1. Sustainable Garden in South Minneapolis
Photographs by Brandon Stengel, Farmkid Studios
Scenic back yard
On a corner lot near Diamond Lake, homeowners wanted to create an urban oasis that would serve as an extension of their living space, while showcasing ecological water management practices. “The overall challenge and goal of this project was to contain water on site and to prevent runoff into storm drains and the nearby Diamond Lake,” says Steve Modrow of biota Landscape Design + Build. “By implementing different water management practices, we were able to complete our goal as well as set up an educational opportunity for the neighborhood.”
A majority of the existing turf was removed in the front and back yards in favor of plantings designed to manage water and attract pollinators and birds. A vegetable garden by the garage and an apple tree yield fresh produce. In the backyard gathering area, local materials including trap boulders, limestone steps, and Minnetonka-based Anchor pavers define the space, with a mural painted by the client’s daughter serving as the focal point.
The water feature uses captured rainwater from the garage rooftop, which saves approximately 300 gallons of water from runoff each year. Overflow from the waterfall flows to the nearby rain garden, where it infiltrates and recharges the groundwater. The rain gardens also allow rainwater to collect and naturally soak into the ground before it flows into the lake, instead of first flowing over sidewalks, streets, and driveways, where it can pick up pollutants. On average, Modrow says, rain gardens allow 30 percent more water to soak into the ground than a patch of lawn of the same size.
The project’s focus on sustainability earned it two Minnehaha Creek Watershed grants, and the homeowners were happy to share how they made it happen. Signs posted by the rain gardens, permeable driveway, and water feature allow neighbors, friends, and family to understand the green landscape practices that are incorporated. “Hopefully, it is considered an altruistic urban landscape for the masses and will inspire change in the surrounding neighborhoods,” Modrow says.
2. Bachelor Pad in Downtown Minneapolis
Photograph by Steve Henke Studio
Bachelor Pad in Downtown Minneapolis
Downtown’s iconic skyscrapers make an exceptional backdrop throughout the space.
When three out-of-town businessmen wanted a place to call home during their frequent trips to Minneapolis, they all went in on a condo in the 1930-built Ivy Tower, and then called RLH Studio to turn it into a luxurious, masculine respite from their busy careers in the heart of the city.
RLH Studio owner and principal designer Renée LeJeune Hallberg was charged with designing a space that would cater to all three men’s very different style requests. “One prefers old-world traditional, one prefers modern city glam, and one prefers Northwoods lodge,” she says. “We worked hard to address everyone’s needs and wants while maintaining a cohesive style.”
Hallberg divided the open space into a wine bar, living, dining, and lounge areas. Navy velvet upholstered sofas anchor the living room, with Eames Barcelona chairs flanking the slate porcelain-covered fireplace. The lounge area features two Eames-style chaise lounge chairs atop a zebra-striped cowhide dyed indigo blue. In another corner, a custom glass desk provides functional workspace without hindering the stunning downtown Minneapolis backdrop. Hallberg is particularly fond of the custom walk-in wine cooler, which is made of slate porcelain tile and a glass mosaic accent, and stores more than 100 bottles of wine. The nearby bar-height tasting table was crafted from recycled glass, and is backlit for an evening glow.
Asked for her best open-concept design advice, Hallberg says there is no one right answer: “My advice will vary according to the way the client lives. I do, however, like to define spaces through seating arrangements that provide unique functions while being able to bridge with other areas of the space. I always consider balance, flow, and a way to anchor each space with a hanging light fixture, a rug, or a feature wall.”
3. Sun-Drenched Great Room in St. Paul
Photographs by Corey Gaffer
Sun-Drenched Great Room in St. Paul
In fair weather, a wall of windows opens onto the porch beyond.
Near the Mighty Mississippi, a Mediterranean-style home’s great room invites the outdoors in regardless of the season. Following architecture by Charlie & Co. Design and building and interior design by Detail Homes, designer Martha O’Hara of Martha O’Hara Interiors and her team staged monochromatic furnishings and soft, airy textures to let the home’s Spanish architecture shine.
The team also opted for low-profile furniture to maintain free-flowing sightlines from the kitchen and dining room into the great room and through to the backyard. Natural light pours through the home’s dramatic windows and phantom screen doors. When the homeowners venture outdoors, multiple open-air spaces greet them, including a loggia and a great room extension featuring a pair of teak wood loungers.
The collective focus on light and flow marries the interior and exterior spaces in such a way that Carrie Ellington of Martha O’Hara Interiors considers it her favorite element of the space.
“You feel like you’re outside even when you’re not,” she says. “The space truly maximizes Minnesota’s warmest months and, even in the winter, the home allows an abundance of natural light to stream through so you get to capture the outdoor beauty year-round.”
