From the Ashes

After a devastating fire destroys their home, a Stillwater family rebuilds on the same property

Photos by Spacecrafting

It was Memorial Day weekend in 2016 when Stillwater couple Dory and Kirk Anderson were awakened in the middle of the night by their teenage daughter, who had seen flames shooting out of the service door of their home’s attached garage. Twenty minutes later, the first fire truck arrived. “It was another 28 minutes before they could get water on the fire, but there was no saving the house at that point,” Dory remembers. “It was May 29, our second daughter Hanna’s 17th birthday. We had another kid graduating from high school that week. We had to keep life rolling.”

Built on the same foundation as their original home, this fresh, modern farmhouse gave the owners the chance to make new memories in familiar surroundings.

Everyone made it out safely, but the family—parents and four kids—lost everything in the blaze. They had lived on a hobby farm, so they boarded their two horses at a nearby farm, re-homed their chickens and ducks (they took their two dogs, two cats, and two bunnies with them), and ended up in a rental home in the Cloverdale Farm neighborhood. “It was a good experiment of what we didn’t want in our new home,” says Dory. “It was nice, but in a quintessential McMansion neighborhood from the ’90s.” So the family weighed their options, which ranged from buying a condo or lake home to living abroad in Europe for a year. But after discussions, they agreed that what they wanted was their old property. “Those 15 acres, to us, were home,” says Dory. “Everyone wanted to be back there.”

Taking the advice of an architect friend who suggested finding a floor plan and then a builder, they began working with Midwest Drafting and Design and Derrick Custom Homes to modify the plan they chose to their liking. Two rooms and 800 square feet were removed, and then interior designer Annie Tropple of Home Design by Annie was brought in when the family was going through the plans for the exterior design and details. “Dory had said she wanted the modern farmhouse look, and I noticed a lot of the windows in the original plans were more country farmhouse, so we worked together to change the window type, sizes, and locations to modernize it a bit,” explains Tropple.

An abundance of windows provides the natural light and rural views that were high on the clients’ list of priorities.
Radial wave steel pendant lights and hand-painted tumbled tiles on the kitchen backsplash add a sense of old farmhouse style to the more modern surroundings.

The Andersons’ previous home was a 7,500-square-foot, contemporary multilevel that had been in the family for decades, one with many memories and irreplaceable in many ways. But the couple chose to look at their misfortune as an opportunity, a chance to do something completely different. “They wanted to be able to retire and live there for the rest of their lives,” explains Tropple. “So there was a big emphasis on not wanting a big house with unnecessary space and extra rooms that wouldn’t be used.”

What they did want was a smart floor plan and the new space to be bright, open, and airy—both a peaceful retreat and a reflection of the rural area where they lived. The result? A clean, white modern farmhouse just shy of 3,700 square feet, with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, soaring ceilings, and the perfect amount of space.

“For me, the whole experience of losing our home and all our things led me to want to simplify my life and really focus on being minimal,” says Dory. “My husband kind of went the opposite way and hung on tighter to things as a result. He didn’t want a cold, modern feel to the new home—he really wanted to feel more warmth, and have lots of places for things. Luckily, Annie came in to help us solve our problems.”

The custom black fireplace surround creates a strong focal point in the great room, and complements the room’s darker surfaces and window framing.

To compromise, walls were painted a light, creamy color instead of stark white, and furniture, accessories, and art were carefully chosen to play up the charm of the home and soften the modern feeling. For the striking black fireplace in the great room, Tropple worked with a local metal worker to create a custom metal surround to add a modern edge and blend the mounted TV into the background, and then added shiplap above to bring in a softer detail and change up materials so the fireplace wouldn’t feel overpowering.

A subtle spruce tree pattern acts as art in the master bedroom.

“Dory liked modern design, but she also wanted some eclectic touches—things that looked like they might have been in her grandma’s house,” says Tropple, who fulfilled her client’s desire through thoughtful details like hand-painted, tumbled tiles for the kitchen backsplash and radial wave steel pendant lights over the kitchen island in a throwback to old farmhouse style. The powder room’s barn owl wallpaper also reminds Dory of her grandmother, as do the throw pillows in the great room. “I love how we have a very modern-feeling couch accented with silly little grandma cushions,” says Dory. “That’s exactly what I wanted—something that feels like I’ve had it for a while since I don’t have any hand-me-downs anymore.”

An accent wall of spruce-green tree-patterned wallpaper adds interest in the master bedroom, a trend found in other parts of the home including the downstairs guest bedroom. “I thought it was a really fun concept; the wallpaper kind of becomes the art for one wall,” says Tropple. “And the background of the wallpaper in the master bedroom is very similar to the paint on the rest of the walls, so it blends in nicely, and the design adds a modern touch and a fun little pop of color.”

An accent wall of colorful geometric shapes brightens up the downstairs guest bedroom.

Dark and cozy, the lower level is reminiscent of a Colorado lodge, with a full bar—featuring a “concessions stand” window that opens up to the outdoor entertaining area—and sauna. “I didn’t want a lower level, but Kirk did. So I told him, ‘That’s all yours. Do what you want with it,’” says Dory. Tropple adds, “It was a great deal. Dory got that light, bright, airy feel she wanted upstairs, and Kirk got his more traditional man cave downstairs.”

Downstairs, a “concessions stand” window in the bar area allows for convenient handoffs of beverages and snacks.

Outside is plenty of space to entertain, from the pool area and patio to the fire pit. A bathroom and changing area is located directly off the pool so swimmers don’t need to walk through the family area, and the bar window provides access to drinks and snacks without ever having to go indoors. During the renovations, the family also took the opportunity to do some prairie restoration on their property. “We had a couple acres of lawn around the house that always seemed a bit unnecessary and unnatural,” says Dory. “I realized that because our property is in a conservation management area—our creek flows into the St. Croix River—we could get grant money to help support the reclamation of our yard into a prairie. Fun fact: We ‘hired’ 12 goats to come eat all the buckthorn along the property edge as an alternative to herbicides to clear it out.”

Outside, guests can find plenty of seating around the spacious patio and pool area, with views of the property’s new prairie restoration efforts to enjoy as well.

Now, the Andersons’ two retired Appaloosa show horses and three rescued barn cats are back home as well, and the family has started a new flock of 12 chickens. “There’s nothing I’d change about it,” says Dory. “It’s exactly what I wanted for the new space.”

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