Maybe you just can’t stand cooking in that closed-off, cramped kitchen one more day. Or your kids’ shoes, backpacks and baseball gloves are spread all over the house. And light-filled rooms with big windows would really lift your spirits.

Let’s face it — you’re ready to reinvent your older home or build a new one. But where do you start?

Architects are expert problem-solvers who can open up and reconfigure existing spaces for a smooth-flowing floor plan — or design your dream home from the ground up.

On April 17, a panel of local architects, along with homeowners who recently made their dream homes come true, will share insights and take questions at “Your Home, Your Way,” an architecture and design event presented by AIA Minnesota and the Star Tribune. You’ll also get a sneak peek at the Home of the Month projects selected to appear in the Star Tribune over the next year.

We asked architects on the panel to weigh in on ways to keep down remodeling costs, what’s timeless, not trendy, and the future of home design.


Tim Alt
Altus Architecture + Design

Timeless not trendy: Build with materials or products that will stand the test of time, like stone, wood and metal. We try to leverage our knowledge, creativity and sourcing to do unique features that are affordable, like a Corten steel stair screen with a digital-cut pattern.

Less is more: I encourage living in less space — it feels more homey and cozy, and pushes us to explore flexible rooms. Make sure there’s enough natural light, which is like spiritual food, making rooms live and feel better.

Will it look dated in 10 years? Scraped wood floors looked super-cool 10 years ago but now look like a slice of the 1970s. Materials that are trying to look like other materials — like ceramics mimicking stone and wood — it’s just silly.

Worth-it green features: It’s hard to justify the upfront costs of a geothermal system when the cycle of payback is long-term. We use the passive house method of building with higher insulation value and high-quality windows that minimize energy use and offset heating costs. Look for products that reduce water usage and energy-saving LED lighting systems.

Stretch remodeling dollars: Instead of a costly addition, we open up existing spaces by knocking down walls, which makes the home feel bigger. To save money, clients can find their own lighting, cabinetry and hardware, order it on the internet, get free shipping and have it in a week.

The Alt abode: My perfect home would be smaller, open to the outdoors and made of materials we’ve been using for the past 100 years. Then throw in what new technology allows me to be creative.

Bring the outdoors in: Install windows that stretch all the way down to the floor line — it dissolves the barrier between inside and outside. Expanses of glass allow smaller spaces to live larger and invite you to go outside.

What’s new in home design? There’s a large movement of living in compact, flexible spaces — people recognize that the quality of living is not based on quantity of space. Most of our clients want to build 3,000 square feet or less, and many empty nesters want to simplify.

Hub of the home: The kitchen is the dynamic part of the house. It’s no longer outrageous to have an 8-foot-long island with a baking and homework station, pullout storage drawers and stools set at each person’s height.

Hidden challenges: Removing and replacing old infrastructure, such as plumbing and electrical, can be complex. When you start pulling back the layers, there can be hidden costs. Hire a trustworthy contractor for an assessment before opening up walls.

Hire an architect because ... We’re like a translator between the homeowners and the contractor. We are an advocate for you and help weed through the nonsense, focusing on what’s important to you from a financial and design standpoint.


Katherine Hillbrand
SALA Architects

Livable for the long term: Use the best building techniques and durable materials, for example, fiber-cement or corrugated-metal siding. Make sure there’s a designated place for everything by integrating storage areas in the early design phase. Flex spaces can serve intimate, everyday activity or expand for larger social occasions. Consider rooms with dual purposes — a dining room that doubles as a library — and built-in furniture like a Murphy bed that saves floor area, as well as accessible design — curbless showers and wide doorways.

Budget-conscious remodeling tips: Make a wish list, and hone it down to the features that will make the most impact. Use one floor material throughout a level to unify spaces and make them feel more expansive. For a bathroom, refinish or replace the cabinet doors. Use textured materials to add interest and depth. Create a new opening to light up a dark space.

