The Nancekivell home in North Oaks has gotten more press than your average suburban house.

It’s been featured on the cover of Fine Homebuilding magazine, and showcased in a coffee-table book about residential architecture. It also appeared on the cover of the Star Tribune’s Homes section in 2003 as a “Home of the Month” winner, a new awards program launched that year in partnership with the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

“That’s one of my favorite houses,” said architect Michaela Mahady of SALA, who designed the house for the Nancekivells and included it in her 2010 book, “Welcoming Homes: Creating a House that Says Hello.”

“The long entry path really draws you into the home,” Mahady said. There’s a sloping walkway that guides visitors toward a pergola-covered courtyard and a glassy, slate-floored front entry. “It’s a very engaging experience. You’re almost entering the home even when you’re outside. You feel you know the house already.”

Curved lines on the exterior, including an eyebrow window above the pergola, add to the welcoming effect, she added. “It gives that gable a certain cachet, an inviting character.”


‘Into the topography’

Mahady’s design for the home was inspired by its site, a heavily wooded hill. “It’s a walkout site, essentially,” she said. But after walking the hillside to understand its contours and views, she was inspired to design something less traditional, more whimsical than a typical walkout house wedged into the side of a hill.

Instead, she came up with a multilevel house that follows the slope of the hill, designed to replicate what it feels like to walk up and down the hillside.

“It’s the kind of house that’s really integrated into the topography,” said Jim Nancekivell.

And instead of a square box, Mahady’s design included a main house and an angled wing. The Nancekivells, who were raising two teenage boys at the time, liked a design that provided everyone with a bit of privacy, in addition to spaces for togetherness.

“They were open to that. It’s a nice blend,” said Mahady. “When I was designing it, I was excited about breaking up the volume of the house into public and private spaces.”

By extending the house down the hillside, Mahady was able to expose the long side of the house to the south, infusing the main living areas with daylight.

“We had to carve away part of the wooded area to get sunlight, which is important in our climate,” she said.

That’s one of the features the family appreciates most. “It’s very bright and airy,” said Nancekivell.

Rooms with a view

To maximize views of the wooded yard, Mahady added windows in unexpected places. In the dining room, for example, the windows are at three different heights — one high enough to accommodate a piece of art underneath, another at the same level as the dining table, and another at the top of the wall to help illuminate the vaulted ceilings. On another wall, there’s a long, narrow window above a built-in buffet. And in the sons’ rooms, the windows were placed low enough so that they could see outdoors — even when lying in bed.

The architectural style is “contemporary cottage” with some Arts & Crafts elements. Mahady drew inspiration from bungalow style, including the home’s long gabled form and its built-ins, such as the cozy breakfast booth in the maple and cherry kitchen, which features honed granite countertops.

There are distinctive details throughout the home, such as the staircase, which is set against a wood-clad wall crossed with horizontal strips that appear to extend from each of the stair treads. Natural materials include two stone fireplaces, and a stone feature wall in the lower-level office.

The Nancekivells have loved their distinctive home and its North Oaks location, with proximity to trails and lakes for sailing, kayaking and canoeing. “It’s great if you’re a nature lover,” Nancekivell said.

But now that their two sons are grown, the four-bedroom house, with its 4,627 finished square feet, is more space than they need. The couple are downsizing to a smaller house that they’re building, also in North Oaks.

The new house was designed by Nancekivell himself; a longtime graphic designer, he segued into home renovation and design several years ago. But even he admits their current home will be a hard act to follow.

“It’s just a joy to live in — very warm, welcoming and comfortable,” said Nancekivell.

The home is for sale by owner. Contact Jim Nancekivell at 612-812-0002 or