At our first meeting, one of the homeowner’s children boasted, “The man who invented the pop-up toaster built this house.” It was fitting that a remodeled kitchen with all the latest gadgets was on the program for this home along Minnehaha Creek.
After working with another architect on a more traditional front porch facing the creek, the homeowners asked Locus to reimagine the back in a more modern style. “We want to get rid of the warren of added rooms, niches, and corridors of the various additions, redo the kitchen, and update the upper level back bedroom. Open it all up with glass everywhere to open to our garden.” After looking at a handful of options that had distinct rooms, we all agreed a wide open room would be the most flexible, offering their family of seven (plus two new dogs) plenty of space to spread out. The surgical insertion of a 25-foot 1,500-pound steel beam provided the heft to make it all possible. High performance triple-pane glazing keeps the living space cool in the summer and warm in the winter. After all, you don’t want cold toast in this house.
Locus received an AIA Minneapolis Merit Award in 2003 for this residence.
Net Zero House
Home for a Sculptor
As a result of the jog at the street grid, the building presents a prominent south facade to travelers headed north and park users alike. Instead of “just another infill lot” in a neighborhood to be traversed, the south facade of the home acts as a terminus to the view. With a wrap around porch overhang and featuring a warm natural wood siding, the most public corner of the home is drawing from the historical neighborhood context and updating these classic elements in a modern way. The ground floor of the south facade also prominently features glass with operable windows thereby presenting a welcoming attitude to the park across the street and the city beyond.
While most of the basic footprint of this homes remains, every surface of the building was altered to reflect the sensibilities of the family and indicate a modern but playful architectural form. Featuring a completely new roofline - moving away from a gable roof to a shed style, re-siding the entire home and adding a finishing touch with a pink door all work together to create a distinctive home. As a result of added square footage for a completely new family room in the lower level, kitchen and dining space at the main level, master suite and laundry room above, it was necessary to provide stout structure for the additional space. Rather than attempt to hide the needed structure, we decided to expose a steel beam and column prominently in the living space. Working alongside the clients, we also designed an exposed steel bench structure with barn wood along the living room wall at the south facade working in concert with the structure.
Cross Lake Lodge
A Minnesota cabin two or so decades ago was an intimate lake retreat, primarily used in summer. Today, cabins are year round residences, literal second homes. The owners sought the intimacy implied in “cabin.” But they also required a four-season retreat on Cross Lake, complete with high-tech connections to a Minneapolis office. Reconciling the actual project scale with their desire to maintain intimacy – inside the home as well as having it nestle within the landscape – became a prime Locus challenge.
A traditional Northwoods palette - logs, stones, and cedar shakes - weds the dwelling to the landscape. Beyond this, Locus optimized habitable space by carving into the roof. Second floor rooms are attic spaces, with dormers for light and air. The site’s flood plain precluded depressing the dwelling into the landscape, the home’s visual impact reduced with natural materials and maximization of its volume.
Single Family Loft of Kings PKWY
A home for partner Paul Neseth, and his wife needed to express their intense relationship with nature and music. She wanted a sun room connected to the outdoors, an important feature in Minnesota where you may spend half the year indoors. He wanted an acoustically lively room to host intimate concerts. These two seemingly unrelated interests – a space reaching out to embrace nature and one enclosed space for music – drove the house’s conceptual framework.
The scheme nestles a two-story, “outdoor” wood-framed courtyard-concert hall within smaller concrete block “buildings” of bedrooms, baths and a library. Barbara has likened her “sun room” to the residual spaces between buildings in Italian hill towns. Balconies and recessed niches provide spaces for musicians to perform, with the variegated room perimeter and the mixture of building material densities, especially the concrete, giving the room dynamic acoustics, and cushioning against street noise.
Oriented southward, in winter the “courtyard” basks in sunlight; in summer, shade trees arrest the sun. Opening up the house in this way offers privacy from a relatively busy parkway to the west. And as the “courtyard” faces an empty lot owned by the couple, solar access is plentiful. In the future, they plan to design and build a second house towards the rear of this lot, guaranteeing south exposure for both dwelling as well as a common garden. This residence illustrates Locus’ commitment to reuse, resource and energy efficiency, and the support of local materials and labor. The Douglas fir in the house, including the exposed floor joists and large timbers, were salvaged from the demolition of a local armory. Birch floors were salvaged by the owners from two homes in their neighborhood slated for demolition. Hardwoods from the stairs and railings were purchased from a sustainably managed, small family mill in Wisconsin.
Locus’ commitment to construction innovation is reflected in the home’s concrete, dry-stack construction. Used primarily in the 1950s and 60s, dry-stack was promoted at the time as a do-it-yourself method. The system works as follows - concrete masonry units units are stacked in a running bond pattern, shimmed to plumb, with cores pored every four feet. This low-tech technique enabled a job crew of three carpenters - unskilled as masons - to build the concrete parts of the house.
The concrete provides superior acoustics – both enlivening the space and arresting outdoor noises – and gives the house a solidity not possible in light frame construction. The concrete bonding coat over the masonry, concrete floors in the “courtyard” room and entry, concrete counters in the kitchen and baths, and concrete window sills showcase the material as crafted and durable. Unlike drywall and other more modern building materials, these concrete items will age gracefully.
