A challenging, hilly site didn’t deter an Eagan couple from building a house inspired by gathering around the campfire.
Kyle and Katie Pederson scrutinized lots for sale in Burnsville, Apple Valley and the edge of St. Paul. But the couple kept coming back to a piece of land on an Eagan cul-de-sac — eight-tenths of an acre covered with red and white oaks. If the Pedersons could position a house at a high point of its sloping terrain, they would be rewarded with panoramic views of the neighborhood.
“It was hilly and wooded,” said Kyle. “I got Katie excited about it.”
The couple first discovered the property three years ago when they were walking their dog near the 1990s house they lived in a few blocks away. Several lots were earmarked for new construction. “We always talked about conceiving and building a house exactly the way we wanted,” said Kyle. “And it was a great piece of land.”
But before taking the plunge into buying, the Pedersons enlisted Minneapolis architect John Dwyer to determine if it was possible to build on land with a combination of gradual and steep sloping topography. “We also wanted to save as many mature oak trees as we could,” said Kyle.
Dwyer surveyed the lot several times and studied it carefully. “A house had to be woven into the site instead of plopped down,” he said. “It would have been a challenge to position a conventional house on it.”
But the piece of property turned out to be a good fit for Katie and Kyle because they never planned on building an ordinary suburban home. Katie grew up in an old Victorian, but “I always admired the way Frank Lloyd Wright brought warmth to modern design,” she said. The couple hoped to build a house that merged with the land, had an open layout defined by clean lines and right angles and was framed by expanses of glass. The interiors would marry stone, glass, metal and wood.
“Dwell magazine has awesome photos,” said Kyle. “We told John to feel free to incorporate those looks into spaces, materials and lighting.”
Dwyer’s final design also integrated some Frank Lloyd Wright ideals, he said. “There’s an expression of natural materials, such as wood and slate, the way the building relates to the land and a mix of modern and traditional influences,” said Dwyer. “In many ways, it’s an abstraction of the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style.”
Dwyer devised a cross-shaped floor plan driven by the warmth of fire and the lay of the land. Four wings radiate out from a linear fireplace positioned in the center of the home. “It was based on the concept of camping. The first thing you do is make a fire and then pitch a tent,” said Dwyer. “Everything happens around the fire.”
The minimalist fireplace’s flickering flames are surrounded by a limestone slab hearth beneath a floating slate chimney. “It’s reminiscent of the linear fireplace in the W Hotel lobby,” said Dwyer. However, the four-sided gas fireplace construction became a “yearlong saga,” he added, in order to meet building codes and solve venting issues. And a structural engineer had to sign off on the floating chimney, which soars up to the second floor. “It’s really a glorified candle,” said Dwyer. “But the chimney had to be lined with heavy steel.”
It was worth it, because the Pedersons can see and feel the fireplace from multiple areas of the home. “But we have to wait until our 2-year-old is sleeping before we can turn it on,” said Katie.
The couple also can take in grand vistas of the oak-treed yard through horizontal bands of windows in just about every corner of the house — with the exception of the mudroom. “We ordered the biggest window that Marvin had,” said Kyle, referring to a expanse of glass in the living room. They also built an ipe wood deck, supported by massive steel beams, that gives the feeling of floating over the lowest point of the sloped yard.
The couple’s open kitchen connects to an eating area and the living room, and boasts a generous-sized island to provide enough prep area and space for a family of four to be seated around it. “We made it as big as we could and still have space on either side, ” said Kyle. The island and streamlined kitchen cabinets are made of vertical-grained rift-sawn oak. The Pedersons considered concrete for the island top but instead picked Silestone, in a tone that mimics gray concrete. Katie found sleek copper pendant lights by Tom Dixon to illuminate the kitchen table. Sunshine streaming through the kitchen’s walls of glass takes the edge off a cold winter day. “We never suffer from seasonal affective disorder, thanks to the woods and natural light,” said Katie.
Keyboard with a view
For sound control, Dwyer placed the music room in another wing, where Kyle, a musician, can practice on the baby grand in front of floor-to-ceiling windows. “When I’m playing, I have an immediate connection to nature,” he said. “It’s energizing.”
A floating wood staircase, accented with iron spindles, climbs up to the second level, which includes a loft overlooking the fireplace below. “It gives you a sense of volume, and reinforces the fireplace as the anchor of the house,” said Dwyer. The slate-tiled chimney extends all the way to a gas fireplace in the couple’s master bedroom. Grouped ribbon windows create the feeling of being high up in a treehouse, said Kyle. “We can see the sunset from up here,” added Katie. Space-saving, barn-door-style sliding doors open to three more bedrooms and a handy laundry room.
Dwyer’s design includes oak floors and cabinets and plenty of wood built-ins to infuse cocoon-like warmth into the home’s glass-walled spaces. “It feels warm,” said Kyle. “But there’s a coolness about the materials.”