Where’s the best place to live in the Twin Cities?
The answer is different for everyone, of course. For Dan and Sheila Broughton, the perfect location is South Tyrol Hills in Golden Valley.
A tucked-away enclave of homes with a pond and a park, the neighborhood offers the rare combination of wooded scenic privacy and proximity to downtown, Uptown Minneapolis and urban amenities like the Chain of Lakes.
“You can’t be in a better spot,” said Sheila, an arts lover. “We’re two minutes from the Walker [Art Center]. And the lakes are beautiful.”
The couple discovered their secluded neighborhood while searching for their next home. Dan had recently retired as a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and the Broughtons were making frequent treks to the Twin Cities, where their daughter lives.
A 1937 cottage-style home in South Tyrol was on the market. The Broughtons took a look, and were smitten with the idyllic setting.
“The house was cute, but the neighborhood is amazing,” said Dan. “That and the lot were the big draw.”
The cottage, however, was far from move-in ready.
“It needed a huge amount of work,” said Dan. The previous owner had been in the process of renovating the house, which had been empty for more than two years, and had finally given up and put the house up for sale as a fixer-upper. There was water in the basement, a blue tarp on part of the roof and tar paper on the back wall.
Undaunted, the Broughtons bought the place with the intention of completing the renovation, and hired U + B Architecture & Design, Minneapolis.
“It was a charming house but in very bad condition,” said principal Mark Burgess. “The site is wonderful, at a bend in the road with a pond across the street.”
The U + B team developed a plan for the renovation, but some of the home’s defects proved too difficult and costly to correct.
“We couldn’t get there,” said Dan. “We asked the builder, ‘Can we make the basement dry and warm?’ He said, ‘Drier and warmer, but it will be a problem forever.’ ”
Structural repairs would eat up so much of the budget that the Broughtons would have to cut corners on other features they wanted in their home. “It wasn’t fun, going lower,” said Sheila.
Burgess thought they might be more satisfied, in the end, by starting over. So they switched gears, and began working on a design for a new house. “It was a relief to give up on the old house,” Dan admitted.
The Broughtons invited their neighbors over for coffee and doughnuts, to let them know about their new plans.
“We got two different reactions,” Dan recalled. “One was, ‘We know you tried.’ The other was, ‘What took you so long?’ ”
Starting from scratch allowed the Broughtons to make the most of their special site.
There was “a magic spot,” as Burgess described it, where the view of the pond was spectacular. That spot was reserved for a patio on the side of the house.
The lot was sloped, which helped the two-story house comply with the city’s height restrictions and fit in with surrounding homes.
“We recessed the lower level into the hillside,” said Burgess. “We took advantage of the slope to put the front at grade and the back below grade. That allowed us to keep the scale in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. That was important to Dan and Sheila.”
Nesting the house into the slope also helped preserve as many trees as possible, said U + B project manager Adam Donner.
While the lot is good-sized, it’s on a corner, which meant the house had to have a compact footprint to comply with setback requirements, Burgess said.
The Broughtons wanted a simple, contemporary-style house where they would be able to age in place, so the design included an elevator shaft (currently used as a closet) with the staircase wrapped around it.
The house was designed to accommodate one-level living on the second floor. The kitchen, living and dining rooms are all open to one another, with a casual dining area with built-in bench cantilevered off the side of the house.
The owners’ suite also is on the second floor, with a pocket door that can be used to close off the bedroom when guests are present.
Windows wrap the corners of rooms, capturing views and light. “You can engage with the seasons,” said Burgess.
“It’s like living in a treehouse,” said Sheila.
The first floor contains the main entrance to the home, a den, plus two guest bedrooms and a bath, for when their three adult children and grandchildren visit.
“It’s like an apartment down here,” said Sheila.
One of the guest bedrooms has a tile floor so that Sheila can use it as an art studio when it’s not needed for guests.
Sheila took an active role in their home’s interior design, working closely with architect Jennifer Christiaansen, formerly with U + B.
Sheila had collected photos of design elements she liked, and taking inspiration from that, Christiaansen created a “design box” filled with color samples, tiles and other materials.
Color was important to Sheila. Their home’s exterior is black, with cobalt blue trim. She had seen and admired black houses in Amsterdam. The darkness makes a house “almost disappear” into the landscape, she said.
The guest bathroom door in the Broughtons’ new house was painted yellow — “the deepest yellow you can get,” said Sheila — to provide a pop of color to greet you when you enter the front door and look down the front wall. An accent wall in the den is a deep, dark green. “It’s so dignified. I like it peeking through” the bookshelves, she said.
The second-floor color palette is mostly neutral, with white oak flooring, espresso-hued walnut kitchen cabinets, white Silestone countertops and a glass backsplash, which reflects light and views of the outdoors. “It’s like a mirror,” Sheila said.
But they can use color to change the mood, thanks to LED lighting in recessed ceilings and above the backsplash that can be programmed in different hues.
Being able to display art was another priority for Sheila, who requested a narrow steel mantel above the kitchen countertops, where she maintains a rotating gallery of pieces. She has another flexible gallery on the first floor — a wall with magnetic paint where she arranges art dominoes.
Living in their neighborhood has been even better than they imagined. The pond attracts lots of wildlife. “We have three bucks, a fox, ducks and Canada geese,” said Sheila.
And the close-knit community gets together for sledding parties in the winter, and a progressive dinner during which the Broughtons hosted 55 of their neighbors. “It’s a great bunch of people,” said Sheila.
The couple’s patio in “the magic spot” provides another way to interact with their neighbors as they pass by. “It’s a social platform,” said Sheila.
And while trying to renovate the old house was a slog, creating the new house was a pleasure.
“It was the most fun, collaborative project,” said Sheila. “There is nothing I’d do differently.”
Dan agreed. “This is pretty much perfect,” he said. “If I did anything over, I would have given up on the old house a lot faster.”