Mel Wieting dreamed of building an ultra-energy-efficient home someday. But he wasn’t sure how he would combine green technology with comfortable and inviting living spaces.
He found out after he and his wife, Rosemary Wieting, bought a hillside lot in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis.
First they hired Better Futures Minnesota to deconstruct the tiny ramshackle cottage on the property. The company sells the salvaged materials, including metal and light fixtures.
Then last September, the couple moved into the completed modern home with a solar array covering its flat roof to generate electricity.
The home’s shell is constructed with super-tight structural insulated panels (SIPs), and the dwelling sits on a Thermomass concrete foundation.
The couple lounge in a strategically placed outdoor “solar” room hidden from the street. The wraparound raised deck is made of Accoya, a durable thermal-insulated wood guaranteed to last 50 years.
The facade’s graphic-look black-and-white fiber-cement siding definitely stands out among the traditional bungalows and Tudors in the neighborhood, yet its size doesn’t overwhelm the small city lot. Best of all, the Wieting residence is 67 percent more energy-efficient than a typical new home.
The Wietings consider their project, designed by architect Christian Dean, a successful model of modern sustainable home design and building practices. At the same time, the sun-filled open spaces are multifunctional, visually arresting — and comfortable.
“We’ve loved living here,” said Mel. Still, the couple have put their version of eco-friendly living in Linden Hills on the market for $1.39 million. Mel, an engineer and electronics and computer consultant, wants to apply what he’s learned on this house to build more energy-efficient homes like it.
“It’s very exciting to pull together so many components of a complex system and make a very livable house,” he said.
The Wietings lived in Northern California, where they raised their three children, for 18 years. As empty nesters, they moved to Minnesota in 2008 and bought and sold several downtown condos.
In the new house on the Linden Hills lot, they planned to combine the minimalist glass-walled vibe of a high-rise condo with the indoor-outdoor qualities of California living.
“I wanted to be able to grill outside all-year round, sheltered from the wind,” said Mel.
The couple connected with Dean’s firm, Christian Dean Architecture, which had previously designed several infill modern homes in the neighborhood.
Dean’s blueprint for the Wieting house is a “mash-up of daylighting, solar access and integrated design of energy-efficient and sustainable features,” he said, “while fitting in the older neighborhood.”
Linden Hills residents realize that the housing stock in their neighborhood is changing, but they object to the scale of some new homes, not their architectural style, according to Dean.
“A modern house is different than the existing character of the neighborhood,” he said. “But if it’s scaled right and fits well with other homes, people often embrace it.”
The Wietings’ 4,200-square-foot home encompasses three levels but that’s not evident from the street view. To lower the profile, Dean placed the basement behind a tuck-under garage nestled into the hill. The top level, which is “stepped back,” is half the size of the main level.
Dean also designed an overall narrower footprint in order to create an area for a side yard and south-facing private sundeck for warmth and light. “The sundeck allows the house to live larger,” he said. “but it also gives it a slimmer shape.”
All the main-floor living spaces radiate from the sundeck/outdoor room, which even boasts a sleek ribbon gas fireplace.
The sheltering pergola was designed with angled wood slats to draw in sunlight in the winter and provide shade from the hot sun in the summer.
Mel, an amateur chef, made sure the kitchen was equipped with appliances that enabled a variety of cooking techniques, from steam to induction ovens. Rosemary can pass food through a kitchen window to a ledge next to Mel’s outdoor grill. The large kitchen island is long enough to have separate ends to serve food and beverages and for meal prep.
On the far wall, a floor-to-ceiling dark-stained pantry stores the coffeemaker and other small appliances, making them accessible but easily hidden when guests are over. The perimeter counters are covered in Richlite, a recycled paper and resin material that develops a warm patina over time.
Rosemary is a registered nurse who has worked with elderly people struggling to climb stairs in their home. So she requested that Dean design the master suite with a step-in oversized tiled shower, and a handy laundry room, all on the main floor.
To connect the living spaces, the floors are finished with durable, low-maintenance Douglas fir ply made from salvaged lumber, which was bleached and cut with the end grain exposed.
Dean had used the unique decorative flooring in other projects and showed samples to the couple.
“Then we saw it in the lobby of a modern concert hall in Copenhagen and thought it was really cool,” said Mel. “We liked the look and its sustainability.”
The couple also planted an eco-friendly landscape with low-mow fescue and prairie grasses, which require less water. Two drywells capture and filter water flowing from the roof to reduce rainwater runoff.
For his next home-building project, Mel plans to tweak some of the materials and amenities.
He gained valuable insight by going through the entire process, from breaking ground to choosing tiles. But he learned what homeowners really want by listening to people’s comments during the Homes by Architects tour last fall.
One complaint was that the master bedroom wasn’t big enough. And while many visitors appreciated the cutting-edge products, they also want tried-and-true ones in their home.
“They like seeing the recycled materials used in countertops,” he said. “But they still love granite.”
Ben Ganje of Lakes Sotheby’s International Realty has the listing, 952-230-3163.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
What: New energy-efficient modern home is sized to fit in an older Linden Hills neighborhood.
Size: 4,200 square feet includes a basement whose bedroom, bathroom and full kitchen could be used as an in-law apartment.
Design team: Architect Christian Dean and lead designer Katy Dale, Christian Dean Architecture, deanarch.com, 612-382-2883.
Builder: Metro Construction and Synergy Builders, Mpls.