You don’t need the house number to find Jan Kleinman and Fadil Santosa’s new house in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Their home’s simple, boxy modern shape is a sharp contrast to the gabled bungalows and Tudors on its block. The house has a flat roof and protruding sunshades that look like eyebrows over the windows. And there’s a sunken terrace in the front of the house, not the back.
The Kleinman/Santosa home certainly doesn’t look like anything else in the neighborhood. But architect Gar Hargens and the homeowners made sure it didn’t express itself as a futuristic cube among the prevalent early 1900s architecture.
Hargens positioned the home — and attached rear garage — at the back of the narrow city lot to minimize massing of the two-story structure. And the flat roof ensures it doesn’t visually compete, but instead blends with the 1 ½-story bungalows on the block, said Hargens. “The home doesn’t shout at you, because it’s pulled back from the street.”
The new Hargens-designed home changed the architectural makeup of its Seward block — and also dramatically changed the lives of Kleinman and Santosa.
In 2010, their two sons were in college, and the couple were ready to sell their older Cape Cod in St. Louis Park. Like many of today’s baby boomers, they planned to leave the ’burbs for the city.
“We wanted a smaller house and a neighborhood where we could walk and bike everywhere,” said Kleinman. “It was a new adventure for us.”
Kleinman and Santosa had dreamed about building a custom home, but discovered that desirable empty city lots were rare. Finally, they found the perfect property in the Seward neighborhood, close to the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway bike trail. Santosa could bike to work at the University of Minnesota, and they could shop at nearby Seward Co-op. The property included a small, rundown house — a contractor confirmed it wasn’t salvageable.
Once committed to building on the lot, “our plan was to be small, intentional and environmentally friendly,” said Kleinman. After extensive research, they chose Hargens, president of Close Associates in Minneapolis, for his clean, contemporary style; they also were impressed with his expansion of the Seward Co-op a year earlier. His firm was founded by Winston and Elizabeth Close, who were pioneers in modernist architecture.
“Jan and Fadil wanted something a little cutting-edge, with exposed concrete and glass walls,” said Hargens. “And with a clean and simple approach.”
Hargens’ design for their 1,600-square-foot home features innovative multi-levels, efficient use of space and sustainable characteristics.
It’s essentially an open floor plan, but the different levels define rooms, raise ceilings and create a variety of vistas throughout the compact footprint. The dark-stained wood floors connect spaces and provide a contrast to the monochromatic white and gray walls and industrial steel accents.
The home’s entrance is on the side and opens to a foyer and hallway. Three steps lead up to the kitchen and dining area, which is elevated in the center of the home. This is Santosa’s perch, where he prepares meals at the center-island cooktop and can easily survey the front door, dining area and living room when they entertain. “Fadil can see if someone needs a refill,” said Kleinman.
From the kitchen, it’s down three steps into the spacious living room. Santosa chose a natural concrete floor and left the concrete foundation block at the base exposed for an edgier look. The living room’s French doors open to a sunken paved terrace in the front yard, surrounded by rain-garden plants. It’s become the couple’s version of a front porch.
“We lived in the suburbs for a long time, and we hardly met people because everyone lived in their back yard,” said Santosa. “It’s nice to sit out there and chat with people walking by.”
To reach the home’s second floor, the couple climb a glass-paneled staircase, which delivers the “wow” factor. The builder suggested using glass panels with an etched design for the railing. So Santosa wrote a computer program to generate random lines, and picked a pattern he liked to decorate the glass. “It’s eye candy,” said Santosa, a math professor at the University of Minnesota. “And there’s a little bit of math that reflects me.”
Upstairs, Hargens designed flex spaces to maximize square footage. One large room doubles as a TV room/office for Santosa and a sewing area/workroom for Kleinman. When their sons come to visit, they slide a pocket door and pull down a Murphy bed, and the space becomes a guest bedroom.
The third room is the couple’s modest-sized bedroom. “We went against the popular trend of giant bedrooms,” said Kleinman. “We decided to use our square footage for where we live on the main floor.”
Hargens kept a close eye on the budget, designing simple forms and using smart materials to keep costs down, he said. He suggested crisp white cultured marble for windowsills and to cap partial walls. “It’s an affordable product, easily wipes clean and links all the spaces together,” he said.
To save money, the couple used an Ikea computer program to design the kitchen cabinet configuration, then assembled the cabinets themselves; the builder installed them. “We rolled up our sleeves and got out the little wrenches,” said Kleinman. “It was fun.”
The biggest splurge was the geothermal heating-and-cooling system. It met the couple’s desire to construct a long-term eco-friendly home, but turned out to be a challenge to install on the small city lot.
The system cost $30,000 upfront, but over time is expected to save them in energy costs. “With the tax break we received, we’ve already gotten our investment back,” said Santosa.
Other energy-saving features include a strategic floor plan with window placement that gives passive solar benefits and sunshades that block summer heat. “The sunshades also add a delicate element that makes the home more residential,” said Hargens.
The empty-nesters consider their move to the city a success. They have a “right-sized” house, are consuming a lot less energy, and the neighbors gave a thumbs up to the home’s sleek, modern facade.
“At the block parties, people tell us that we live in ‘the cool house,’ ” said Kleinman. “And some have said ‘Bless you’ for tearing down the old rundown house.”