Scott Newland, a registered architect since 1985, finally got to design and build his own home in Minneapolis. After Scott and his wife, JoAnn, completed the Scandinavian modern dwelling in 2017, he named it “Sisunkoto.” “Sisu” is a Finnish term for inner strength or tenacity and “koto” is an ancient Finnish word for home, he explained.
“It required a certain amount of inner strength to balance dreams with reality — but I think we struck the right balance,” said Scott, of Newland Architecture.
His final accomplishment was having Sisunkoto certified both LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver and GreenStar Gold.
Ever since Scott and JoAnn were married in 1991, he had longed to have the freedom to create his own home. But time was marching on. “I’d talk about how another year had gone by and I hadn’t done it,” he said.
Then a combination of family changes — both their children went off to college, low interest rates and a favorable market to sell their 1930s Tudor — motivated the couple to take the plunge.
In 2015, they hunted for an elusive empty lot in southwest Minneapolis. “I wanted to find out if I could build a green house on a small city lot,” he said.
They finally lucked upon a narrow, but deep city lot with a tiny 1920s cottage in the Fulton neighborhood, a few blocks from Minnehaha Creek.
Initially, they hoped to re-use and add on to the one-story structure. But like many old homes from that era, the house had radon and asbestos issues.
Newland Architecture submitted a redesign plan to the city that included building a second floor, which would have resulted in an 80 to 90 percent new home. Another problem was that the existing structure was too close to the property line.
“In retrospect, it was definitely better to bulldoze this home and start over,” said Scott.
But the couple salvaged and recycled many elements before the demolition, including the kitchen cabinets, now hanging in their laundry room. They donated or sold the tile floor, plumbing and light fixtures and other materials. Their new screened porch is clad in cedar boards removed from an old picket fence.
“It was time and energy well spent so it wouldn’t end up in the landfill,” said Scott.
His own style
The Newlands applied their green-minded goals to the new house, which Scott described as “Newlandian architecture style.”
“It’s a mix of the familiar — a gable and traditional lap siding — with a modern low flat roof,” he said.
The exterior is navy blue and white-painted low-maintenance fiber-cement siding. The steeply pitched gabled roof faces south, and one day will hold photovoltaic solar panels.
The home intentionally isn’t a full two stories, so as not to “overwhelm the property and better relate to the mixed scale of the neighboring homes,” he said.
The house and garage roofs are both clad in nontraditional steel. “It’s a lot more costly — but lasts a half-century,” said Scott.
The rectangular-shaped three-level floor plan was dictated by the narrow 40-by-127-foot city lot. Scott had always wanted a screened porch so he designed one at the front entry to greet guests and for relaxing on warm summer days.
The simple, unpretentious interior aesthetic reflects both Scott and JoAnn’s Scandinavian heritages.
“We like a modern, fresh attitude with lots of natural light and lighter blond woods,” said JoAnn.
High clerestory windows and bands of ribbon windows draw in shafts of light, while providing privacy from neighbors.
An eye-catching organic sculpture of white birch trunks creates a screen between a home office and the living room. The trunks, gathered from the grounds of a family lake place in Wisconsin, evoke the Scandinavian theme, said JoAnn.
The couple also integrated features to make it easier to age in place, such as a main-floor bedroom and bathroom with a curbless shower and wider doorways. JoAnn was able to test the benefits of Scott’s design when she had an accident and was on crutches last fall. “It really helped to have one-level living,” she said.
Chunky glulam Douglas fir beams spread warmth while defining cooking, dining and living zones in the open layout, connected by yellow birch floors.
In the living room, golden-toned wood panels mimic a canopy over the sitting area to “bring down the ceiling height and emphasize the heart of the house,” said Scott.
Both avid readers, the couple made sure there were handy built-in bookshelves on the back wall, accented with a chalkboard panel for notes.
Unobstructed picture windows in the kitchen and dining area are the biggest they could find for the spaces. They added a smaller operable window on the left side for airflow.
‘Light and airy’
“It feels so light and airy and completely opposite of our landlocked dark wood kitchen in the old house,” said JoAnn.
Mod glass-cylinder pendants with LED bulbs above the island and dining table help keep sightlines open.
Geometric horizontal slats shape a staircase leading to the second floor, as well as down to the garden-level basement.
The vaulted owners’ suite has windows facing rooftop planter boxes. A spa-style bathroom boasts heated tile floors and towel bar. “In our old Tudor, we draped a towel on the radiator to make it toasty and warm — so I really wanted that in our new house,” said JoAnn, who also insisted on an old-fashioned clothes chute down to the laundry room.
“JoAnn was the client,” said Scott. “She had to be a satisfied owner.”
Thanks to the flat roof over the front entry, the Newlands were able to plant an eco-friendly sedum garden, which contributes oxygen, reduces rainwater runoff and adds an extra level of insulation, said Scott. “It’s not big, but a nice expanse of green.”
The couple can view the green-roof garden from an adjacent rooftop deck, enhanced with tall ornamental grasses waving in the wind. “I can’t wait to barbecue on the roof deck,” said their son, Eric. “It’s the highest spot on the house.”
The Newlands are strong believers in environmentally responsible design, and after their home was completed, Scott went through the time-consuming process of getting both LEED and GreenStar certification, so that he would be better able to help future clients. “I wanted to learn by doing it and making decisions on a real project,” he said.
The home’s green features include triple-pane windows, steel roofing, fiber-cement siding, a planted green roof, all LED lighting and an envelope three times as airtight as code requirements.
The Newlands found the “sisu” to persist during many challenges, including keeping within a budget even as costs escalated, dealing with delayed construction, and having to move several times. “I also found myself questioning if I would be able to meet my own design expectations,” said Scott.
What was his favorite part of designing his own home?
“The joy of putting together the construction documents,” he said. “It was so rewarding — and was the tool that made the dream come true.”
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
What: Architect Scott Newland’s own Minneapolis home, designed for aging in place, sustainability and maximizing sunlight.
Size: 2,739 square feet, including three bedrooms and bathrooms. Front flex room could be used as a bedroom.
Design team: Architect Scott Newland, Newland Architecture, 612-926-2424, newlandarchitecture.com.
Contractor: Morrissey Builders (now closed).
Structural engineer: Align Structural, alignstructural.com.
Cabinetmaker: Partners Woodcraft, partnerswoodcraft.com.
Interior design: JoAnn and Nina Newland.