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Milled for retirees

  • Article by: Jim Buchta
  • Star Tribune
  • January 12, 2007 - 2:37 PM

This sky-high Mississippi River perch is a study in universal design, a set of principles aimed at adapting to the changing abilities of the retirees who live here.

Designed by Tom Meyer of Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle Architecture in Minneapolis, this two-bedroom loft occupies half the ninth floor of the 1914 Washburn Crosby mill building, part of what was once the largest flour mill in the world and until 1965 the home of the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens.

Meyer described the project as a happy marriage between an austere, open floor plan and warm, inviting finishes.

"The floor plan and the detailing and organization is modern, but the materials are traditional," he said. "It's trying to be in both worlds."

The couple, passionate advocates of urban living who had most recently lived in a multilevel renovated factory building, wanted to honor the building's history. So, during the yearlong planning process they pored over historic mill photographs for inspiration and ideas.

Structural elements include durable materials you'd expect in an industrial building of the era: metal, glass, concrete and wood.

But they also wanted the space to feel like home and have a sense of warmth and comfort you wouldn't expect in a building that once fueled the city's industrial heritage, so they chose finishes that would show their age, not hide it, MS&R project designer Jodi Gillespie said.

The floors are made of strips of soft, lacquered Douglas fir that will record the dents and nicks of visitors. The kitchen countertops are basic butcher block that will maintain the cut marks of every meal preparation. And leather floors in a study will quickly reveal a path to the owner's favorite books.

"A lot of people are drawn to the kind of warmth and comfort of traditional materials and styling, but when you put that into a contemporary setting it seldom rings true; it seems like a style rather than the real thing,"Meyer said. "We were very interested in this being the real thing, not just a style."

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