The project: Homeowners Andrea Hammel Wollak and Jon Wollak wanted an office for their home-based architecture and design business. “We started our own firm, and needed space to work from home,” said Hammel Wollak.
The design team: The Wollaks, hw² Design + Architecture, www.hw2design.com, 612-532-4147.
The starting point: To find space for their new office, the Wollaks looked to the screen porch on the front of their farmhouse-style home in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood. The porch, leaky and un-insulated, was not being used much. “Mice and bees lived there, and we used it as a big freezer in winter,” Hammel Wollak said. “When we were outside, we were always in back.”
The challenge: The project posed two major challenges, according to Hammel Wollak. The first was fitting everything they were looking for — a workspace for two people, with two computers and five monitors, plus an entry vestibule with a closet — into a 140-square-foot space. Luckily, living in New York, in a much smaller home, had prepared the Wollaks to think creatively about maximizing space. “We learned to look at volume rather than square footage,” she said.
The second challenge was the inherent one of working on a century-old house. “There were hidden existing conditions and surprises,” she said. “The building was not plumb or square. Construction wasn’t as precise back then.” The foundation was crumbling, and the footings were inadequate, so the project began with digging new pier footings and installing a grade beam. “The weather did not help,” she recalled of the torrential June rains that filled the piers with water and flooded their basement.
Creative reuse: During demolition, much of the existing porch framing was saved to repurpose into custom desktops for the office. “It has character,” she said of the aged wood with nail holes. The couple also incorporated previously purchased windows into the design, positioned for cross-ventilation, to cut down on air-conditioning use.
DIY project: The Wollaks, who have two young children, did most of the work themselves, even though Hammel Wollak was expecting their youngest. “I was roofing while pregnant,” she said. “We did hire out the tile because my belly was too big to do it. We finished the project a month before our son was born.”
First impressions: The Wollaks took advantage of the project to improve the curb appeal of their home. A downsized open front porch has a new landing and stairs, designed with platforms for big planters, to replace their old window boxes, plus room for seating. “It’s a traditional front porch, but it doesn’t look traditional,” she said.
The new stairs are accented with a curving cut-out made of Corten steel. That material is repeated in the base of the steps. “It oxidizes to a nice orange-y color,” Hammel Wollak said. For the finishing touch, they gave their exterior color palette a jolt of energy, painting their formerly pale gray house a bright cobalt blue. “We like bold colors,” she said.
The result: The Wollaks can now draw a clearer distinction between their work life and their home life. “Having a separate room for the office is much nicer than having it in the living room, where you see piles of paper,” she said. “You’d look at it and think, ‘Should I go to work?’ Now we can shut the door.”
Another plus: They now have a place to bring clients. “One downfall of being in the house was we’d have to find a remote location for meetings — or get the house clean.”