For homeowners looking to furnish an outdoor space, Chris Van Klei of Detail Homes, Inc., who curated the home’s outdoor furniture, emphasizes the importance of personal details. “It’s very easy to go purchase a beautiful outdoor furniture set, but without accessories, it can feel flat. This could be as simple as a plant or a few outdoor pillows,” he says, adding that the outdoor living trend is becoming well-established even in our northern climate, making outdoor accessories affordable and easy to find.
4. Coastal Kitchen and Dining Room in Minneapolis
Photographs by Troy Thies
Coastal Kitchen and Dining Room in Minneapolis
Pale grays and blues achieve a calming coastal aesthetic.
At the intersection of Cedar Lake, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles, a new Minneapolis home is modeled after cottages along the Cape Cod coast. Builders at Ridgecreek Custom Homes and architect Dan Demeules from Murphy & Co. Design took cues from the charm and scale of its established surrounding neighborhood to render the new build a seamless addition to the community. Because it was built on a small, narrow lot, designer Sarah Randolph of Sarah Randolph Interior Design says the unassuming exterior belies the home’s sweeping interiors. “I called it the Harry Potter house,” Randolph says. “It is so charming and small from the front but when you walk inside, it opens up into this wonderful expansive, comfortable, and spacious home.”
Of primary focus were the kitchen and dining areas, where Randolph paired soothing hues with modern forms and natural, textured materials to achieve a light and bright atmosphere for cooking, dining, and entertaining friends and family.
“The kitchen has a ton of windows and the color palette takes on a different feel depending on the time of day and the lighting,” she says. “I used pale grays and blues to create the calming coastal vibe we were looking for, coupled with natural wood tones to create warmth.”
In the dining room, French blue patterned cut velvet host chairs and French blue and gray pin dot side chairs pull up to a bleached ash table, where two aged brass bird cages with drum shades hang overhead. An inset buffet along one wall features a wood backsplash and marble countertop, with a wine fridge and blue painted wood cabinets. The result feels akin to an old, but newly remodeled, beach house—just right for a home on three urban lakes. “It is bright and inviting and the custom wood china cabinet creates a feeling of warmth,” Randolph says.
5. True Farmhouse Kitchen in Watertown
Photographs by Mark Ehlen, Ehlen Creative
True Farmhouse Kitchen in Watertown
Wood legs on the island echo the home’s original timber beams, discovered during the renovation.
For a city couple wanting to begin anew in the country, a 15-acre farm on a gravel road in Watertown, where they could grow grapes and hops, was the perfect solution. The property’s 1952 farmhouse was charming in its smaller size and picturesque location, but was in need of significant updating. The homeowners are no strangers to exceptional design—Frank Lloyd Wright’s chief draftsman, John Howe, had remodeled their previous home in Deephaven. For their dream farmhouse kitchen, they sought a cozier, energy-efficient space that would also make style and storage top priorities.
A forest green French stove, the first kitchen element the homeowners chose, takes center stage, while a forest green Dutch door and island stools painted to match tie the space together with a charming country sensibility. The sink was relocated to the corner, where two windows offer expansive views of the pastures beyond. Ample storage space is found in a custom walk-in pantry and in white custom cabinetry throughout, including glass-front cabinets and a large recessed built-in opposite the refrigerator, which was also paneled and painted to coordinate.
When demolition of the existing kitchen revealed large timber beams in its cased opening, designer Kristen Peck of Knight Construction Design Inc. and her team worked to make them a focal point. “People today in new construction and in remodels pay a lot of money to have details like this added, so when I saw they were already there I knew it was a great discovery! This kitchen would not have the same feel if we would have just finished the opening with white casing like it was before.” The dramatic restoration is echoed in the wood legs of the quartz island.
6. Waterside Retreat in Lake Elmo
Photograph by Spacecrafting
Waterside Retreat in Lake Elmo
Phantom screens, infrared heaters, and a louvered roof keep the pergola cozy.
A family home on a Lake Elmo pond now has a stunning and expansive outdoor space to entertain and relax, in almost any weather. The homeowners had outgrown their old screened porch, where they would often try to fit their large extended family. Their original request had been to build an addition onto the back of the home, but the code requirement of maintaining a 100-foot flood plain between the home and the water’s edge would not allow it. As a solution, the team at Mom’s Design Build opted to remodel the porch and connect it to an outdoor pergola, which would flow into a paved seating area beyond, creating an addition that wouldn’t count as an addition.
The team dropped the ceiling down in the existing porch and added white-painted bead board to brighten the space. “The lighter colors really made the new space feel open and airy, yet so cozy,” says Heather Grossmann, senior designer at Mom’s Design Build, who led the project’s design. A step down from the porch is the new pergola, with beams stained to match the home’s dark stained exterior. A louvered roof lets the sun in and keeps the rain out. When it rains, the pergola also has its own set of gutters, which are hidden within its columns and run through underground drain tile. Phantom screens descend from cavities in the pergola beams to keep the bugs out during Minnesota summers. And when it’s cold, silent infrared heaters flush-mounted in the porch ceiling and pergola area focus on warming the people in the space. A remote-controlled fire pit just beyond the pergola offers a lovely focal point and additional heat when the homeowners want to relax under the stars.