Content with the neighborhood and their home’s furnishings, this family disliked their Colonial home itself. All their modern furniture, art, carpets and lighting fixtures could not disguise the fact that it did not suit their tastes, or adequately address their needs. Inside, they wanted to create an expanded kitchen, an informal eating area, and a library that better reflected their lifestyle. Outside, they desired new front and rear entries, and transition porches to their beautiful yard.
Rather than completely alter the existing house - wholesale changes to the beloved Colonial would surely alienate neighbors - we decided to use it as a neutral backdrop for a necklace of new spaces. The home’s existing perimeter walls were left largely intact, creating a threshold between the old house and the airy open new pieces that expand into and embrace the landscape. Instead of large open rooms combining old and new, Locus designed doors and other portals to provide views between the two, letting space flow yet remain differentiated. In this way, the new window-filled “summer” spaces - the double height library and patio eating area - distinctly contrast with the more enclosed, protected “winter” spaces - the existing living and dining rooms.
While distinct, details bridge the two realms. Signature sliding doors, special openings, and other crafted elements are found through the house - especially at transitions between the old and new. As part of the commission, this family wanted us to create “artworks” like these to complement their modern art collection. We responded by re-thinking the mundane, typical off-the-shelf items and fixtures common in residential construction, and designed light fixtures, sinks, shelving brackets, sculpture pedestals and lockers, among other key house features. An intense thought process underlay these novel elements, yet their final resolution was often in the field, with sketches executed on the back of a chunk of drywall or plywood.
Like other Locus projects, the addition/renovation incorporates reused, recycled and recyclable products, including resawn Douglas fir, reused steel bar joists, salvaged slate chalkboards and a variety of steel products. Liberal use of concrete, locally produced and durable, and other products low in embodied energy contribute further to the project’s sustainability. The sustainable aspect of these materials is important, but more critical is their detailing. The slate, concrete floor and block - otherwise hard, cold surfaces - are transformed in an engaging blackboard wall, a radiant floor, and block wall and shelving infused with warmth and character.
At the project outset, the owners disparagingly referred to their home as a “Leave it to Beaver” design - banal and pedestrian. In the end, the renovation/addition, with its subtle contrasts of stucco and steel outside and sensory details inside, elevates the house from that realm. They now refer to their renovated house and its modest addition as an extension of the impressive modern art collection it contains.
Beldenville Farmhouse Make-Over
This home stretches the notion of “renovation.” The original farmstead home, more than weary, bore the brunt of multiple owners that exacted a heavy toll. Our client purchased this Wisconsin property mainly for the land, but couldn’t bring himself to tear down the sagging structure. After working with us to design a solar-powered hot tub, a bridge over a spring-fed trout stream, and a souped-up chicken coop, our client asked us to renovate the home with a new two-story “attached barn.” We were asked to respect nostalgic forms, yet employ a sophisticated active solar-hot-water mechanical system and a wind generator.
The finished project synthesizes an abundance of green features, is built to perform for another 100 years, and can pretty much run itself free off the electrical grid and fossil fuel year round. Given distant southern view, reintroduced bluestem in abundance, and migrating sand hill cranes, this farmstead has traveled a great distance back towards self-sufficiency from the desperate ruin in which we found it.
North Oaks Interior Renovation
Locus did a comprehensive analysis of this modern home before tackling the complete renovation of the kitchen and the mudroom, which connect the main building to the garage. Situated on a beautiful lot on the river in St. Paul, this home deserved special attention. The premise was not to distort the original design of the home while updating the kitchen and mudroom space. The homeowners’ contemporary taste was to be reflected in the design, while functionality and “clean lines” were additional design goals that needed to be achieved.
The finished kitchen ties in with the existing living and dining area by extending similar floors into the renovated space as well as by the use of birch veneer plywood to complement existing built-ins. A “light shelf” connects the living space to the new kitchen and mudroom. It spans continuously throughout the three spaces and illuminates the ceiling with uplights, while providing task lighting over the counter. The “wing walls” between the kitchen and the dining area are bisected by a custom built cantilevered sliding door on the dining room side. It recesses behind a sideboard on the dining room side. “Smart cabinetry” in the kitchen provides a great amount of storage to neatly hold dishware, silverware, cookware, spices, and food. Everything has its place in this kitchen.
Linden Hills Renovation & Addition
Locus partner Wynne Yelland and his wife purchased this small single story house in South Minneapolis, across from Minnehaha Creek, a main urban waterway. It became a research site for Locus projects and ideas for seven years, while they slowly gutted, remodeled, enlarged and renovated first house, then garage. The plan was rearranged completely, reorienting rooms away from the front door and street, and towards the creek and southern exposure.
At 1,600 square feet on three levels, the house is a testament to efficiency in plan and material, constructed from tons of (what would have been) refuse, including vertical grain cedar siding (under Transite shingles put on the house in the 1950s), window sashes from several Locus remodels, old slate chalkboards (cut and used as tile), hundreds of board feet of douglas fir salvaged from the original roof deck and a few demolished warehouses, metal cabinetry (original stock, sandblasted to bare steel), and salvaged fir flooring. Gradually selecting from a host of materials stored in the detached garage, we were allowed time to appropriately think, design, detail, fabricate, and incorporate materials into the house while under construction. This valuable time, unavailable on most projects, allowed the project to continue to develop incredibly slowly. In the end, the construction methods used and the craftsmanship became design inspirations, a collage of materials and detail.