Couples Eric and Stephanie Schafer, and Peter and Beth Newland, never planned — or dreamed — of living under one roof.
“We wanted to move in closer to our kids,” said Beth, Stephanie’s mother.
“But we never knew how close we would be,” added Stephanie.
The Schafers were living in a North Loop condo with plans to start a family and buy a house with a yard, yet remain close to Minneapolis.
The Newlands, empty-nesters nearing retirement living in Elk River, no longer needed a big house on 10 acres.
The two couples were both house-hunting in 2015 when the pieces of where — and how — they would live slowly came together.
The Schafers fell in love with a sleek steel-clad modernist home in Roseville, designed a decade earlier by architect Ben Awes of CityDeskStudio. Although their offer to buy was not accepted, the home’s lower-level studio/apartment “planted a seed about a multigenerational living arrangement,” said Eric.
The Schafers introduced the idea of sharing a home with Stephanie’s parents. Peter was totally on board — he grew up in Hong Kong where mothers and fathers often move in with their adult children.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute; let’s think about it,’ ” recalled Beth, not wanting to rush into such a big decision.
Both couples explored the details of the living arrangement, such as the division of space, privacy, specific features and function, as well as making sure the rest of the Newland family was OK with the plan.
The next challenge was finding the ideal house. “There weren’t homes where we could check off all the boxes of each having separate spaces with everything we needed,” said Eric.
They enlisted architect Awes to consult on the feasibility of salvaging and renovating an older midcentury modern house or possibly building new.
Eric finally discovered, on Craigslist, a sloping corner lot in the popular North Tyrol Hills neighborhood of Golden Valley. The wooded ⅓ acre once held a 1950s rambler. But the seller had gutted it, and all that remained was a shell.
It would require an extensive renovation and a new septic system. “We had to tear it down,” said Awes. “It would be too costly to keep it.”
With the opportunity to start fresh, the couples discussed their goals and wish lists with Awes. “This was not ‘Let’s have Mom and Dad live with us,’ ” he said. “They both own it and have a home here.”
The Schafers are fans of modern minimalist architecture for its clean simplicity, free-flowing open spaces and edgy design. And they’re followers of the Marie Kondo philosophy of uncluttered living.
With careers in advertising, “We’re keen on design and how space can affect you,” said Stephanie, who works in client services for Mono. Eric is in digital marketing at Mirum.
The Newlands embrace a more Scandinavian-modern feel, steeped in warm woods and filled with eclectic furnishings.
The dwelling would encompass two “homes” with separate entrances and dedicated outdoor living areas. The efficient open floor plan would focus more on gathering spaces than bedrooms, with expanses of glass to draw in natural light. Then both homes would blend together in an aesthetically pleasing modern design.
The couples wanted to invest in “things that matter, like the kitchen, living and entertaining areas, to encourage family togetherness,” said Eric.
Awes was up for the challenge. “How can a home support all that?” he asked. “That was the excitement of the project.”
Separate, but together
Awes designed a flat-roofed, cube-shaped home composed of glass, wood and steel, with dramatic geometric lines. “Each space has a different focus and direction, and the angles emphasize that,” he said.
The bold blue front door beckons visitors to come inside.
Stephanie, Eric and their toddler, Wolf, live on the main and upper floor. The 2,235 square feet is flexible for a growing family with four bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms.
That side of the house is oriented toward the northeast upper lawn and features its own outdoor deck.
The unobstructed windows, some topped with transoms, draw light deep into the rooms. “All the light in this house is better than we ever imagined,” said Stephanie.
The kitchen, with a 9-foot island topped with white quartz, is the centerpiece of the casual open floor plan. The vibrant ocean blue upper cabinets and backsplash infuse a punch of color, making the setting “feel friendly — not sterile,” said Stephanie. She corrals clutter inside a prepping/storage pantry that can be closed off with a sliding pocket door.
In the adjacent dining area, an angled gas ribbon fireplace, surrounded by steel, can be viewed from the dining, kitchen and living spaces, all connected by light white oak flooring.
A sculptural staircase with a steel-rod wall leads to the second floor, where the Schafers have a getaway room/playroom in one of the bedrooms. “It’s like a basement family room — but just happens to be upstairs,” said Stephanie.
Peter and Beth, meanwhile, created a hygge haven in the walkout lower level, which is 1,030 square feet and oriented toward the lower west lawn. Their “front door” is entered from the backyard patio; they have a second private entry from the attached garage.
“We wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like we’re living in a basement,” said Peter. Awes’ response was a 6-foot-long wall of glass facing the patio and backyard.
As for the Scandinavian-vibe interiors, “we wanted to keep consistency of design but allow for our individual tastes,” said Beth. The heated polished concrete floor is covered with cheery area rugs, and a gas ribbon fireplace, echoing the one in the Schafers’ home, warms the open living spaces.
The Newlands’ kitchen backsplash is a quieter gray-blue than upstairs, but Beth picked playful pendants above the island. And Awes designed wall-sized storage cabinets on both levels, since there is no basement.
Although this was the first multigenerational home designed by Awes, it’s part of a growing housing trend in the United States.
In 2016, a record 64 million Americans — 20 percent of the population — lived in multigenerational households, according to Pew Research Center. That’s up from 17 percent of the population in 2009.
“People are more open to creative solutions to how they live,” said Awes.
Combining their resources made it more affordable for the two families to buy a spacious lot in Golden Valley so close to Minneapolis. “One foundation and one roof can be more economical,” said Awes. “But we did have to do two kitchens.”
For day-to-day harmonious living, “house rules” include knocking before entering each others’ homes. “We text a lot, asking if we can come up or down,” said Beth.
The couples team up to host holiday gatherings. This year, Stephanie and Eric served brunch; Peter and Beth hosted dinner. “It’s really nice to have two kitchens,” said Stephanie.
Child care is close by for the Schafers, and it’s easy to split a big package of Costco chicken. “There’s extra hands to shovel and blow snow,” said Eric.
Yes, it took conversations about boundaries and respecting each others’ space and time. But it’s working out because “we can be frank and honest — and share the same values,” said Eric.
“Living here has not cramped our style at all,” said Peter. “We have freedom.”
Judging from the laughter and smiles, living under one roof was a smart solution for both the Schafers and the Newlands.
“I wish I could do this with all our children,” said Beth.
Two homes in one
What: Modern multifunctional home in Golden Valley designed for three generations of one family.
Size: The Schafer home on the upper and main levels is 2,235 square feet. The Newland home in the lower level is 1,030 square feet.
Design team: Architects Ben Awes and Chris Bach, with Nate Dodge and Max Ouellette-Howitz, CityDeskStudio, St. Paul, citydeskstudio.com.