Above: The simple forms and materials of the exterior are a fitting prelude to elegant interior spaces.
When two accomplished people, both with full personal and professional lives, decide to build a home together, it’s not a simple matter. Especially when she’s a downtown loft dweller and he’s an exurban country-home owner, the divide in lifestyles and aesthetic preferences is vast. For this couple, bridging that gap is all about balance.
Above: The living room’s bluestone comes alive with closer inspection. The handcrafted shoji screen wall rests gently above the stone fireplace.
Beginning with the site on Gleason Lake in Wayzata—halfway between her Minneapolis riverfront loft and his Delano farmhouse—the house artfully blends his and hers to create a house uniquely theirs. “We had lived in very different homes and lifestyles for many years over very different lives,” she says. “We are different in a lot of ways—aesthetics are one of them—but we were both interested in a contemporary home.”
It fell to her long-time acquaintance, architect Sarah Nettleton, to meld those different aesthetics into a design that would fulfill the desires of both homeowners and be livable as well as beautiful. Nettleton’s design philosophy of “the luxury of enough” (as highlighted in her 2007 book, The Simple House) and her commitment to sustainability meshed perfectly with both homeowners’ priorities. She wanted a serene home that embodied Japanese simplicity; he wanted a home that was ecologically sound.
Both homeowners’ sensibilities and desires resonate quietly in this house. But they remain background music in the composition that begins with the winding drive through Japanese lilac and continues with the simple forms of the house beside the quiet lake.
The house and garage, connected by a link, are firmly anchored on a base of honed bluestone. A metal band of Rheinzinc divides the stone from the walls of cedar siding and the metal roof. Nettleton explains the architectural inspiration: “It’s an old stone ruin of a farm they came across and built a house on top of it. The challenge was to make the house look like it belonged there, but not to be overwhelming or to be overwhelmed by the large houses nearby.”
Nettleton and builder Streeter & Associates met the challenge—and then some. The linked forms of the 4,500-square-foot house and large garage more than hold their own, lending presence and balance to the home. The entry in the low link extends a gracious welcome and, once inside, the lift of the 18-foot main living space provides the wow.
Throughout, a deliberate balance comes to the fore. The simple materials—the cedar ceiling, steel trusses, and bluestone floors—reveal their complexity and come alive upon closer inspection. The ceiling’s cedar wood conceals its acoustical slots. The steel trusses that hold the beams aloft, custom designed by Streeter’s fabricator, appear both delicate and industrial. The bluestone shows off the full range of its natural colors—blues, rusts, and violets—adding interest and texture. Waxed plaster walls in the entry and master suite, created by local master artisan Darril Otto, produce a subtle sheen and tactile contrast with the honed stone.
It’s not the first time the homeowner has incorporated Otto’s magical arts into her home. “Darril has done work for me in several lofts,” she says. Here, his layered colors give the walls a light-reflecting quality that radiates the serene feel she wanted. “He picked up on the bluestone colors,” she says, “and yet the wall behind the bed changes with the light. Sometimes it looks like an extension of the stone and sometimes like an extension of the sky.”
Right: The entry in the low link opens to 18-foot ceilings and the view of Gleason Lake.
She lived for a time in Japan and greatly admires Japanese design. For this house, she worked with her long-time interior designer Jodi Gillespie to select materials and furnishings informed by shibui—the Japanese concept of beauty defined by simplicity, understatement, and imperfection. Like those plaster walls, the interiors are designed to balance subtle details, quiet colors, and complex textures. “Every time you look at it, you gain more appreciation,” says Gillespie.
Above: Asian touches throughout reflect the homeowner’s affinity for Japanese design.
The delicate shoji screen that separates the master suite from the living room, sitting so naturally on top of the stone, is another embodiment of shibui. “We’ve done variations on [the shoji screen] since our first project together,” says Gillespie. This one was made by the shoji masters of Miya Shoji in New York. The screens are handmade, hand-tooled, and use no glue or nails. “Two Japanese carpenters—who ate lunch in bento boxes—came out and measured,” recalls architect Nettleton. “They shipped wood and rolls of paper, and flew back out to put them together. It took them a day and a half, and they all fit perfectly.
Gillespie worked with both homeowners to refine the furnishings and palette. “She took the lead, but it was a home for both of them, so both were involved,” Gillespie says. She drew the main floor’s color palette from the stone, using muted tones of blue, green, rust, and aubergine. On the lower level, those tones intensify into accents of orange, pulling the color palette through the house.
Right: The sleek finishes of the kitchen give the glory to the views, framed through carefully placed windows.
The house isn’t just beautiful it’s also livable. “It’s a retirement house, but also a family house,” says Nettleton. It’s designed for two to live comfortably on the main floor, but easily hosts a party of 100, especially in the summer when guests can gather outside as well as in.
Both owners have grown children and grandchildren, and the lower level includes guest bedrooms and a special bedroom for three little granddaughters who love to stay over. “We wanted bedrooms for the adult kids so that when they’re home, they could be with us,” says the homeowner. “The house works really well for that.”
Above: The subtle complexities of the master bedroom embody shibui, the Japanese concept of beauty.
The surrounding landscape and gardens, also designed by Nettleton, was high on both homeowners’ must-have list. “We both like maintaining a home and a garden,” she says. “I lived happily downtown for quite a number of years, but I missed my gardens. And it was clear that [her partner] didn’t ever want to give up that life of working on home projects and the garden.”
Right: The contrast between the stone and the paper shoji screens intrigues, while the waxed plaster wall behind the bed soothes.
The house reflects those desires: The gardens are on display from the kitchen, a sleek, open room designed for cooking and entertaining. Nettleton placed the windows low for views of the garden, eye level to frame the vista of the surrounding oaks and the lake, and high to capture the natural light.
The homeowner’s favorite quality about this exquisitely curated home? “In every room you have a feel for the lake being right there. It doesn’t matter what season it is, there is beauty associated with it,” she says. “And in the summer, the sunset across the lake is particularly wonderful.”
By Chris Lee
Photos by Paul Crosby
Architect: Sarah Nettleton
Builder: Streeter & Associates
Artisan: Darril Otto
Interior Design: Jodi Gillespie