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.’ ”