Luke Winskowski and Ann Marie Miller didn’t want to give up the modern vibe of their downtown loft — or the euphoric feeling of viewing the urban landscape from the sky.
So the couple decided to re-create that spirit inside their new family home near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.
“We loved the light and feeling of being up high,” said Winskowski of their ninth-floor loft. “But we wanted some green space.”
Now instead of stepping into an elevator, the couple and their two small children climb a floating staircase to the top level of their home, which boasts vistas of treetops and the nearby Kenilworth Trail.
The free-flowing floor plan was inspired by the couple’s condo with its multifunctional open spaces and a clean, simple aesthetic. “This design gave them the sensibility of a downtown urban loft but in a neighborhood with a yard,” said architect Michael Roehr of RoehrSchmitt Architecture.
Family members spend most of their day on the “penthouse” level of the home, which juxtaposes soaring ceilings with horizontal bands of glass. Off the dining area, there’s even an expansive deck built atop the garage roof for summer barbecues.
“It’s like living in a treehouse,” said Winskowski. “We feel like we’re in the middle of the country.”
Winskowski and Miller knew it was a challenge to transport a 2-year-old via elevator every time they wanted to go outside, but their plan to build a home was far off in the future. Until 2012, that is, when they were cruising around and stumbled upon a tiny 1950s-era home for sale. The odd-shaped hilltop lot was overgrown with bushes and trees, but it was located on a picturesque block between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.
The couple had to make a quick decision to compete with offers from other potential buyers. When they closed the deal, “we looked at each other and realized we had to sell the condo,” said Miller.
“We didn’t know if we wanted to save the home and renovate it,” added Winskowski.
So they brought Roehr and Chris Schmitt on board to help them figure it out. Among many roadblocks to renovating, the couple discovered “the guts would have to be replaced because the wiring wasn’t up to code,” said Winskowski. Plus the modest home had no basement.
It made more sense, cost-wise, to tear down the house and start fresh, said Roehr. The new home design had to fit within the parameters of the designated setbacks, but Roehr could position the structure deeper on the “piece of pizza” shaped lot to give the couple a bigger yard. “We pushed the house to the edge of the hill to get more front yard where the kids can play,” he said.
The couple had requested a “right-sized” house under 3,000 square feet, dedicating more space to gathering areas than bedrooms. “You dream a lot and pretend anything is possible,” said Winskowski. “But then you come back to Earth.”
Roehr and Schmitt’s final design is an unconventional rectangular-shaped three-story “tower,” which includes a walkout lower level tucked into the hillside, as well as an attached two-car garage.
“The house is organized from the top down,” said Roehr. “The living space is at the top of the tower and the bedrooms below that.”
The bold lime-green front door opens to the main level, which holds three bedrooms and two bathrooms. In the entry, a transparent floating staircase — flanked by a wall of warm textural cedar and a wall of sleek modern glass — leads to the upper level.
At the top of the stairs, you step into the open kitchen, dining and living area, beneath a dramatic folded roofline. Light streams in through horizontal bands of windows facing west. The family-friendly kitchen is anchored by floor-to-ceiling cabinets of engineered rosewood veneer, a sustainable product that mimics warm exotic woods, and adds color to the gallery-white walls.
“We wanted a big interactive, social kitchen,” said Winskowski. “It feels like we’re in a cooking show.”
Around the corner, a sleek, linear slate-surround fireplace, which the couple had shipped from Israel, is built into an enclosed box and warms the entire level. Behind the fireplace, a 6-foot-long wall slides open to reveal an office, which can be closed off for a quiet work area. “The space unfolds and folds — instead of entering through doors,” said Roehr.
The adjacent living room was designed with a lower ceiling to give it a cozy, nesting feel. It’s where the family watches TV and reads. “We can live, work and play in the same spot, just like in the condo,” said Miller. “But although it’s open, it still has the feeling of closeness.”
White oak flooring, treated to give it a rich black-brown tone, unifies the entire level. “I was against a dark floor — because it shows everything,” said Miller, referring to daily use by their active family. “But I like the look, and it’s easier to keep up than I thought.”
Roehr agreed that the trade-off is worth it. “If you choose everything to be low-maintenance, you end up with a generic space,” he said. “But if you want to enhance the aesthetic experience, there’s a certain commitment to a bolder design.”
The couple are now expecting their third child, and have turned the walkout lower level into a kids’ playroom and another bedroom, with plans to add a future entertaining area.
But every morning, the family heads upstairs to the top of the “tower” to make breakfast and greet the day.
“We spend so much time up here,” said Miller.
“We can see the treetops in the summer, and Lake of the Isles in the winter,” added Winskowski.