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The not-so-wee House

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2009 - 5:55 PM

Architect Geoffrey Warner hopes to make factory-built housing more popular by focusing on sustainability and smart design with his modular weeHouses. That concept has evolved from a one-room cabin to this three-level house in south Minneapolis.

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With its large expanses of glass and open spaces, the flat-roofed contemporary house in south Minneapolis appealed to Kaywin Feldman and Jim Lutz because it reminded them of the house they were selling in Memphis.

This one was unique, though, because it was built in a factory and trucked to the site in four pieces, then assembled atop a concrete foundation with the help of a crane.

The house is one of architect Geoffrey Warner "weeHouses," an architectural concept for factory-built houses that he hopes will be more energy- and resource-efficient, and 20 percent less expensive than a custom site-built house.

"WeeHouses are our way to deliver good design that is approachable and accessible," said Warner, founder of Alchemy Architects in St. Paul.

The weeHouse concept started with a one-room cabin built in 2003 near Wisconsin's Lake Pepin. The Feldman/ Lutz house is far bigger -- Werner calls it a "not-so-weeHouse" because it includes four shoebox-like modules and encompasses almost 3,000 square feet.

In 2007, real estate agent Brian Oeschger hired Alchemy to design and build the house for a narrow city lot as a spec house because he admired the concept.

Feldman and Lutz bought the house, which replaced a much smaller house on the lot, this past spring after they relocated for new jobs here. Feldman is director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Lutz is a professor at the University of Minnesota's School of Architecture.

As arts and design professionals, they were attracted to the home's distinct architectural presence in the Linden Hills neighborhood.

"It's cutting-edge, but it's respectful of the architecture that's here," Lutz said.

Indeed, the Lutz/Feldman house is unique in the neighborhood of otherwise traditional houses. It was built of four box-like modules including two that are 14 feet wide and two that are 16 feet wide; the box lengths vary between 36 and 42 feet. The modules are stacked in an offset manner to create outdoor spaces where there's overlap.

The maximum width of each box is 16 feet, to enable its transport to the site. In this case, the four boxes were set atop foundation walls and a tuck-under garage.

Inside, the main floor is a study in efficiency, without a single foot of wasted space. One big open room includes the kitchen, family and dining rooms. The lower level has some finished space, including a library.

The second floor contains an office, guest bedroom and master suite that offers treetop views from a set of narrow windows that wrap around the room. There's a terrace off the master bedroom, as well.

The main floor has clean, modern lines -- no baseboards or moldings -- and a sleek gas fireplace in the living room with flames that emerge from a display of clear glass objects rather than artificial logs. Windows on all four sides of the house provide outdoor views from just about anywhere and lots of natural light.

"I really like the variation in window styles," Feldman said. Glass openings range from horizontal "ribbon-style" windows to floor-to-ceiling sliding doors.

The couple's contemporary art collection, bamboo floors and accent walls and cherry cabinets in the kitchen add color, texture and warmth.

"It's a pleasure to live here," Lutz said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

  • about this series

  • 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 jury of experts. The houses represent a range of prices, styles and locations.
  • related content

  • What is a weeHouse?

    Friday January 2, 2009

    • A line of prefabricated contemporary homes designed by architect Geoffrey Warner of Alchemy Architects.

  • A weeHouse

  • Galley-style kitchen

  • The Home of the Month appears the first Saturday of every month. The program is a partnership between the Star Tribune and the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects. A jury of experts selects the 12 architect-designed houses, which represent a range of price levels, styles and locations. Urban Weehouse, Location: Minneapolis Size: Main and second floor: 2,200 sq. feet. Finished basement: 700 sq. feet. There are two bedrooms and a third is being used as an office upstairs. There's space for a bedroom in the basement. Design team: Geoffrey Warner, architect, Scott Ervin, project manager, Alchemy Architects, St. Paul. www.weehouse.com. Cost: $350,000 including modular pieces, design, site construction and finish work (the developer, Brian Oeschger, saved money by acting as his own general contractor). The house sold for about $700,000, according to Hennepin County property tax records.

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