“Modern Minnesota” near Lake Harriet is a “Home of the Month” winner.

“Modern Minnesota” near Lake Harriet is a “Home of the Month” winner.

After their three children were grown, empty nesters Jane and Peter Crane decided to trade their Edina digs for a smaller home near Lake Harriet, one town away.

“We spent all our time in Minneapolis,” Peter said. “We like the density, we like the lakes, and we like being close to bike paths.”

Peter, a builder, founder of Trestle Homes, and former sculptor and art teacher, knew they wanted to find a tear-down and build-out.

“The parameters of (the current house) had to be something that wouldn’t really be missed. It didn’t have a lot of great architectural bones and it didn’t have mature trees on the property,” he said. “And then we were looking for something that wasn’t the typical size.”

Al Crane gravitated toward the modern homes he often encountered in his work. A trip across Europe convinced them that this was the right way to go.

“In that process we thought we definitely wanted something modern, but not contemporary,” he said. “We didn’t want white everywhere, but we wanted something very clean. We also wanted some traditional textures.”

They also wanted a house that fit the size and feel of the neighborhood — traditional townhouses on tight lots. Functionality was also important to the Crains, who envisioned a home where they could move easily between indoors and outdoors and have flexible entertaining space when family visited.

Having worked together on previous projects, Peter approached PKA Architecture to lead the design, while his firm would undertake the construction and general contracting roles.

“As builders, suppliers and subcontractors in this industry, we all have our ears to the ground,” Peter said. “I’ve always looked at PKA as one of those companies that values ​​what we bring to the table.”

Under two roofs

For PKA, the mission was clear from the start: to get back to the best of both worlds.

“All the old houses are compartmentalized, and then we have modern houses that are completely wide open,” said designer Gabriel Keller. “I think we were really interested in creating a sense of place with each space in the house so that you have this difference in scale and this difference in character and quality.”

Since Jane and Peter only needed a primary bedroom and an office/guest room, they were able to keep the second floor smaller. The result is an L-shaped footprint with two roofs – a traditional gable (covered in “secret” dark gray steel) and a flat roof extending perpendicular to it.

“Creating the gable shape and stone house and then having that more modern gesture as it comes up and creating the flat roof — the green roof — brings the scale down a little bit,” Keller said. “It rides that line between something that’s clearly up to the present day, and clearly modern. But it also works with these old country houses that the house surrounds.”

Sprouting from the flat roof is a beautiful garden that evokes the charm of a classic European landscape while providing a modern feel in the urban landscape.

“If you’re looking at a flat roof, it’s not as fun to look at a bunch of rubber,” Keller said. “(Using it that way) is more interesting.”

They chose succulents, especially sedums, for the plant’s hardiness and ability to grow well in Midwestern climates.

“You put the plants on a flat surface that gets sun all day, and during the summer it’s a bit of an unforgiving environment, but sedums work amazingly well,” Peter said. “We don’t have sprinklers or a built-in irrigation system. Sometimes, during a drought, I use sprinklers.”

Moves inside

Inside, both roof forms make up the entire basement, which includes a media room, game room, third bedroom, and bathroom. On the main floor, a gabled roof houses the kitchen, mudroom, staircase and alley-entrance garage. Meanwhile, a flat roof covers the front porch, foyer, dining room and living room. Immediately past the gathering spaces, a heated and screened outdoor dining and seating area opens to the backyard.

It’s one of the many ways PKA created the internal connection that Jane and Peter were looking for. The varied brickwork on the exterior carries over to the interior spaces. Floor-to-ceiling windows, sliding glass doors and skylights further blur the lines between indoors and outdoors.

“(Al-Munawara) really opens up the volume,” Keller said. “Then we have low-profile spaces and screens that break up some of the other spaces and lighting fixtures that make that scale. And all of these are kind of tricks of the trade that allow us to create the character that we’re after.”

Since its completion, the project has gained recognition, including being named Home of the Month by the Star Tribune/American Institute of Architects of Minnesota, which honors the best residential designs.

The awards have extra meaning for participants because project manager and architect Ted Martin died just as the final touches were being put on the landscaping. “He was an integral part of this project, and it’s really fun to see it completed showing the world the attention to detail he was known for,” Keller said.

This project is an example of Martin’s legacy and the stamp he left on the Minnesota architecture community, said PKA’s Melinda Nelson. “When he talked about his work, he was passionate about what he called Minnesota modernism, which to him was creating a modern home that could withstand our temperature fluctuations and fit into everyday life,” she said. “This home is Minnesota modernism at its best.”

Autumn colors

These days, the sedum plant, usually a burst of color during the summer, is getting fall stripes.

“We call it a green roof, but it’s actually a maroon roof in the fall. It turns this amazingly beautiful burgundy color,” Peter said.

Jane and Peter log most of the time on the roofed porch, fireplace, dining table and lounge area, which feels like an extension of both the house and the backyard. “We’re here from April to December,” Peter said.

As Thanksgiving approaches, they’ll be hosting family, just like they did last year.

“Last year we had 28 family members for dinner, and we will probably exceed that this year,” Peter said. “And no one feels cramped. There are spaces for children, there are spaces for adults, there are spaces to get away from the rush of crowds. … He performs perfectly.”

About this project

Design company: Architecture PKA.

project team: Founding Director/Designer Gabrielle Keller, Asst. AIA; Project architect Ted Martin, AIA, and Brent Nelson, AIA; Sarah St. Louis, Asst. AIA.

Project partners: General contractor, Trestle Homes; ENGINEERING, STRUCTURAL ALIGN; Interior design, InUnison Design; Landscape design, TVL studio.

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