintage octagon-patterned rug runners and 4-foot-high white wainscoting “like the lobby of a fancy Chicago hotel,” Shimon said.

As an homage to traditional farmhouse architecture, they mixed in touches of country character, such as vertical wide-planked paneling on the living room walls and distressed painted furniture. The Carrera marble kitchen is outfitted with Shaker-style cabinets and tarnished metal pendant lights modeled on heat lamps from a barn.

“It’s a nice balance between relaxed country and an upscale city feel,” said Cuthbert.

The finished, four-level home covers 4,500 square feet and includes a craft room on the top floor and a white-walled office for the graphic design business in the lower level. “It made financial sense to keep our business in our home,” said Cuthbert.

The two say they hadn’t planned to spend the home’s final cost of nearly $760,000, which includes a landscaped outdoor living room and fire pit. Still, they’re glad they did. “The home isn’t terribly extravagant,” said Shimon. “We use every single inch of it.”

The house was also designed to conserve energy and water, with features such as spray-foam insulation, low-flow faucets and a zoned heating and cooling system.

While their friends often joke about having to pack a lunch to visit them “out in the country,” Cuthbert and Shimon relish the bucolic setting.

“This setting takes you back to a less hectic, simpler time,” said Cuthbert. “We feel calmer here than in the city.”