The project’s innovative design has received two NARI Contractor of the Year awards for residential exteriors, and is nominated for a third. But for Grossmann, the biggest reward is seeing how the design has improved the lives of those who call it home. “The homeowners are amazing people and we are so thankful for them opening up their house to us,” she says. “It is so fun to come back and hear the stories of how people’s lives have changed based on their new space. It’s exciting to be able to provide these homeowners with a place where they can celebrate events like birthdays and anniversaries, or sit back and watch the birds.”
7. Historic Kitchen on Lake Minnetonka
Photographs by Susan Gilmore
Historic Kitchen on Lake Minnetonka
In 1905, Chicago architect Hugh Garden of the Prairie School of Architecture journeyed to Lake Minnetonka’s Carson Bay in Deephaven. His task: to design a stunning summer home for a member of the Cargill family. Fast-forward more than a century, and the home was in need of practical updates like insulation (to winterize what was once a home only frequented in the summer), repairs to the sagging roof eaves, and more. It was also in need of a kitchen renovation that would allow the homeowner to host her regular “Sunday Supper”—a standing invitation to close friends to make dinner together each week. On the list of musts: accommodation of large parties and multiple cooks, ample seating for onlookers, and intimate enough for the homeowner’s own daily use. She also longed to see the lake from the kitchen.
“As designed, the house had given lake views to the living room, dining room, and wrap-around porches. The kitchen was not considered a living or gathering space in 1905, and so it was situated on the opposite side of the house,” explains Brad Belka, senior design associate at David Heide Design Studio and lead designer on the project.
To create a sightline to the lake, the design team expanded the kitchen toward the north, and removed a powder room, closet, and laundry room. The dining area, which was previously part of the porch, has been incorporated into the interior and opens to the new porch via a wall-to-wall folding door system. Arts and Crafts and Prairie School sensibilities were preserved in the new design, including in the kitchen’s showpiece, an octogonal figured red birch serving table with an inlaid cork top. The table is accompanied by a refurbished antique light fixture above. David Heide Design Studio designed and custom-made all the other light fixtures to fit the home’s original style.
For Belka, the most gratifying part of the project is seeing how well it functions. Multiple work triangles cater to multiple cooks when necessary, and the octogonal table provides a spot for onlookers to chat with those who are preparing the meal. “The kitchen is large, but works perfectly for a single cook,” he says. “Multiple people can also work in this kitchen without getting in each other’s way, and the designated serving and bar areas help keep guests and traffic out of work areas.”
For other homeowners tackling a historic home renovation, Belka recommends studying up on the condition of the house, and selecting all fixtures and finishes before work begins to better define the project’s budget and schedule. He also advises padding the budget for unforeseen challenges: “Unexpected things can happen while working on an older house. Preparedness is your key to success.”
8. Empty Nester Retreat in Plymouth
Photographs by Susan Gilmore
Empty Nester Retreat in Plymouth
Heated floors are a welcome surprise stepping down into the new lower level.
After their children flew the coop, a Plymouth couple turned to MA Peterson in collaboration with Lynn Peterson Design to transform their basement from stud walls and concrete floors into a perfect lower-level haven for parents at play. The same team had previously designed and remodeled the homeowners’ main floor. This time, they were charged with creating a warm and inviting space for the homeowners and their friends and family to gather.
Some of the project’s biggest challenges were structural. To maximize ceiling height, the team demolished the existing dropped-beam ceiling, rerouted the HVAC system, and installed flush structural beams, channeling a European vibe. The entire concrete slab was removed for the installation of an interior drain tile system. Heated vinyl floors were added for an unexpected dose of coziness as you step into the space.
Leading with a custom-forged iron railing, dark stained beams, and gray-blue millwork, modern European flair flows throughout multiple gathering areas, from family room to reading nook to the Quartzite bar, which features a natural stone backsplash and full-height wine fridge. An arched walkway beyond the bar area leads to the wine cellar. Nearby, a custom rustic alder wood cabinet displays the homeowners’ bar glass collection.
“Every aspect is custom, from the cabinets, furniture, and wall art, right to the wine cellar,” says Brandon Merrill, who served as the project’s lead CAD designer. “This was our second project with this client and what makes it great to work with them is their level of trust in us. They trusted our architecture, craftsmanship, and interior design capabilities to make it all custom and be top-notch, and they were thrilled with the outcome, which is the best reward for us as the designer and builder.