From the wood debris left in the wake of a 2008 storm, Dave and Chip Solner rebuilt their Apple Valley home.
When nature served up a back yard full of downed trees, Dave and Chip Solner decided it was the time to build the green house they had dreamed about for years.
The family was unscathed by the 70-mile-an-hour winds that left a jumbled pile of big tree trunks in August 2008 and damaged their small home and part of the one next door.
Instead of just removing more than 50 downed trees, the couple had some of the big maples and black walnuts milled into boards for their new home. The storm also opened a much broader view of Long Lake down the hill behind them, showcased through floor-to-ceiling windows and a wide patio facing the lake.
"This used to be solid woods," said Solner, looking toward the lake through a wall of windows in his new home's airy kitchen and dining area.
It is a spacious, energy-efficient home that they had sketched and dreamed about for more than a decade while raising sons Stone, 12, and Cole, 10.
"It was like , 'If we don't do this now, it won't happen.' The kids were older and it was time to build," said Dave Solner, 45. "I wanted to do something sustainable here."
Solner, accredited as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design professional, is a partner at Cuningham Group Architecture in Minneapolis. The architect said he has designed 35 Rainforest Cafes around the world, including the one at the Mall of America in Bloomington.
The Solners also owned and rented out a house adjacent to their 1,500-square-foot home, which was built in 1958. Both houses, slightly damaged by the storm, were demolished in the fall of 2009. Over the next two years, the couple chose many recycled materials to build a contemporary 6,000-square-foot home on their five-acre, still mostly wooded lot. The box-themed building was featured this year in a Wall Street Journal story.
A geothermal well system and radiant heated floors were installed and have lowered heating and cooling bills a bit below those of their previous, much smaller home, Solner said. He also used recycled concrete fiberboard and stainless steel products for exterior siding, and recycled ceramic and glass tiles for floors and walls in the four bathrooms.
The couple's biggest challenge, however, was nailing down financing in the midst of the recession. Despite a good mortgage history and offering 60 percent downpayment, their bank kept adding restrictions and then canceled the loan before the closing conference, Solner said. They used their savings to start construction while seeking a mortgage lender in 2010.
The financing issues and resulting expensive construction delays drew them together, Chip Solner said. "We teamed up because it was like us against the world."
"We worked with five banks," her husband said, before they obtained a loan from AgStar Financial Services, the lender on the Wisconsin family farm of Chip's parents.
They rented a nearby house for a year until their new place was complete enough to move back in October 2010. The home, at 5491 W. 134th St., was mostly done by spring 2011, but they still plan to add a backyard pool and grasses and wildflowers to the roof.
"It was quite a journey, and it's still going on," Dave Solner said.
After the storm, Solner rounded up friends, family, log splitters and chainsaws to cut up the felled trees. He hired a guy with a portable milling saw to cut some of the logs into boards for the new home. He has enough stacked, split oak and dead trees in the remaining woods to supply their two fireplaces for life.
Solner used his milled maple to build a staircase to his sons' second-floor bedrooms. In his wood shop, he sanded and clear-finished thick cross sections of big maple trunks for tabletops in the master bedroom and porch. He waterproofed maple slabs for bathroom countertops and the dining room table. He used the walnut to create a fireplace mantle for his covered porch.
The home, which cost about $900,000, also features two skylight-lit indoor gardens. One boasts fiddle fig and banana plants whose boughs reach the 11-foot ceiling above an adjacent picture window. The plants get sunshine through the window and two skylights.
Chip Solner said she has several favorite spots, including the spacious, high-ceilinged kitchen, graced with an Egyptian metal chandelier. It hangs over a 5-by-10-foot island of recycled quartz with bar stools on the dining room side.
"I really enjoy the kitchen area," she said, "and being outside at the fireplace with the neighbors."
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283