A Wayzata winemaker's home returns to its agricultural roots - with a dash of Asian spice.
What's black and white and mod all over?
A dramatically different house in Wayzata, inspired by an odd-couple marriage of influences: Midwestern farm buildings and Chinese philosophy.
"It's about yin and yang" -- the balance of opposites, said homeowner Billy Smith, describing his new dwelling.
The house also pays homage to its site, the old Foxglove Farm, where a pharmaceutical chemist once grew foxglove flowers and processed them in a shed to make the drug digitalis.
Smith, who lived in the original farmhouse while his house was being built, also dabbles in agriculture. He's a vintner (www.warehousewinery.com) who has planted enough grape vines to cover his entire front yard.
"It's gone full circle -- back to being a farm -- and I wanted to reflect that," he said.
Like a traditional farmhouse, Smith's house incorporates "basic materials, basic geometries," said project architect Bill Costello of Murphy & Co. Design, which is in Buffalo. Minn. "We wanted to give a nod to what it was and it was going to continue being, with the vineyard."
But unlike a traditional farmhouse, it's clad in metal, half black and half white -- "almost literally an interpretation of the yin-yang symbol," Costello said. The yin-yang concept was inspired by the "dualities" of the project and the client himself, according to Costello. "He's a successful businessman and also an artist type. It's an almost agrarian site in the middle of downtown Wayzata."
The project raised some eyebrows during the design stage. "I had to make a presentation [to the city]. It went fine up until the color rendering," Costello recalled. "It came down to the black. Some people had a very negative reaction to that."
The city initially denied Smith's request for a variance, but he persisted. "Thankfully, Billy is passionate about it and he pursued it," Costello said. In the meantime, a neighbor opposed to the project sold his house and moved away. The city finally green-lighted the project, provided Smith remove one row of vines bordering the street.
"The war's over," Smith said. "The black-and-white thing, some people had fear of the colors before they saw it. But a great deal of thought and energy went into making it work."
Carrying out the concept
True to the yin-yang theme, the black and white wings have different architectural personalities. The black wing is more minimalist, with a "simple gabled form and simple rectangular windows," according to Costello.
The exterior siding runs vertically, the windows are all 3-by-6 feet, and their placement is uniform and regimented. The white half is "more dynamic," he said, with dramatic roof overhangs. The siding runs horizontally, the window size varies, and their placement is random and free.
But the two wings share industrial materials and construction. Smith chose galvanized metal for his staircase, beams, wine cellar and even his baseboards. "I've been in the industrial warehouse business all my life," he said. "Everything is exposed," from the concrete walls in the basement to the airplane-hangar-door mechanisms in the garage. "There's no hiding anything."
Every element in the house also is functional, Costello said. "There are no gratuitous things. Everything is structural, not just eye candy. We tried to be authentic about that."
To soften and warm up all that interior metal, Smith and Costello added a lot of wood, including hickory flooring, and some furniture and artwork made from a black walnut tree that once stood on Smith's property. "I took it down because it was killing the grapevines," he said.
Costello, who also co-owns a custom furniture business, Lucero Studio, with artisan Mark Bouchard, collaborated with Smith on designing several pieces for the house, including the dining room table, beds, steel railing and wine cellar. "We're still working on his desk," Costello said.
They also collaborated on the design of the black and white kitchen cabinets and other built-ins, which are coated in glossy auto-body paint.
Smith's role in the design was extensive throughout the project, Costello said. "I like to think every design is collaborative, but in this particular project, every step we made was collaborative."
Smith wouldn't have had it any other way. "He [Costello] is a brilliant architect. But I had a lot of vision of my own."
A prolific sculptor and potter, Smith displays much of his work in his new living room. But he won't be adding to the collection anytime soon. He's pouring all his creative juices into his wines. "Wine is my art form now."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784