When Bruce Coppock and Lucia May were house-hunting in 2000, they had a challenge for their real estate agent.

“We wanted her to find a home designed by Sarah Susanka,” said May. “We had Sarah’s ‘Not So Big House’ books, and we liked her concept of using the outdoors as a feature of the indoors.”

Luckily, within just two weeks, their agent called and asked May to look at the back cover of the first “Not So Big House” book. A photo showed a massive circular window in a living room framing outdoor vistas. “We knew this was the house for us,” said May.

The contemporary Craftsman-style home, built in 1988, was for sale. It sat on secluded wooded acreage in Mendota Heights, yet was only 10 minutes from downtown St. Paul and Coppock’s job as president of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO). “And the open spaces worked well for concerts and entertaining,” said May, who is a musician and teacher.

Over the past 16 years, the couple undertook a series of updates and cosmetic improvements. The most extensive project was a wing addition in 2008 to create a music room for listening and rehearsals and a screened gazebo above it.

Now that Coppock has retired from the SPCO this year, the empty-nesters are moving to the East Coast for music teaching opportunities and to be near family members.

“This house has a Zen-like spirit,” said May. “Part of me envies the new owners.”

Quality over quantity

Architects Susanka and Michaela Mahady had collaborated on the home in 1987 while both were at the firm Mulfinger, Susanka and Mahady Architects, now SALA Architects.

Susanka’s groundbreaking residential architecture book wasn’t published until 1998; the May-Coppock home is one of her early projects, integrating many of the principles she would popularize in her bestselling “Not So Big House” book series.

In this case, the “Not So Big” sensibility is not about size — the two-level home has more than 5,000 square feet, including the 2008 addition. It’s about using your budget to create quality spaces and craftsmanship that define a home’s character, said Susanka, who now lives in North Carolina.

“It’s such a reflex to assume bigger is better,” she said. “The key is to determine what spaces you use every day and how to make them beautiful.”

The Mendota Heights home’s interior and exterior aesthetic is an amalgam of Asian, Craftsman and Frank Lloyd Wright architectural influences, said Susanka. Inside, a dramatic vaulted skylight draws light to the center of the home. Mahady designed a floating lattice ceiling “to give it a sense of enclosure and protection,” she said.

Other “Not So Big” characteristics include continuous wood trim, custom built-ins and a variety of ceiling heights that differentiate spaces and create a cozy feeling vs. a big “barnlike space under one roof,” said Susanka.

“The original owners also didn’t want a formal living room that would never be used,” she said. “I learned the lesson that we don’t have to do what’s expected for resale.”

While multiple tall transom windows frame the woodsy outdoor setting, Susanka also focused on the “interior views,” designing eye-pleasing compositions that flow from one space to the next. “Every place you step, there’s a new unfolding view,” she said.

And the story behind what’s become her signature circular window? “I’m a sucker for a circle,” she said. “It speaks to us in a language of beauty and simplicity.”

When Coppock and May decided to build their multifunctional music room, they enlisted Mahady to design an “acoustically perfect, quiet contemplative space,” Mahady said. The retreat has three walls of windows and is ringed with built-in benches for storage and to view the surrounding gardens and pond.

The screened gazebo above the music room started out as a joke, May added. “I said ‘Why don’t we just put a gazebo on top,’ ” she recalled. “Bruce thought it was a great idea.”

At a recent farewell party for the house, guests gathered for a concert, which Mahady attended. “It was wonderful to sit in spaces I had worked on so early in my career … a receptacle for this beautiful music,” she said.

Coppock and May’s final flourish was the redesign of the landscape using thousands of plantings to create fern and native woodland gardens linked by a flagstone walkway. Of course, the couple pulled ideas and inspiration from Susanka’s “Outside the Not So Big House” book.

“The setting is so peaceful,” said May of the 4.5-acre property. “You don’t see or hear anyone — except wild turkeys and birds.”

Other features:

• The home’s 5,648 square feet includes five bedrooms and five bathrooms on two levels.

• The light-filled kitchen was updated with soapstone counters, painted cabinets and stainless-steel appliances.

• The master bathroom was remodeled with a soaking tub and walk-in stone shower.

• The screened gazebo features a pull-down screen to play movies.

• The lower level has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a TV and game room and could serve as an in-law suite.

Leah Drury and Jill Numrich of Lakes Sotheby’s have the listing, MplsNest.com, 612-702-4097 or 612-987-7515.