Valley View: Highmark Home Features Vista and Much More


Above: These homeowners wanted a warm and welcoming house that used the landscape exquisitely. 

When Renee and David Saunders found a hilltop property in Afton offering views of the St. Croix River Valley, Renee was so excited she twirled around like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Having grown up in Stillwater, she was thrilled that she could see her hometown and four other cities from the site. She wanted to build a welcoming, cozy home that took full advantage of the landscape.

The Saunders partnered with Highmark Builders, Inc. to create an ode to natural beauty through the spaces, views, and materials of the house. No novices to building (this is the fifth home they’ve built), they are delighted with the results. The design artfully blends traditional and transitional elements with an open floor plan, formal and informal rooms, and plenty of functional space for the couple to entertain friends and family year-round.

The 5,637-square-foot home features dark-stained hickory floors, a planked ceiling accented with reclaimed timber beams, millwork, and birch cabinetry. Large windows flood in natural light to keep spaces bright and airy. Highmark incorporated everything the couple needs for daily life into the main floor, including their bedroom suite, a homey hearth room and office off the kitchen, and a three-season porch that opens to a spacious deck. In the great room, a curved wall and soffit delineate the spot for the Saunders’ baby grand—a clever solution for keeping the piano in the living space, yet in its own space.

To welcome guests, whether their three grown sons and their families or other relatives and friends, there are two bedrooms upstairs and another in the lower level. A large exercise room, bar, entertainment space, and an office round out the lower level’s offerings.

The couple worked with Highmark architect Jeff Tritch and interior designer Kristen Schammel to select fixtures and finishes. Each room features a distinctive and whimsical light fixture, many showcasing the sparkle of metal, while the tile and other fixtures likewise incorporate silvers, bronzes, and coppers to contrast with the stone, dark granite counters, and deep-toned woods.

Saunders used each selection to tell a story about her home and life. “I love art, and my form of art is those extra pieces that make a home unique,” she explains. “The story I wanted to tell is that you can come into my home and feel comfortable and cozy and enjoy the natural art and beauty while you’re here. We wanted to enjoy and appreciate where all of this came from.”

The three-season porch is surrounded by windows that let the landscape inside.

An artful wallcovering in the master suite lends an elegant edge to the space.

The great room fireplace is one of four in the home.

Dramatic birch cabinetry in the open kitchen plays beautifully against the rustic stone backsplash and dark-stained hickory planked floors.

A stunning view of the St. Croix Valley stars in the home’s great room. A planked ceiling with reclaimed timber makes the room elegantly rustic.

A curved wall in the great room allows the homeowner’s piano a place of its own.

By Suzy Frisch
Photos by Spacecrafting


Architectural Design: Highmark Builders, Inc.
Interior Design: Highmark Builders, Inc.
Sponsor: Warners’ Stellian Appliances

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