When the Farrells outgrew their Linden Hills bungalow, they looked for a simple, sustainable upgrade
In 2009, Shane and Erinn Farrell had a big decision to make about the urban lifestyle they’d cultivated together for the past several years. They loved living in Linden Hills, but their 1909 bungalow needed updating and, with a baby on the way, the space would be cramped. Shane, an independent computer systems consultant, and Erinn, who is the director of operations at the edgy Minneapolis digital agency Space150, knew they could get more square footage in the suburbs, but they really wanted to stay in the neighborhood.
Unsure whether to remodel or tear down, the Farrells hired Eric Odor of SALA Architects to present a few options. “We crunched the numbers,” Shane recalls. “It was a no brainer. Tear down, build new, and gain equity. If we’d remodeled, we would still have a 100-year-old house.”
Odor also presented the advantages of building a sustainable, energy-efficient home in terms of current performance and future sales. “Sure, we wanted to be environmentally responsible,” Shane says. “But we weren’t looking to build a green home, certainly not a LEED home. Eric made us realize that sustainable was the obvious choice. Even on a budget. We didn’t forfeit anything.”
Since March 2010, Shane and Erinn have lived in their crisply designed, 2250-square-foot abode—a LEED for Homes project on track to be LEED Gold certified—with their year-old son, Oscar, and their family dog and cat. The two-story, three-bedroom, two-and-a-half½-bath home fits snugly on a narrow, 42-by-128-foot lot with a detached garage. The modest back yard provides just enough room for a Trex deck, which is made from a composite of reclaimed and recycled wood and plastic fibers.
Though the home’s contemporary aesthetic is unique on the block, its respectful scale, spare design, and subtle materials keep it from feeling obtrusive. “Eric convinced us we could have a new, modern home without bumming out the neighborhood,” Erinn recalls.
Using a fast-paced panelization mode of construction, teardown to occupation took six short months. After Odor’s design was completed, the house was fabricated in panels using conventional construction methods. Floor panels measured a standardized 8-by-22 feet and wall panels of various sizes had their windows installed at the factory.
The components arrived early one morning on two flatbed trucks. The panels were off-loaded by crane and assembled onto the previously poured foundation. By 6 p.m., the crane and trucks were gone, and the floors, walls, and roof were standing. Construction was completed the next day. Mike Knutson of Knutson Custom Remodelers, the project’s general contractor and also a resident of the neighborhood, then coordinated other construction elements such as the electrical, plumbing, insulation, sheet rock, exterior siding, and shingles to secure the structure.
Odor says the panelization process offered several advantages over on-site construction in terms of being less disruptive to the neighbors and in allowing scrap materials to be recycled at the factory instead of tossed into a curbside dumpster.
The Farrell’s primary design goal was an open floor plan with optimum natural light, which Odor delivered with the help of SALA intern Chris Meyer. The home has a narrow, rectangular footprint and a horizontal roofline, generous eaves, and deep entryway canopies that reference Prairie School architecture. On the home’s façade, Odor used two-story vertical bands of glazing, one of which culminates in the slightly off-center front entrance, to visually split the home into two shallow-roofed towers. Hardie board fiber-cement siding clads the home’s north side. Cedar plank siding wraps around the home’s front and south exterior, adding an organic warmth that subdues the contemporary design. Horizontal ribbons of clerestory windows on both levels illuminate most of the rooms.
The interior is organized along a 4-foot-wide open corridor, or circulation spine, that runs the structure’s full length on both floors. The utility cores of the upper and lower levels—baths, pantry, laundry—are on the south side of the home, with the majority of the living spaces on the north.
The first level floor plan includes the entryway, powder room, an open kitchen, dining and living area, a small home office, and the “locker room,” a laundry-mudroom that boasts convenient locker-style storage for the sports-minded Farrells, who participate in all sorts of athletic activities, from cycling to hockey. The kitchen features energy efficient GE appliances and sleek custom maple cabinets with black granite countertops, both locally sourced from Shafer Cabinets and Capital Granite. “The space is so open, so social,” comments Erinn.
The cedar paneling on the home’s exterior is repeated on the interior walls as part of the neutral color scheme created by white walls and bamboo plank flooring. A narrow, bright blue wall between the living and office areas punctuates the space with a jolt of color and serves as an alluring backdrop for an open, vertical book shelf. A strip of ceiling-mounted maple plywood panels, stained a glossy claret hue, draws the eye through the length of the room. In the living area, a steel-grey shag carpet positioned between the sofa and the fireplace provides texture to the sleek space. Red chairs add a pop of color to the long, black dining room table from Design Within Reach.
The second floor consists of three bedrooms and two baths and features an overlook to the dining area. In both bathrooms, horizontal mirrors are mounted at an angle between the clerestory windows and the vanity—a thoughtful design that brings natural light into the space and offers a face-height reflection.
The home’s green features are as inconspicuous as they are abundant. The building’s narrow profile and open design promote natural ventilation, passive solar heating, and daylighting. Moreover, the home has a small energy footprint due to its insulated concrete T-Mass foundation walls. Dual flush toilets, low-flow faucets, and a high efficiency, dual-stage furnace all help conserve resources.
Recycled materials were incorporated into many aspects of the design. The entrance, powder room, laundry room, and mudroom floors are covered in ultra-durable, half-meter square tiles made from recycled rubber. Wood reclaimed from a St. Paul ice-packing plant was used to construct Shane’s desktop, the powder room counter, the gas fireplace hearth, and the open staircase. The cap on the second floor steel railing was originally part of a bleacher from Prior Lake High School. The bungalow’s former front door serves as the couple’s headboard.
The Farrells have been very happy with their new home’s simple, efficient design. “We can give a tour in two minutes—we like that,” Erinn says. “It’s functional, it’s beautiful, and we still live in the neighborhood.” She hopes their experience might inspire other growing families to hire an architect and stay in the city. “It’s doable,” she says. “You don’t have to move to the suburbs.”
Mason Riddle is a freelance writer in St. Paul.
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