After leaving their bungalow home in St. Paul's Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, David and Barbara Eijadi became downtown condo dwellers.
"We were traveling a lot and getting ready to retire," said David.
But the arrival of their first grandchild prompted them to rethink the condo lifestyle.
"Once they start running around and making noise, it's not easy" to have small children in a condo, said Barbara. She wanted a yard and easy access to it, as opposed to walking down a corridor and waiting for an elevator.
A St. Paul native, Barbara was intent on staying there. The couple looked at a few existing houses. David, who was intrigued by the idea of building a new home, also looked at lots.
But finding a buildable lot in the walkable urban core was a challenge.
"We did not want to do a teardown," said David. "Affordable housing is important to us." Nor did they want to remove a modest home to make way for a new one.
There were a few available sites in St. Paul but "they were not interesting," said David. "We wanted long views."
He finally found a lot facing the Mississippi River with views of the boulevard, trees and the bluffs beyond, but it was on the Minneapolis side of the river. He asked Barbara to take a look.
"I said, 'I'm not leaving St. Paul,' " said Barbara.
But David persisted. "I said, 'Barb, I took you at your word, but you can see St. Paul.' "
The view proved irresistible. "It was beautiful," said Barbara.
The lot had never been built on; it was previously used as a side yard by the owner of an adjacent home.
David is a retired architect, but he wanted to collaborate with another architect because most of his work involved commercial buildings and energy consulting.
"My experience in residential is pretty limited," he said. "It's a very different market segment."
He also knew that he and Barbara would need professional help navigating the process of building a home.
"When designing with a spouse, it's good to have a third party — somebody who really knows what's needed and whose design judgment you [trust]," he said. "There are 1,000 little decisions."
The Eijadis chose to work with Peterssen/Keller Architecture. David had known principal Lars Peterssen, who died last month, and viewed his firm as "the virtuoso of residential architecture."
Maximizing the view
The first challenge was making the most of the wedge-shaped lot, which was 60 feet wide in front and narrower in back. There was no alley, and the backyard was connected to neighboring backyards.
"The challenge was how do we maximize the footprint, with the garage, entry and living room across the front," said architect Andrew Edwins. The solution was to angle one wall so that the house tapers like the site.
The Eijadis wanted a casual open floor plan that also maximized their view of the wooded river boulevard.
At 2,400 square feet, the house is not large, noted Edwins. "We used every opportunity to make the house open up as much as possible. It feels like a bigger space than it is."
The living room on the front of the house has sliding glass doors that open up to the boulevard. "We refer to it as the front porch. Conceptually, it is a front porch," said David.
More sliding glass doors open to the backyard. "You can see through the house," said David.
And there are multiple outdoor spaces, including a terrace on the main level and a roof deck on the upper level. "You can go outside from just about every room," said David. With their tree-filled backyard adjoining the neighboring yards, "It's like living in a park."
Inside the home are open spaces for gathering, but the couple also wanted private spaces for their individual pursuits — photography, drawing and sculpture for David, book arts and sewing for Barbara.
"We both wanted our own studio space," said David. "Even in a pre-COVID world, we each wanted a place to retreat to. We knew we'd be home a lot."
His studio is upstairs in the southeast corner of the house. He crosses a catwalk to enter it, which adds "a little fun going across that space," said Edwins.
Barbara's office is on the main level in the northwest corner, conveniently close to the kitchen and laundry room and with a view of the backyard. The room could be converted into a master bedroom if the couple ever needs to transition to one-level living. "I wanted someplace we could stay and age in place," said Barbara.
Flow and motion were important to David, as an architect. He wanted a home that created "a sequence of experiences," which is important when you're spending a lot of time at home. "Moving around should be interesting, never boring," he said.
Natural ventilation and daylight also were important to the Eijadis, said Edwins, so there was careful attention to window placement, including which ones can be opened to take advantage of breezes.
"The house is full of light. I've really enjoyed that," said Barbara. "I missed having daylight from different angles, at different times of day" when they were living in their condo.
The home's exterior makes a strong modern impression, clad in large sheets of concrete fiberboard, with aluminum between the panels to accentuate the joints. The flat roof is fitted with solar panels, making the house "nearly net zero," said David.
Inside, the home's materials are "warm and comfortable but also understated and simple," said Edwins, including white oak flooring with a natural finish, a soapstone fireplace surround and soapstone countertops, and a wall of walnut cabinetry.
The wood and other materials warm up the simple modern aesthetic, said David.
Pre-pandemic, the couple enjoyed entertaining in their new home, including a party for the launch of a book Barbara had worked on.
"It functions really well," she said of their home. "It never feels crowded. There's always room for open circulation."
During the pandemic the house has been a refuge for the couple, their two grown children and three young grandsons.
"They can come in our home and play," said Barbara. "They enjoy running through the place. It's a big, long run from front to back. And we don't have to make a production out of going outside."
Their eldest grandson, 4, paid the house the ultimate compliment. The first time he visited, he said, "This is so cool!" according to David, who finds it pretty cool himself.
"Living here is a dynamic experience. You're always walking toward a view or a piece of art. It's totally worth it to live in a place that suits the way you view life."