A Naturally Norwegian Abode Near Lake Harriet

European influences and family values abound in this art-filled urban cottage

Photos by Spacecrafting

European ornamentation defines the dining room, where a Swedish wallpaper and Finnish light fixture add touches of global flair.

As a young couple, R. J. and Krista Kern adored the charming homes that lined Minneapolis’ Fulton neighborhood. The pair would walk the block and dream up fictional stories about the houses they passed—often proposing hypothetical questions as to how a homeowner arrived at a certain decision. The long walks and curious conversations eventually prompted a question of a different sort: Should they renovate their own bungalow in an area they loved or start fresh somewhere new?

The Kerns—he a photographer and artist, she a women’s health expert—spoke with many industry professionals in search of the answer. It wasn’t until meeting Nate Wissink, chief revenue officer at Streeter Custom Builder, that they realized building a house (Krista’s longtime dream) was worth serious consideration. As a test drive of sorts, the couple formally hired Wissink to rework their Fulton home’s kitchen, hoping to determine once and for all if their near future involved a new build with Streeter leading the charge. Turns out, it did.

A casual dining space is perfectly paired with the stairwell’s custom-fabricated balustrade that nods to Nordic motifs.

With the official go-ahead to build a home a stone’s throw from Lake Harriet, Wissink recruited colleague and senior project manager Julie Lindemann to join the team, and after being hand-selected by the Kerns, Andrea Swan, founder of Swan Architecture, was close behind. “Krista and R. J. seemed so cool, calm, and collected,” Swan recalls of the initial meeting, “and I could instantly tell they were no-nonsense and would be good decision-makers.”

Swan’s first impression was spot-on, as the clients’ list of desires for their new home was as specific as it was brilliant: A turn-of-the-century farmhouse with a modern Scandinavian twist. Cozy and airy with abundant natural light. Utilitarian and flexible. Nurturing. Eco-friendly. Agrarian. A space that emphasized and promoted art, education, and a rooted sense of place—now and in the future.

To better translate their intentions, R. J. presented the team with photographs from their recent travels to Norway. An image of a lovely Nordic landscape, in which a simple white house stood humbly on the edge of a fjord, particularly spoke to the Kerns’ vision and sparked inspiration. “They wanted the home to be unpretentious and inviting,” says Carlos Bravo, Swan’s co-designer. “We combined their vision and images to create a blend of architectural styles that fed their lifestyle. Their family values truly anchored the home’s design.”

Natural light, white oak floors, and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace—masoned with stone from the family’s Bad Medicine Lake cabin—define this cozy, hygge-inspired family room.

Team selected, inspiration set, and plans in place, the design came to life from the ground up. After demoing the property’s existing home, the crew maximized the narrow 0.2-acre lot with a tuck-under garage. Cars and storage aside, R. J. describes the multipurpose space as his “man cave”—home to both his dark room and makeshift CrossFit box he uses while gyms are closed.

The 6,000-square-foot abode, defined by European ornamentation, sings a different tune. On the main floor, a Swedish wallpaper—which Krista kept in her back pocket for nearly a decade, she says—and Finnish light fixture add global flair to the dining room. There, white wainscoting offers a touch of 1920s vintage, and a built-in buffet displays collections of family dishware inherited over the years.

The kitchen’s crisp white palette is juxtaposed by a rich Scandinavian blue on the island. In the background, a Minnesota State Fair blue ribbon—which Krista won in 2018 for her pickle recipe—is proudly on display.

White oak flooring ushers one down the hall (or, alternatively, through the butler’s pantry) to a kitchen with plentiful space for entertaining—a must-have for Krista, who loves to host, cook, and bake. (Her pickle recipe’s blue ribbon from the 2018 Minnesota State Fair substantiates that.) Two dishwashers—a “clean” one and a “dirty” one, R. J. jokes—add ease to daily living while a large island allows for convenient after-school snacks and crafts. In the adjacent great room, a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace contains a special piece of the family’s Bad Medicine Lake cabin: “I look over at the fireplace and there are stones from the lake cabin my dad built,” Krista says.

A custom-fabricated stair balustrade nods to Nordic motifs and leads upstairs to an ultimate family hangout that features a cozy reading nook and built-in bookshelf. Nearby, Krista and R. J.’s shared office packs a punch, sporting a sunshine yellow pocket door inspired by National Geographic—a publication in which R. J.’s work appeared during the build. “We wanted a fun color, so why not put a memory there?” Krista says. “Every room has a story.” 

Upstairs, the ultimate family hangout awaits. A bright yellow pocket door—inspired by National Geographic—leads to the homeowners’ shared office.

And that’s thanks to Krista who, with Lindemann’s guidance, largely selected the home’s interior furnishings, finishes, and materials herself. The result is a mix-and-match of modern-day finds (think black-and-white buffalo plaid couches) and cozy selections (like a white sheepskin rug) that embrace the Danish concept of hygge. “There was no magic inspiration,” admits Krista, who referenced pictures from magazines and Pinterest to guide her selections. “It was little pieces here and there that all came together.”

When it came to color, though, it was important to balance the abundant white finishes—a fitting gallery-like backdrop for the family’s art collection—with unexpected pops of color. “I’m a big sucker for sentiment, and I do a lot of art swaps with friends,” says R. J., whose solo exhibition, “The Unchosen Ones,” was on display at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport through January. “We don’t necessarily buy it from each other; it’s more like a trusted handshake. I like rotating work, too. Pieces can grow invisible if they’re left there too long.” (Perhaps this is why the home is dubbed by some as “The Art House.”)

From the street, the home may intentionally grow invisible, too. “There’s a word in Norwegian that means everyone is equal,” says Krista, who has ancestral roots grounded in Norway. “We wanted that feeling from the sidewalk.”

A traditional white exterior and salvaged brackets ensure the 6,000-square-foot home fits seamlessly with neighbors’ houses built 100 years ago.

As a result, the home doesn’t look or feel as if it were plopped down from a different era, and instead, fits seamlessly with the neighbors’ houses built 100 years ago. The demo team saved ornate brackets from the existing house to embellish the new exterior. The traditional salvaged brackets and simple white siding are balanced with no-mow sedge and gabion rock walls, both of which add a modern touch of sustainable style to the property. A spacious patio, pergola, garden, hot tub, and solar-paneled roof with diamond-shaped shingles complete the eco-friendly oasis. 

“This is one of the most custom houses I’ve done,” Lindemann says. “They’re all unique, but this one speaks to who R. J. and Krista are.” That is, a culture-embracing, art-collecting, fun-loving couple with a fresh start and beautiful new home—one with a personalized story they’ll never have to walk by and wonder about.  

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