Catherine Pham and Vincent Jusuf moved into their newly built, ultramodern home last fall.

From their living-room window, they can see three cute, green-trimmed stucco cottages squeezed on narrow lots. They were part of "cottage city," designed in the late 1800s to entice home buyers away from the bustling urban core and to quiet Linden Hills, nestled between Lakes Calhoun and Harriet.

"The neighbors said they were some of the first homes built in Linden Hills," said Pham.

With aging housing stock and multitudes of teardowns, Linden Hills has evolved into a stew of architectural styles, from sweet lake cottages to towering multilevel residences.

The couple, working with the Peterssen/Keller architecture firm, designed and built their boxy modernist dwelling with the mission of fitting in with the neighborhood, not overshadowing the residences around it. "Our home is different in architectural style," said Pham, "but not in stature."

Linden Hills, with its small-town feel in the big city, was the couple's first choice for location when they were ready to buy their first home in 2008. But after scrutinizing the properties in their price range, they didn't feel ready to take on the demands of an older home that required lots of work.

Instead, the busy couple opted for a newer townhouse in northeast Minneapolis, close to the University of Minnesota, where Jusuf was attending graduate school. "It had all the conveniences of a [homeowners association] and no yard work," said Pham, a real estate agent.

After five years, the couple wanted to upgrade and update their basic builder townhouse but decided the floor plan and its limited amenities weren't worth the investment. "It wasn't ideal for a family," said Pham. "And we couldn't see ourselves living there for a long time."

So they made one of the biggest decisions of their lives. First they would find a lot in an established urban neighborhood. Then they would start fresh and build a home from the ground up.

New construction would give them what older homes often lack — a mudroom, upstairs laundry room, lots of closets and a luxe owners suite. Pham also could carve out space for a home office.

"Plus we could use new technology and building materials to make the home efficient in space and energy usage," she said.

Jusuf and Pham both are drawn to minimalist modern architecture. "We were always driving around admiring modern houses in the Twin Cities," said Jusuf. So Pham googled "modern architecture" and found the Peterssen/Keller website and project portfolio.

After meeting with the design team, "we had a good rapport right away," she said. "And they knew exactly what we were looking for."

In 2014, Peterssen/Keller gave the couple their blessing to buy a piece of property on a hill in the neighborhood they'd loved back in 2008 — Linden Hills. They would first need to tear down a vacant 1940s rambler with water damage and holes in the siding.

But the site, at 65 feet, was wider than a standard city lot, and would allow their new home to sit back on the hill for privacy, as well as provide breathing room with green space on each side.

Two boxes

To fit the site and maximize the southern light, architect Lars Peterssen, with designer Gabriel Keller, created a composition of two overlapping boxes placed perpendicular on top of each other. The second-floor box has a deep overhang to create the roof of a modern front porch. An attached garage is at the rear of the home.

On the main floor, the L-shaped layout allows the living room's wall-to-wall glass to face both the street and a private courtyard in the backyard, where the couple cultivate herbs in raised beds.

"We always know the weather without having to walk up to a window," said Pham.

A bank of three more windows at the top of the soaring two-story dining room draws in "amazing light throughout the day, as the sun travels across the sky," said Peterssen.

With the wide-open sightlines, the couple wanted the kitchen backsplash to make a dramatic artful statement, and chose swirly Carrara marble tiles flanked on each side by narrow floor-to-ceiling windows. "We've always loved that tile and were dying to use it for a long time," said Peterssen.

However, a steam oven and convection oven are concealed inside the 12-foot-long center island to keep the gray-and-white kitchen fresh and uncluttered.

In the adjacent dining area, mod Moooi Random fiberglass globe pendants add visual energy — and fill in the voluminous space.

The living room's unadorned gas ribbon fireplace, embedded into a Venetian plaster wall, anchors the other end of the main floor. Peterssen/Keller designed a "transparent" staircase to connect the three levels. It's composed of timber treads, steel and glass, allowing unobstructed views and light to flow deep into both levels.

At the top of the stairs is a flexible family room/loft. "We call it the treehouse," said Pham. "Eventually it will be a kids' toy room." Down the hall are three bedrooms, including an owners' suite, and a handy laundry room.

On the outside, the home's striking graphic-look exterior is clad in cedar siding on the second level and metal paneling on the street level. The Pham-Jusuf residence is the fourth modern home to be built on the block. "The scale, proportions and simple materials help it fit in with neighboring homes," said designer Andrew Edwins.

And the 3,866-square-foot structure is so tight and energy-efficient that the couple's heating bill is the same as it was for their 1,700-square-foot townhouse.

Pham and Jusuf feel they have the best of both worlds — a modern, state-of-the-art home in a Norman Rockwell-like neighborhood between two lakes. "I pick a lake depending on how I feel," said Pham, who walks their three dogs. "Each has a different vibe."

Jusuf is more into "lazy stargazing" through the massive windows from the living room sofa. "I can see Venus and Jupiter this time of year," he said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619