A family creates a modern urban retreat

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 7, 2013 - 8:05 AM

An architect, his sister and his son formed a dream team to create a modern urban retreat -- the AIA Home of the Month.

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Karen Stinson remembers her little brother Charles building tiny houses under the dining room table at their home in Red Wing, Minn. He grew up to become the renowned architect Charles Stinson, who has designed projects from Costa Rica to Dubai and owns an architecture firm in Deephaven.

“My dream had always been to have my brother design a house for me,” she said.

Last year, that dream came true when Charles and his son Jason Stinson designed and built a modern flat-roofed home outfitted with solar panels in Minneapolis for Karen and her husband, Lee Larson. It’s custom-fit for the empty nesters to host sprawling family gatherings. “Every Friday night we host a family dinner with about 16 people,” Karen said. “We play mah-jongg on the patio, and the kids swim.”

It was serendipity that gave Karen and Lee the opportunity to finally live in a Stinson-designed house. They were content with their 1940s brick Tudor across from West River Parkway overlooking the Mississippi River. Then in 2005, the lot next door, which was very deep, was for sale. The couple decided to buy it as an investment, Lee said.

The next year they tore down a tiny ramshackle home on the property, planted wildflowers and let the land sit. They were focused on their demanding jobs and weren’t really sure what to do with the land. “We thought maybe one of our kids would want to build on it someday,” Karen said.

In 2007, Karen sold her Minneapolis consulting business, and the retired couple had more time to examine how and where they wanted to live in the future. They were committed to staying in their neighborhood, with its proximity to the river and bike trails they enjoy.

“We had this gorgeous city lot,” Karen said. “And we already had the builder and architect.”

Building on the lot next door gave the couple an opportunity to create a light-filled open floor plan, accessible features and flex spaces to accommodate their visiting children and grandchildren.

And they were completely on board with the trademark Stinson style — a flat roof, sleek horizontal lines and expanses of glass to draw in light all year long.

“Of course, we’d seen many of Charles’ houses,” Lee said. “We loved the clean lines and the way Charles ties the home to the environment.”

But for Charles, these clients were different. “I knew it had to be right, because I was going to be there every Thanksgiving,” he joked.

Over time, the family team “filled up a barge with ideas,” Charles said. His final design elegantly fulfilled Lee and Karen’s requests within an efficient 3,000 square feet.

The box-shaped home has one story for main living spaces and a partial second story for bedrooms over the attached garage.

“A full two-story would have been too massive and out of scale with the neighborhood,” Charles said. “This disguises some of the mass, but has a proportional sequence to it.”

The front and rear facades are punctuated by a stucco S-shaped outline that stands out against the dark cedar siding. “The S is a beautiful, simple form and makes a statement,” Charles said.

‘Connection to nature’

At the front entry, a welcoming courtyard beneath a stucco archway is where Karen and Lee sit and watch the joggers and bikers on the parkway, one of the home’s many features connecting occupants to the outdoors.

Inside, airy, open living spaces, combined with a glass wall, deliver a view of the Mediterranean blue saltwater pool and purple salvia in the back yard. High clerestory windows frame trees, clouds and rainstorms. When they step inside, visitors are surprised by the openness and panoramic pool view, Karen said.

  • related content

  • Project: AIA Minnesota Home of the Month

    Saturday April 4, 2015

    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...

  • The exterior of the Minneapolis home of Lee Larson and Karen Stinson features an S-shaped outline. “The S is a beautiful, simple form and makes a statement,” architect Charles Stinson said.

  • The project was all in the family for homeowner Lee Larson, left; builder Jason Stinson; Jason’s dad, architect Charles Stinson, and Lee’s wife, Karen Stinson, Charles’ sister.


    What: A modern urban oasis designed by an architect for his sister and built by his son, using sustainable design principles.

    Size: 3,000 square feet includes two bedrooms, two offices and three bathrooms.

    Design team: Architect Charles R. Stinson, with Chuck Thiss, Larry Glenn and Douglas Fletcher, Charles R. Stinson Architecture + Design, Deephaven, www.crsarch.com; 952-473-9503.

    Builder: Jason Stinson, Stinson Builders, Minneapolis.

    Interior design: Nicolle Norris, CRS Interiors, Deephaven.

    Structural engineer: Warren Rutledge, WR Design Structural Engineers, Hopkins.

    Landscape architect: Shane Coen of Coen+ Partners, Minneapolis.

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