Like most Minnesotans, Edward Bergmark and Juleen Christopher have been spending most of their time at home lately. To their good fortune, that home is a peaceful paradise in the woods — a calming and comforting place to hunker down during a pandemic.
“We are so lucky to be here, able to enjoy this,” said Bergmark.
The house, with walls of glass and windows framing serene views, surrounds them with the sights of the changing seasons, from budding trees in spring to brilliant fall color in autumn.
“I wanted a house where I feel like I’m outdoors even when I’m indoors,” Bergmark said.
Christopher enjoys glimpses of wildlife, including deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, turkeys and squirrels. “Nature comes and tips her hat at you,” she said.
The health care power couple built their modern house in the woods after deciding it was time to create a home together where they could age in place.
Bergmark, the founder of Optum, an Eden Prairie-based health care innovations company who now serves on various boards, was ready to leave the house in Mendota Heights where he and his late wife had raised their children.
Christopher, a former academic turned consultant, initially was drawn to moving to downtown Minneapolis’ Mill District. But Bergmark had always wanted to live on a lake and viewed this move as his last opportunity.
The couple had already chosen their architect, Charles Stinson, owner of Charles R. Stinson Architecture + Design, whose sculptural modern homes they had admired.
But finding the right site with lakeshore was a challenge. “We looked at dozens, maybe hundreds of lots,” said Bergmark.
They finally found their future homesite in Deephaven. It was a wooded property at the end of a narrow country road with a leg of land that led to 30 feet of Lake Minnetonka shoreline.
“It had been part of a bigger parcel,” said Stinson. In addition to the woods and the lake, the site offered privacy and good elevation. “It was perfect.”
Stinson and his team collaborated on a design that nestled into the site, with simple repeating forms, strong horizontal lines and planes and walls of glass. The clerestory windows capture treetop views. “The deck is almost like being in a treehouse,” Stinson said.
And even with all that glass, the home feels private and protected, with raised edges on both sides of the deck that provide a sense of enclosure. “It was a way to not have a wall — to have privacy and light,” said Joshua Norman, an industrial designer and CEO of Modern Oasis, a division of Stinson’s firm.
All about nature
Natural light and views are maximized in every room. “It’s simple — the architecture gets out of its own way,” said Stinson. “You can never compete with nature.”
To capture light in the walkout lower level, where both Bergmark and Christopher have offices, the staircase was cantilevered off one wall and encased in glass, creating a floating effect.
“We were able to turn the staircase into a centerpiece,” said Norman. The light-filled space beneath the stairs became an inviting gallery.
Sustainability was another priority. The house was sited to spare as many trees as possible, and the wood from those that were cleared was kiln-dried, milled and returned to the house as flooring.
The glass side of the house faces south, with triple-paned windows that capture sunlight and warmth in winter.
And the landscaping was designed to protect water quality. “We didn’t want a manicured lawn, and we didn’t want to have to use chemical herbicides and pollute the lake,” said Bergmark. Instead, there’s a minimal area of low-mow grass around the house that transitions to Minnesota-native plants.
Inside, the couple opted for a casual open floor plan.
The kitchen, with its long center island, is open to the main living area. Christopher, who grew up in the Virgin Islands with a family so large it required two tables, has fond memories of rolling and kneading bread and preparing food while chatting with family members.
“I wanted to replicate that,” she said. “I didn’t want walls as barriers. I wanted to be in the kitchen and have conversations.”
To soften the visual impact of the large island, three different materials were used, including a countertop surface of backpainted glass that adds lightness and airiness to the large mass.
The perimeter countertops are large-scale porcelain — dark with linear veining. “It had enough movement to be special, elegant but not overwhelming,” said interior designer Kim Streeter, lead designer for Stinson’s firm.
The cabinets are a combination of off-white and deep charcoal brown. “We needed that contrast to give it some dimension and drama,” said Streeter.
There’s no TV in the main living area, by design. “So many homes are built around TV,” Christopher said. “This area is all about sharing and easy flow of relationship-building.” (The couple have a TV in the exercise room, and another in the lower-level media room.)
Christopher had three specific requests for their home: “A proper pantry, a beautiful closet and a gift-wrapping room. I love wrapping presents, and I love giving presents,” she said.
Her gift-wrapping room, which shares space with the laundry room, is equipped with built-in cubbies, pegs and pullout shelves for storing her vast collection of wrapping papers, ribbons and tags.
Her closet is a 10-by-15-foot oasis with a skylight, a built-in bench for sipping wine with a girlfriend, and carefully designed storage, including glass-front display cabinets. “Organization is very important to me, and in one fell swoop, I’m able to see everything,” she said. “I don’t like to spend time finding things, and I don’t like to keep stuff building up. If I don’t use something for a year, I give it away.”
Bergmark, a frequent traveler pre-pandemic, wanted a utilitarian closet designed for ease of packing and unpacking.
The home’s calming vibe is reinforced by its neutral repeating colors and finishes. “We started with the exterior materials,” said Streeter. “That informs the palette as we come inside.” The soft grays of the outdoor stucco carry into the plaster on the fireplace in the main living area. “We tried to have some rhythm and repetition of materials so you get flow moving through the home.”
Christopher expresses her love for bold colors and textures in artwork and accent pieces.
Visitors have commented on how peaceful the home feels, said Bergmark. “It’s like living in a piece of art, a sculpture.”
Christopher appreciates their home’s beauty every day. When she walks up to the house from the lake, she sometimes stops midway and smiles, she said. “I absolutely love this house.”