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Now it's easier to get to the back yard. The new screened porch staircase leads down to the backyard garden.

Amy Gee, Star Tribune

A back-yard view of SALA architect Eric Odor's renovated 1905 Dutch Colonial with a new screened porch floating between the orchid room and metal "granary," or garage.

Troy Thies, Provided photo

Urban farmstead at home in Linden Hills

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD
  • Star Tribune
  • May 2, 2010 - 11:31 AM

Eric Odor and his wife, Cory Barton, have created their own citified version of life on the farm.

Their renovated Dutch Colonial has a screened porch lit by metal barn lights. They cultivate vegetables on a flat rooftop, collect rainwater in a livestock tank and park their car in a metal "granary." They even have "farm cats," Yoshi and Gertie, roaming around.

But their pastoral property is on a city lot in the middle of Minneapolis' Linden Hills neighborhood.

"We wanted it to feel like an urban farmstead," said Odor, an architect in the Minneapolis office of SALA Architects. "And to use frugal and sustainable materials common to farm life."

That frugality started with recycling their home rather than tearing it down.

Better, not bigger

Built in 1905, the 1,200-square-foot structure was a prime candidate for demolition when the couple bought it in 1990. It had a dysfunctional floor plan and only one bathroom, which hadn't been improved for decades. Another problem: The attached garage was sinking. But the home's beautiful maple floors and 10-foot ceilings helped save it from the wrecking ball.

"It was just us and two cats, so we didn't need a bigger house," said Odor. "We just wanted to make it more livable in a small footprint."

Good thing that Odor had plenty of experience in doing just that. He said about half of his work as an architect involves renovating existing homes in the inner city.

"Typically, the homes are adequate size but are just a warren of little rooms," he said. His simple solution for recycling old houses is to "tear out walls and open the floor plan."

So in 1992, he and Barton launched the first phase of their renovation by demolishing walls between the living room, dining room and kitchen, and rebuilding most of the main floor and upstairs bathroom. They also cut another doorway into the kitchen, which previously was a dead end in the inefficient floor plan.

"Instead of three little rooms, now we have one large 20-by-30-foot room with tall ceilings and lots of light," Odor said.

They spent the next few years finishing what they'd started by dressing up the dining room walls with maple wainscoting and installing new kitchen cabinets, countertops and plumbing fixtures.

A back-yard cabin

Two years ago, the couple hired Minneapolis contractor Mike Knutson and embarked on the final remodeling phase: designing and building two rooms that would serve as an in-town cabin and cozy winter retreat.

The farm-themed project, executed by Knutson, evolved from the Dutch Colonial's barnlike shape. "When we tore down the attached garage, we preserved the purity of the barn," said Odor.

Next, they built what Odor calls the granary -- a new metal-clad garage on the south lot line. Odor filled the 10-foot chasm between the garage and the house with a rectangular screened porch that runs the length of the house and faces the front as well as the back-yard gardens.

"When spring comes, suddenly our house gets bigger," said Odor of the spacious room where they often entertain guests. "And we have our cabin without the commute."

They converted the porch's flat roof into a garden where they grow tomatoes, beans and eggplant. Barton waters the crops with rain collected by a rain barrel and a 6-foot livestock tank.

Barton, the farm's gardener, also has a gift for growing orchids, which led to construction of a glassed-wall orchid room built to house her specimens. The room, which doubles as the couple's winter getaway, is a 10-by-10 foot addition off the back of the house. There's a handy potting shed below it.

"The orchid room connects me to the outdoors all year long," said Barton, a graphic artist who works from home. "We never had that before."

The couple's urban farmstead embodies simple, agrarian forms and utilizes recycled, sustainable materials whenever possible.

"We used high [volume] fly ash concrete, galvanized metal and fiberboard siding," said Odor. "But the most sustainable thing we did was recycle a house."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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