Trends in residential architecture: Small backyard living units for older parents or boomerang kids. Flat, low-pitched roofs drain better and can be turned into a green roof covered with sedum. Textured organic materials contrasted with ultramodern. Corrugated steel or board-formed concrete in place of veneer stone siding. Large fixed glass with venting windows.

New products to consider: Finex fiber-cement panels. Neolith stone can be used on shower floors, walls and countertops and come in different colors and finishes. More homeowners should try the wall-hung toilet because you can stand up while cleaning under it.

One-of-a-kind requests: A client asked for a cascading fire and water feature off the back deck of his vacation home. We had to integrate a helipad in one home’s design for a client with four helicopters.

Let nature in: Put in a single large piece of glass at the end of a hallway to create a long view to the outside. But you don’t need a grand view — it can be an intimate outdoor area.

Multifunctional mudrooms: Today’s “useful room” has a spot for putting on shoes, a laundry area, craft space, a pet-feeding station and a powder/shower room for cleaning up after gardening. There are also more windows for natural light.

Dream retreat: I would design a very spare home in the desert that would be low-key, flat-roofed, hunkered-down and one-level, with large pieces of glass and easy access to the outdoors.

What an architect brings to the table: We use classic ingredients of good design, such as contrast, balance, harmony, proportion and scale. We create a home that is both useful and beautiful. We also individualize a design to reflect the owner’s personality and values.


Mark Larson
Rehkamp Larson Architects

Products more homeowners should know about: Some very old materials are finding their way back into projects — Marmoleum made of linseed oil is a surprisingly beautiful product that wears well. Stainless-steel countertops are durable and can be melded with the kitchen sink so there’s no lip. We’re finding great uses for energy-saving LED lighting in cabinetry strips and in closets.

To get your mission accomplished: First clarify what your goals are, and then surround yourself with a great team — a good builder, an interior designer if needed, and, of course, an architect.

If he designed his own home: It would be just the right size, warm and modern with multifunctional, open spaces, and tailored to its site. Strategically targeted windows would connect the inside and outside. I like the idea of a house that can open itself up in the summer, and close down and become cozy in the winter.

Smart green features: A green house is not too big, well insulated with plenty of daylight. Use deep overhangs to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter. Consider beautiful long-lasting materials, such as a zinc roof that will last 50 years, and can be recycled. Photovoltaic panels and geothermal systems are good for the environment but have a long payback.

Must-have mudroom: Old houses lack transitions — you walk from the garage right into the kitchen. Our climate is so varied; mudrooms improve daily life. We’ve added many, sometimes taking space from the garage.

Small move, big impact: We can make a house feel bigger and flow better just by cutting in a new doorway. It provides physical and visual access and additional daylight.

From fine art to bobbleheads: We’ve done projects to showcase art and collections that are worth more than the house, including wine cellars, a fine art gallery, and displays for cars and bobbleheads.

If kitchen remodeling isn’t in the budget: Upgrade one or two appliances, replace hardware, update light fixtures, put in new countertops and cabinet fronts. It’s amazing what fresh paint color can do.

The future for home design? More one-level living — with a master bedroom on the main level — so people can stay in their homes. More demand for Accessory Dwelling Units and guesthouses for in-laws and Airbnb rentals on the property. Fewer garage stalls, because people will be using Uber.

Hot in the kitchen: To draw in more light, kitchens no longer have upper cabinets. We’re adding pantries right around the corner with a sink, extra dishwasher, microwave, sometimes a wet bar and storage space to keep clutter out of the main kitchen.

Why have an architect in your corner? An architect is your advocate during the entire process, from beginning to end. We help clients balance cost, quantity, quality and complexity, and find that sweet spot within their budget.


Your Home, Your Way
What: Discussion and question-and-answer session about strategies for smart home design and remodeling. You also can sign up for a 30-minute consultation ($25) with a residential design professional.
When: 5:30 p.m. (cocktail hour), 6:30 p.m. program, April 17.
Where: American Swedish Institute, 2600 Park Av. S., Mpls.
Admission: $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Includes light bites, plus a cash bar. Register online at, or in person at AIA Minnesota, 275 Market St., Mpls.