Karen Kurt ripped her Minneapolis house down to the studs and built a new one -- the same size and style as the old one.

Her revitalized rambler has an off-center front door, corner windows and a red brick chimney, all of which make it a comfortable fit in her neighborhood of 1950s tract homes.

That's exactly what Kurt wanted when she and her boyfriend at the time, Joe Butzer, decided to renovate their 1,350-square-foot house. They hired architect Paul Ormseth to come up with a neighborhood-friendly design, then did the lion's share of the work themselves. Kurt researched and chose building materials and products and Butzer did the plumbing and electrical and installed the fiber-cement siding and the roof.

The whole-house remodel has the "midcentury aesthetic" Kurt wanted, a better floor plan and is "as green as it could be," said Kurt.

It also bucked the trend of replacing modest homes with McMansions and won an award for doing so.

Design professionals and area residents bestowed Kurt's home with a BLEND award last summer.

"This shows how you can adapt a 60-year-old home to fit a contemporary lifestyle and still fit in with the look and scale of the neighborhood," Ormseth said.

Blending in

The award (an acronym for Buildings and Landscapes Enhancing the Neighborhood through Design) is the brainchild of Phil Rader, an architect who lives in southwest Minneapolis and volunteers on the Fulton Neighborhood Association's zoning committee.

In 2007, at the height of the building boom, Rader introduced the awards in Fulton to discourage monster homes and additions that were too large for the small city lots and out of synch with the charm and character of the existing homes. But instead of demonizing developers who were building big, he wanted to recognize thoughtfully designed new homes and renovations.

"A successful project blends in and may go unnoticed," said Rader. "We want to draw attention to them so people recognize that they respect the adjoining properties and others on the block."

The zoning committee crafted design guidelines that addressed compatible size and massing, architectural details such as rooflines, building materials and other areas.

"We don't want to be the aesthetic police," said Rader. "But an addition should respect the existing home and not be objectionable to the neighbors."

At first, the BLEND program covered only Fulton. But the program has expanded its reach to 10 Minneapolis neighborhoods. Architects, designers, homeowners and builders are welcome to submit their projects.

Patrick Mackey of Mackey Malin Architects in Minneapolis designed one of the other four 2010 BLEND award winners, a seamless two-story addition that doesn't tower over the nearby bungalows.

Mackey said he supports the award program's mission.

"Minneapolis and St. Paul have this tremendous wealth of housing stock that is in great shape that doesn't necessarily fit the way people live today," he said. "There's lots of ways they can be modified to keep the charm and texture they give to the city."

Taming the monster

During the past decade, supersized houses have become such a hot-button issue, especially among some longtime residents and city planners, that they've sparked zoning changes.

Minneapolis City Council Member Betsy Hodges drafted an amendment to the city zoning code, which passed in 2007, to address the building of oversize dwellings across Minneapolis. The amendment restricts the size and massing of newly-constructed and remodeled homes, reducing home height from 35 to 30 feet.

After Edina saw a proliferation of new large-scale homes built next to single-story Cape Cods, the city passed a zoning ordinance amendment in 2008 that limits the height of new homes and additions and increases the side-yard setback requirement.

And in St. Paul, a recent zoning code amendment details a list of design standards required to obtain a building permit. "It's to prevent poorly designed, low-quality built homes that don't fit in the neighborhood," said Tom Beach, St. Paul zoning specialist.

When the economy took a tumble, the number of new and remodeled houses fell with it. But Rader and others are pleased that the zoning code changes -- and the BLEND awards -- are in place for when building makes a comeback.

"The silver lining in a bad economy is that it has dramatically slowed down the teardowns and gives people a breather to assess the value of their neighborhood," Mackey said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

For more information about the BLEND awards, and how to submit remodeling, additions, new home or landscape projects completed in the past five years in designated Minneapolis neighborhoods, go to www.blendaward.org.