Larry and Cynthia Holtz are native Minnesotans who have never lived in California. But the modern glass house they built in south Minneapolis could easily be at home in Laurel Canyon, the desert in Palm Springs or on the beach by the Pacific Ocean.

Our cold northern climate can’t rival that of balmy California, but the Holtz residence, designed by Peterssen/Keller Architecture, effortlessly flows between indoor and outdoor living from its perch on a skinny sloped lot in the city.

The flat-roofed boxy dwelling is an amalgam of stark white stucco, dark stained cedar and black metal accents.

After stepping inside, you still feel like you’re outside. That’s because walls of glass — some that slide open — maximize views of the lush green landscape, punctuated by the cool blue swimming pool. And from their second-floor bedroom, Larry and Cynthia can see Lake Calhoun, filtered through the treetops.

The couple’s friends often point out that the home’s design is more West Coast than Twin Cities.

“It does feel like a California house,” said Larry. “But ironically, it’s the most beautiful outside in the winter when it’s snowing.”

Going modern was a dramatic departure for Larry and Cynthia. The couple had always lived in traditional homes, most recently in Edina’s Country Club neighborhood, where they raised their four children.

Once they became empty-nesters, they yearned to live in a walkable Minneapolis neighborhood where they could jog and walk their dog Leo around one of the urban lakes.

After quickly selling their Edina home, they decided that Calhoun was the lake where they would downsize and build new, rather than renovate an older house.

“We liked the openness of Lake Calhoun and all the activity around it,” said Larry.

But a piece of land for sale by Calhoun is a rare occurrence. Larry drove around neighborhoods for two years until he spied a white flag on a lot; by the end of the day, it held a “For Sale” sign.

Narrow lot

The narrow L-shaped lot in Linden Hills was on the south side of Lake Calhoun and backed up to a condominium complex with lots of privacy trees.

A rundown 1970s duplex on the lot would be torn down before a new house went up. The Holtzes closed on the property, and their builder, Nate Wissink of Elevation Homes, referred them to Peterssen/Keller, known for architecture with a clean contemporary aesthetic.

“Modern design has a simplicity to it and a certain calmness that appeals to us,” said Cynthia.

The couple had seen other infill modernist architecture in Linden Hills and knew a thoughtfully designed home could blend with older traditional housing stock. In fact, Jim and Donna Pohlad’s ultramodern abode is just two doors down.

But Ted Martin, the project manager, knew the Holtzes’ lot posed challenges. “How do we design an indoor-outdoor house that works for the odd-shaped site, captures the views — and yet has privacy?” he said.

The solution was an innovative structure composed of three pavilions linked by glass-enclosed sunken gardens.

Pavilions 1 and 2 contain the side-entry garage and the main-floor public living spaces. Pavilion 3 holds the second-story master suite, which is positioned perpendicularly so it projects out toward the lake.

The design team used 3-D computer modeling to determine the best window placement for the best views — including the vista of the downtown Minneapolis skyline from the second story. “You can place yourself inside the model to see the views,” said Martin.

Inside, the wide-open interior is a composition of warm walnut, white-streaked Aster stone on the fireplace and birch-tree leaves from the indoor garden.

Natural materials

“Our style is organic modern,” said architect Lars Peterssen. “We don’t design stark white boxes, but use lots of natural materials — wood, stone and glass.”

That glass spans 30 feet across the north wall facing the living room, kitchen and dining area. Multiple sliding doors open to an ipé wood deck that runs the entire length of the house.

The ebony-stained oak floors against gallery-white walls, which are outlined by black steel window frames, create a visually exciting tableau. “The high-contrast materials are more modern and dramatic,” said Martin.

Cynthia agrees. The unadorned simplicity “shows off the architecture,” she said.

Martin was able to design a kitchen equipped with a massive 12- by 4-foot quartz-topped center island, as well as a separate prep and cleanup area with a dishwasher. “We wanted to keep the mess hidden,” said Cynthia, who often hosts their large extended families for holidays.

Off the kitchen, a built-in walnut banquette defines the dining “room” and also doubles as a half wall holding the TV in the living room.

Interior designer Greg Walsh created a “gallery feeling” throughout the home by “curating a collection that had a wide variety of sculptures, paintings and photography,” he said. For the textural furnishings, he chose tones “that play off the wood, metal on the windows and stone on the fireplace.”

A U-shaped staircase, lit by a skylight, leads to the Holtzes’ bedroom and attached marble-tiled bathroom. “We chose to have the upstairs all master suite,” said Martin. “It’s up high and more dramatic.”

The Holtzes love that drama — especially waking up with the morning sun streaming in.

Below the cantilevered second story is a sheltered outdoor room with a fireplace on the edge of the swimming pool. “It’s an example of using architecture to create new spaces,” said Martin.

The home’s most unexpected California-style feature is two glass-walled interior sunken gardens planted with sculptural birch trees and pachysandra ground cover. “You can see one of the gardens from the front entry,” said Martin. “And they draw light into the north side.”

The Holtz home, which is 4,500 square feet over three levels, is stepped back on the site, presenting a less-imposing facade from the street view. “Most of the square footage is hidden in the back,” said Martin.

That’s where Cynthia and Larry can see fall’s fire-orange treetops through ribbon clerestory windows or the tranquil “water feature” pool beyond 10-foot-tall glass panels.

The house is the only one Larry’s ever owned that he never intends to sell. “This house makes it so easy to feel connected to the outdoors and nature — even in the winter,” he said.