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A divine design

  • Article by: JIM BUCHTA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 17, 2007 - 11:29 AM

This month's Home of the Month selection is a study in simple forms and creative design solutions.

Karen Hanson and Kathleen Fjelstul grew up in small towns and met in a seminary, so it seems fitting that the house that architects Bryan Anderson and Eric Odor designed for them near Maiden Rock, Wis., has the rural charm of a barn and the soaring rooflines of a church.

And why not? The building site was something of a sacred space itself: a 15-acre patch of woods clinging to a hillside overlooking the Warrentown Bluffs and that extra-wide spot in the Mississippi River, Lake Pepin. Beyond, even on dull, hazy days, the horizon line is cut by a scalloped bluff that dominates Frontenac State Park on the river's Minnesota side.

For the house itself, Hanson and Fjelstul wanted space for overnight guests, a kitchen to entertain them in and accessibility for a relative who uses a wheelchair.

"We wanted a place that reflected who we are together," Hanson said, "a beautiful, comfortable home that fit us and how we live, a very welcoming place for family and friends that would fit its surroundings."

Anderson was influenced by barns like those on nearby farms; Odor took cues from a photo of a Japanese folk house.

Hanson was fond of simple Scandinavian farmhouses like her childhood home, while Fjelstul wanted to incorporate the warmth of lake cabins so prevalent around her hometown in Minnesota's North Woods.

The result is a blend of all of those ideas.

"The most exciting thing for me in the design process was getting their 'program' to fit into this very simple space," said Anderson, who said he tried to focus on designing as many features as possible with dual functions, aesthetically and functionally. That includes a built-in cabinet that provides storage but also acts as a serving counter for larger gatherings.

Budget was a big issue, too. Hanson said her goal was to build the house for less than $300,000 without giving up on detailing and sensible floor plans that she had admired in houses featured in architect Sarah Susanka's book "The Not So Big House."We had in mind that our house would have many of the characteristics we loved about those houses: the attention to detail, the beautiful design elements, attention to how we actually live, the human scale," she said.

Anderson and Odor, both with SALA Architects in Minneapolis -- Susanka's former firm -- helped reduce project costs by designing a pair of straightforward rectangular buildings, one for the house and one for the garage, and by using premanufactured wall panels and floor and ceiling trusses that saved money for more expensive materials used for finishing details.

The house is narrow -- about 24 by 48 feet -- and oriented along an east-to-west axis to maximize cross-ventilation and optimize views. The buildings are situated at the edge of a bluff, with the garage stepped back several feet to give the house unobstructed views of the surrounding countryside.

Positioning it this way allows the house to capture as much sunlight as possible, while limiting its exposure to harsh westerly winds.

The house and slightly smaller garage are essentially mirror images of each other, but they're offset and connected by a covered walkway.

The offset allowed Anderson to create a public yard to the southeast and a more private yard with river and lake views to the northwest.

One entrance for all

Hanson, who frequently entertains relatives and friends, said she wanted the house to welcome guests as family members.

"We all enter in the same space," she said, referring to a tiled mud room that's big enough to hold a closet, built-in bookshelves and drawers, and a long bench with shoe and boot storage beneath. "We wanted a unified entrance -- same one for us and for guests," Hanson added.

Inside, the house is organized along a central spine defined by two fir ceiling beams that divide the living spaces.

  • 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.

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