AIA Home of the Month: New England colonial in Warroad

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2013 - 5:01 PM

A new family home brings the spirit of colonial Vermont to northern Minnesota.

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Paul Marvin, who grew up in Warroad, Minn., moved back to his hometown in 2006 to work at his family’s business, Marvin Windows and Doors.

“It was important to raise our family in Warroad, where my roots were,” he said. “And I wanted my kids to live in a small-town environment.”

But his wife, Maureen, raised in Vermont, would be awfully far from home.

So when the couple built a new house for their growing family, they intentionally gave it the feel and look of a century-old New England colonial to evoke her roots.

“It’s a copycat center-hall colonial with white woodwork, wood floors, brick fireplace, not overdesigned,” said Maureen. “It’s clearly new but has those features that make it feel permanent and settled.”

The couple found an idyllic piece of land on which to re-create that piece of Vermont in northern Minnesota. It’s a triangular-shaped lot, nearly 1 acre, in the heart of town, on the banks of the Warroad River.

The Marvins interviewed several Minnesota architects who typically use Marvin windows for their projects, and finally chose Todd Hansen of Albertsson Hansen Architecture. “We liked their portfolio. It had a New England colonial feel with Scandinavian hints,” said Paul.

Hansen proved the ideal choice. His wife, Christine Albertsson, is from Vermont and they often spent vacations there, driving around the countryside and admiring rural houses. “I was excited to have the opportunity to design a more overtly colonial-inspired home,” said Hansen.

The Marvins needed a house big enough to comfortably accommodate their family of seven. “But we didn’t want to make a statement,” Paul said. “We’re pretty ordinary folk.”

To make the large house appear smaller, Hansen employed a design strategy that has been in use for 200 years in New England country homes. “A traditional rural house starts with a symmetrical box facade with added pieces to the rear for utility space, then a barn,” he said. He showed the Marvins examples of this type of design from the book “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England” by Thomas Hubka.

Hansen’s contemporary version breaks up the volume of the Marvin house into three parts: the main house, which is a two-story center-hall colonial, and a one-story link that connects to the red barn/garage. The link houses a mudroom, powder room and stairs leading to a guest suite and workout room above the garage. “The Marvin house, link and barn are colonial-inspired, but simplified with a modern sensibility,” said Hansen.

‘Unique for Warroad’

From the street, the butter yellow-colored home stands proud as a traditional center-hall colonial. But in the rear, the spaces are designed for the way families live today. “I love the colonial character,” said Paul. “It’s unique for Warroad, but it fits in.”

Inside, Maureen feels right at home, thanks to the old-fashioned center staircase, a formal dining room boasting a walk-in butler’s pantry, and understated traditional white millwork. The generous-sized family room in the back feels like a glassed four-season porch.

The side of the home and the link facing the river feature a multitude of oversized, double-hung windows, made by Marvin, of course. “Paul grew up in Warroad, so he knew the winters were long and dark,” said Maureen. “We wanted lots of large windows to soak up the sun on the south side.”

The family-centered kitchen, with its 10-foot-long Cambria-covered island and stools to seat the five Marvin children, is the most modern-feeling space. It’s even big enough for one of their boys, Emmett, to practice riding his unicycle. Along one wall is a built-in computer and homework desk with a pull-out recycling center. To add old-house character, Hansen chose crackled white subway tile all the way up to the ceiling, and full inset colonial-style cabinets. A counter-height bricked wood-burning fireplace is for baking pizza and grilling. “It’s like the fireplace in an old colonial kitchen that would be the source of cooking,” said Hansen.

The Marvins can open the in-swing casement windows over the kitchen sink for uninterrupted views and breezes from the Warroad River. “Paul wanted to try them,” said Hansen. “It takes careful placement of the faucet so the doors don’t hit.”

The mudroom, housed in the link, is the envy of neighborhood moms, said Maureen. The box-shaped room has a swinging door to corral boots, coats and hockey equipment and outdoor grime all in one area. “All seven of us have our own little nook,” she said.

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  • Todd Hansen, a&h Architecture, AIA home of the month, March 2013 New...

  • THIS NEW HOUSE

    What: A northern Minnesota couple built a home inspired by rural Vermont’s colonial houses.

    Design team: Architect Todd Hansen, Albertsson Hansen Architecture, Minneapolis, www.aharchitecture.com, 612-823-0233 and Ryan Fish, formerly of Albertsson Hansen.

    Builder: Will Heppner, HUG Inc., Warroad, Minn.

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