Sara and Jeremy Imhoff are a modern young couple with some old-fashioned sensibilities.

While both were architecture students at the University of Minnesota, they often visited Stillwater and were charmed by the romantic Victorian houses and historic brick buildings near the St. Croix riverfront.

The hamlet had a small-town feel they felt was perfect for raising a family.

"It was always in the back of my mind that maybe we could live in Stillwater someday," said Jeremy.

That "someday" has become reality. After spending 15 years in Seattle, where Sara started her firm, Imprint Architecture + Design, the architect couple moved back to Minnesota to design and build a four-bedroom family home in the quiet North Hill neighborhood, about a mile from downtown Stillwater.

From the outside, the white two-story has a traditional look — all wraparound porch under peaked gables. But inside, it's surprisingly modern, with a floating staircase, long bands of windows and a minimalist vibe.

The couple's new abode is a good neighbor, fitting in with the old houses surrounding it. "It's tall and proud," said Jeremy.

Modern family home

While in Seattle, the Imhoffs spent eight years fixing up and modernizing a 1918 bungalow. But they had outgrown the home, their three children were nearing school age, and they missed family in the Twin Cities. Stillwater was beckoning them again.

In 2014, the couple bought the long and narrow empty lot. They found out it was a former horse pasture next door to their neighbor — an 1890s farmhouse.

At only 60 feet wide, the site "created a challenge in the design," said Sara. They also faced other hurdles.

Stillwater is architecturally eclectic with many 19th-century Tudors, Italianates and Victorians. Since the property was within a historic preservation district in Stillwater, the Imhoffs were required to follow the city's historic preservation guidelines for new construction.

They couldn't just build a modern flat-roofed cube on the property. "We had to figure out how we meld our modern design aesthetic with the guidelines," said Sara.

Their unembellished "Modern American" home is composed of a conventional gable roofline, wood siding and vertical windows within 1,935 square feet. The porch roof is galvanized metal, a nod to turn-of-the century tin roofs.

The couple decided to do a detached tandem garage — placed just 11 feet from the house — in order to allow the western light to filter into the home.

"We made the house simple — and invested in high-end windows and a floating staircase," said Jeremy, an architect for Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young, based in Seattle.

For their deft design, the Imhoffs received the Preservation Award from the Stillwater Heritage Preservation Commission.

As for the interiors, the couple had carte blanche, and they made the most of it. "Modern architecture allows you to express yourself in a unique way," said Jeremy.

The efficient open floor plan boasts outdoor views from the front to the back, while maximizing every square foot.

To make the small footprint live large, windows stretch to the 9-foot-high ceilings to exaggerate proportions and draw in more light. The light whitewashed ash floors are juxtaposed with gallery white walls.

Some spaces do double duty; the entry hallway, for example, doubles as a mudroom. And there are more places to hang out, thanks to various outdoor sitting spots.

The "clean, elegant and not fussy" interiors introduce pops of personality through a simple palette of materials layered with teal, white, brown and black hues.

Sara infused playful elements by painting the bedroom doorways each a different shade of blue, which match each room's Flor carpet tiles.

Bold, black kitchen

The graphic black-and-white multifunctional kitchen is the most light-filled part of the house.

"It was scary to paint the cabinets and island black," said Sara. "Now you see it everywhere. It's a fresh, modern look."

The Silestone-topped island is lined with easy-to-clean metal Blu Dot chairs. "You can just hose them down," she joked.

A Moooi curvy black lattice light hangs above the CB2 teak dining table. "Jeremy picked out a hideous white bar fixture that looked like it belonged in a conference room," said Sara. "It takes a woman's touch to soften a space."

Next to the kitchen, the Imhoffs designed what Jeremy calls "the core" in the center of the floor plan.

The box is wrapped in warm dark-stained cedar shiplap and houses the powder room, laundry room, walk-in pantry and coat closet. "All the things we don't want to see," he said.

To keep costs down and stay within their budget, the Imhoffs integrated economical features such as Ikea cabinets and spare light fixtures.

Jeremy was adamant about building a screen porch facing the backyard, but Sara wanted to cut it from the budget. She's glad she gave in.

"Now I know the joys of a screen porch," she said, adding that it's become their favorite spot in the evening.

And don't forget to budget for landscape, advised Sara. "Your yard is an extension of your home," she said. "Living in a treeless mud pit is not enjoyable."

Their future plans include finishing off the basement with a family room, guest bedroom and bathroom.

Sara and Jeremy were pumped up about finally creating their dream home, but they admitted that being the design pros — and the clients — piled on the stress.

"When the foundation was poured and walls were framed, it made us nervous," said Sara. "But it was exciting because it was our drawings come to life."

And after going through the project, they can better relate to their clients' experiences, they said.

Overall, the couple's collaboration was as smooth as the Silestone island top.

While they both embrace minimalist modern design, Jeremy is more structured and obsessed with details. "I'm a little bit more free," said Sara. "Together it's a good mix."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619