A “House of Light” in Edina

The façade of this 6,300-square-foot house in Edina’s Country Club neighborhood is striking and deceptively simple. There is much to like about the project—just ask anyone involved.

Designer Charlie Simmons says his favorite thing about the project is the lot. The home sits on a 1-acre peninsula formed by a bend in Minnehaha Creek, with views of the creek on three sides. “It’s one of the most dynamic lots I’ve ever worked with,” says Simmons, who heads Charlie & Co. Design of Minneapolis.

(Steve Henke)

To owners Abby and Doug Power, the best thing about the house is the way it is designed to take full advantage of those views. “It’s miraculous how perfectly placed on the lot this house is,” Abby says, gesturing through the tall great-room windows, which aim straight down the course of the creek until it disappears to the southeast. “Every window in the house gives you a different view, and every view is great. If you turned the axis even a few inches, it wouldn’t be as good.”

Nate Wissink, project director of Elevation Homes in Wayzata, is happy that he could build the house at all. This was a teardown project, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had raised its estimation of the creek’s floodplain by 13 inches since the site’s original 1950s-era rambler was built. That meant the new house had to be raised by 4 feet (at the front door) from the level of the old structure. Then a conditional-use permit had to be obtained, with the blessing of neighbors, to meet the city of Edina’s height restrictions and still allow the walkout lower level to have 9-foot ceilings.

Despite raising parts of the lot by the required 4 feet and then putting a much bigger house on it, “we created a home that fits in with the neighborhood, and we even preserved the trees,” Wissink says.

(Steve Henke)

(Steve Henke)

(Steve Henke)

(Steve Henke)

(Steve Henke)

(Steve Henke)

(Steve Henke)

(Steve Henke)

Let There be Light
To Abby, a New York native, the exterior design recalls beach houses on Long Island. She calls it “East Coast cottage style.” To designer Simmons, the steep, cedar-shingled roof, the sharp twin gables, and the tall windows are Gothic-style elements—“farmhouse Gothic, maybe,” he says.
In unexpected contrast to the exterior, the interior is strikingly modern, with a clean, open plan, white walls, enameled and walnut cabinetry, and walnut floors. Or, rather, oak floors stained to match the walnut elsewhere, Abby confides. With two golden retrievers and two sons, ages 10 and 12, the owners wanted something harder than walnut beneath all the claws.

The house is shaped like the letter H, with the gables marking the parallel arms. On the main level, with 10-foot ceilings throughout, the front entry and the expansive kitchen occupy the H’s connecting piece. The kitchen opens to a large great room, which is adjoined by a smaller living room with a gas fireplace.

Everywhere there is light. The rear and southeast sides of the house are filled with tall windows. “Even in winter, we almost never turn on any lights in the daytime,” Abby says. Though houses occupy the opposite bank of Minnehaha Creek to the rear, the creek is wide enough at the bend to avoid a fishbowl feeling.

At the front of the house, windows turn a stunning three-story stair tower into a light tower as well. To one side of the tower, an open half-flight of walnut-stained stairs, 9 feet wide, lead down to the mudroom and breezeway that connect the house with its three-
car garage. A huge unfinished bonus room above the garage awaits the day when the owners feel a need for more space.

Upstairs are a full guest suite, large laundry room, the spacious master suite, and two bedrooms sharing a Jack-and-Jill bath. Light floods into the sleeping area of the master through a 12-by-7-foot run of windows and glass doors that open to a sitting balcony looking down the length of the creek. In the master bath, glass shower walls reflect and emphasize the light from another generous window.

The entire second floor, more than 2,000 square feet of it, is tucked into the roofline. So, technically, albeit incredibly, “this is a 1.5-story house,” Simmons says. The effect is to minimize the perceived height of the structure, helping it blend into the neighborhood.

The Marv Factor
The walkout basement contains an exercise room and a recreation room with plenty of space for a Ping-Pong table and two TV viewing areas. It also contains Marv’s suite.

Marvin Shafron is Abby’s father. A retired general contractor from New York, he lives with the Powers. No accommodations were built in for him, however. The 82-year-old, who runs 20 miles a week, wouldn’t hear of it.

Simmons and Wissink had never run into anyone quite like Marv. He spent his career in the East Coast building trades, where corruption was endemic. Marv initially was suspicious, to put it mildly, of the expertise and honesty of the Minnesota construction team. Simmons recalls early design meetings at the dining-room table of the rented house in Edina where the Powers were living: “Marv would be sitting in another room, but from time to time I’d hear, ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you!’”

The Minnesotans eventually won him over, and a sort of cross-cultural love fest began. Marv hung out at the building site a lot, Abby says, watched the tradespeople like a hawk, and finally began crowing about the workmanship and the materials they were getting for what seemed to him a remarkably modest price. He regaled them with stories of his own days in the trade, including tales of the extreme delicacy called for if a New York contractor came to suspect that, say, a bowling alley or arcade he was building was in fact a money-laundering operation for the mob.

Much as Simmons loved the lot, the windows, and the design process of this project, “my fondest memories of are of interacting with Marv,” he says

Designer: Charlie + Co. Design
Builder: Elevation Homes
Landscape Design: Travis Van Liere Studio, LLC

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