Your home is an investment, maybe your biggest. But it’s so much more than that.

It’s your nest, your nucleus, your command center.

You don’t go home, you return there, again and again. Because it cradles the people you love, contains your possessions, telegraphs your personality, holds your dreams.

On Tuesday, we’ll explore home — and your investment in it — during an evening of residential architecture and design sponsored by AIA Minnesota and the Star Tribune. At the event, leading regional architects will talk about smart investing in your home, and answer your questions.

You’ll also get a sneak peek at the winners of the Home of the Month contest, which features new and remodeled homes to be featured in the Star Tribune over the coming year.

Here, those same architects — Martha Yunker, Tim Dufault, Meghan Kell and Andrew Braman-Wanek — talk about Minnesota’s flirtation with marble, man caves, futuristic building materials and how to think big without spending big.

Rethinking the kitchen

Martha Yunker • Yunker Associates Architecture •

An architect can help you by …

… expanding your horizons. “Most people’s exposure to [home] design is what they see in magazines or the general marketplace. An architect can challenge that a little bit. We bring out the personality of the owner; we tailor your house to meet your needs, your family’s needs.”

Biggest renovation challenge?

The kitchen, especially in an older home. “There are a lot of woefully dated, unfriendly, dark and unusable kitchens out there,” she said. That’s because the function of the room has changed. “Kitchens weren’t where we lived, but where we cooked. Now, that’s where everybody hangs out.”

Kitchens get flexible

Yunker’s been designing a new, more flexible space in kitchen projects — so new, she doesn’t even have a name for it. It’s out of the work-triangle traffic flow, and can be used as a bar, a pantry, a gathering spot or a place for the kids to do their homework. “We’re trying to make spaces that are really flexible, not one-dimensional. Like media rooms. Remember media rooms? We don’t really use them anymore, because we take our media with us.’’

Coming to a kitchen near you

Steam ovens. They’re small, and they combine two functions — convection and steam cooking — in one unit.

Not coming to a kitchen near you

Oversized ovens. “People aren’t automatically going for the gargantuan range with the massive hood,” said Yunker. “They aren’t expecting the range to be the showpiece. Not that many of us really need eight burners.”

Instead, homeowners are taking a more practical approach, installing single, time-efficient ovens and using a toaster oven as a second oven. “A good toaster oven, that is.”

Getting over granite

Minnesota’s decades-long love affair with granite countertops may be cooling. “I hear lots of people saying ‘I’m really tired of granite,’ ” said Yunker. We’re embracing quartz, and even flirting with marble.

Yes, she’s heard the complaints. She knows marble is soft and can stain, but its imperfect beauty can add a timeless element. “We want everything to stay perfect like the day it was made. But most of the things we admire in the world have signs of wear and tear — a patina.”

Tradition without the fuss

“We’re getting away from fussy and moving toward modern and sleek,” said Yunker. But that doesn’t mean “the charming storybook house is going away. Even if we like a traditional look, it’s not fussy. We’re looking at it with a fresh eye.”

Homes of the future

Tim Dufault • Cuningham Group Architecture•

An architect can help you by …

… giving form to your vision. “If you’re looking to design something, you’re looking to solve a problem,” said Dufault. “An architect listens to your words and interprets them in a build.”

Open house

Whether you live a Victorian home, a downtown condo or a second-ring suburban apartment, Dufault said, we’re increasingly asking one thing of our home: “more sense of connection.” Instead of separate rooms with separate functions (living room, dining room, etc.) we want “a functional living space that is connected and multifunctional.”

Does that mean no walls?

Not necessarily. While we crave connection, “there is some desire to get back to a few of the old ways of disconnecting,” he said. “The man cave, the away space, whatever you call it. You want to get away once in a while.”

The super-smart home

Smart thermostats are only the beginning. Dufault expects to see sophisticated technology coming through the front door. “You used to have a switch for your ceiling fan, then a remote. Now it’s on your phone.” You can — or soon will be able to — open your curtains, turn off the A/C, turn on Pandora, start your oven and run your robotic vacuum cleaner, all from your phone.

Turning up the heat

“We don’t do a good job of heating and cooling our homes,” Dufault said. Soon, he predicts, we’ll be able to “deliver the heat to where you need it, when you need it, rather than have it everywhere all the time.” It’s not that far off. “We’ve already done that with lighting.”

Mind-blowing materials

Biomimicry. It sounds like something from a sci-fi novel, but it’s on its way, according to Dufault. Imagine a floor that can sense your weight and know how much support to provide you, like a souped-up memory-foam bed. Or that can sense that you’re too warm and can pull heat away from you. Materials that “react differently to you than they do to me” are in the home of the future.

Less is more

Meghan Kell • Kell Architects •

An architect can help you by …

… getting you what you really want.


“You may come to me and say you think you need a new kitchen. But the problem may be the entrance to the back of the house, which creates congestion in the kitchen.” Good design, said Kell, is “about puzzle-solving.”

Open to change

Updating — and often opening up — kitchens into great rooms is a sure way to “make older homes family-friendly.”

Switch it up

If an addition is out of the question, Kell sometimes suggests swapping the rooms in an older home. Turning the living room into the dining room can make an older home more livable. “Our dining room is not where we spend most of our time,” she said.

Better, not bigger

Even when an addition is called for, Kell doesn’t believe that bigger is better. “We’re trying to build compactly but design spaces well,” she said. “It’s smart design that helps us save money, save outdoor space. It gets more daylight into your home. It means the important things in your life have a space.”

What trends are you seeing?

“I don’t do trends,” said Kell. “I work in a lot of older homes, so I try to find materials that are going to stand the test of time. I also take clues from the rest of the house. We’re designing for longevity, not for the quick fix. We’re about making your home livable for the long run.”

Thinking big

Andrew Braman-Wanek

Ginkgo House Architecture, Madison, Wis.

An architect can help you to …

“Think big, not necessarily spend big.”

How so?

“Most people already have a nice home — a good investment — and they don’t want to mess it up,” said Braman-Wanek. “A bad remodel can really cost a lot when it comes time to sell. An architect can help protect your investment.”


“Don’t do a remodel just for the resale value,” said Braman-Wanek. Instead, ask about your emotional return on investment. “Are you going to feel good coming home every day? How will a new design affect your family?”


Think big. At least at the beginning. “I always start broad. Even if you come to me with a specific request, I’ll ask your permission to look at your problem holistically and present several different solutions. Once all the ideas are on the table, you’ll be able to make the most informed choice.”

Most-remodeled room

“It’s still about the kitchen,” he said. “The connection to the kitchen is always a strong one, whether you’re a chef or you don’t really cook.”

And the walls came down

“Can I take this wall out?” That’s one of the questions Braman-Wanek hears all the time. And the answer, often, is yes. “Opening up [the home] helps facilitate connection with the family.”

Mixing old and new

“There’s really a strong interest in things that have patina — reclaimed wood, reclaimed metal. It’s used as a contrast element, between something crisp and something rough.” And not just in furniture and accessories. Braman-Wanek is designing fireplace mantels from salvaged wood and stair railings from recycled steel.

Speaking of aging

Not all homeowners want to think about it, let alone plan for it, but Braman-Wanek encourages his clients to consider if they want to age in place. “Ask, ‘How would this house serve me when I’m older?’ Any architect should be asking a client what their needs are now, and what they’re likely to be down the road.”

Connie Nelson • 612-673-7087