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Empty nest, open arms

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 17, 2007 - 11:27 AM

This riverside residence was built for empty-nesters, but it was designed with family members and friends in mind.

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Is it possible to make an 8,000-square-foot home feel like a gracious country house?

That was architect Todd Hansen's challenge when an empty-nester couple from Cannon Falls, Minn., asked him to design a house with room for children, grandchildren and indoor and outdoor entertaining.

The project, the Star Tribune/AIA Home of the Month by the Minneapolis architecture firm Albertsson Hansen, is indeed a comfortable and gracious retreat.

Hansen started with a 3½-acre site, a narrow strip of land above the bluff and below an old rail line, that presented both challenges and opportunities.

"It shaped our linear floor plan of interconnected rooms that parallel the [Cannon] river," he said.

The windows in almost every first- and second-floor room -- some have windows on three sides -- pull natural light deep into the home, and views range from the rushing river through the trees to a stone patio and pool to a woodsy landscape.

"When you're moving through the house, you feel like you're walking along the river," said project designer Mark Tambornino.

The first building visible when entering the wooded site looks like a barn, but it's a garage and pool house that shields the house and lap pool for privacy.

A walkway leads to a second garage attached to the home.

The buildings are stained jet black, a Scandinavian touch that lets them recede into the landscape and provides contrast to the home's sunlit interiors.

Hansen's plan includes a main-floor owner's suite, ample space to entertain (a dining room big enough for a table that seats 12), several upstairs bedrooms, a mother-in-law apartment and scores of display cubbies to show off the homeowners' vintage home goods and antiques.

And most important, it showcases the river and the woods.

As for architectural style, "the clients didn't want it to be formal, grand or pretentious," Hansen said.

His team took an eclectic approach and integrated elements of a contemporary East Coast country dwelling, as well as northern European and classic American farmhouse influences.

The casual, welcoming center foyer divides two wings -- one for common living spaces such as the family room, and the other for an ultra-private master suite that includes a screen porch and study.

An out-of-view staircase leads to the second floor mother-in-law apartment that's accessible by elevator. There's also an exercise room and bedrooms and bathrooms for relatives and friends who sometimes stay the weekend.

To create warmth and character, rooms are framed with an abundance of hand-crafted millwork. The walls are covered in painted wood paneling that Hansen calls "not formal, but casual and rural in character."Despite the home's size, it's far from an imposing structure and people feel incredibly comfortable and at ease," Hansen said.

The homeowners grew up in the Cannon Falls area, which is about 60 minutes south of the Twin Cities, and raised their sons along the Little Cannon River.

Although they've traveled far and wide, the new riverside retreat is the place to firmly plant their roots and entertain their family and friends, including a recent picnic party for 115 guests.

"The home wasn't done for show," said Hansen. "Just for the owners' delight in living there."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619 lunderwood@startribune.com

  • about this series

  • The Home of the Month program is a partnership between the Star Tribune and the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It features architect-designed houses selected by a jury of experts. The houses represent a range of prices, styles and locations.
  • THIS NEW HOUSE Architect: Todd Hansen with project designer Mark Tambornino. Albertsson Hansen Architecture, Minneapolis. Contractor: River City Builders and Millworks, Nerstrand, Minn. Time frame: 15 months to build. Square footage: Approximately 8,000. Cost per square foot: Approximately $325. HOME OF THE MONTH Home of the Month appears the first Saturday of every month. The program is a partnership between the Star Tribune and the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The 12 architect-designed houses were selected by a jury of experts. DESIGN DETAILS • The country home and barn are a blend of familiar rural and northern European influences. • A linear floor plan, dictated by site limitations, is composed of a long row of interconnected rooms that parallel the river. • One wing is for common functions (living, cooking and eating) and the other for private spaces (bedrooms, den). Drawbacks? It's a jaunt to the kitchen from the master suite. • Transoms above old-fashioned double-hung windows provide ultimate views. • Placement of the barn/garage screens the view of the home and pool for privacy. • The main living spaces are on the river side. The garage, mudroom and laundry are on the entry side. • Flooring is farmhouse-style reclaimed southern yellow pine in common spaces and contemporary ebony-stained maple in private spaces. • Rustic white-washed ceiling beams in master bedroom and family room help large spaces feel more intimate. • There's a storage area for everything from the broom to the owner's prized antique linens. • Rolling library ladder glides from the kitchen to the pantry and has a storage spot.

    LYNN UNDERWOOD

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