Buildable sites are hard to come by in coveted urban neighborhoods such as Lowry Hill.
But Deb and Chuck Van De Weghe managed to find one, where they recently built a two-story home that marries her love of color with his interest in modern mechanicals and technology.
“I’ve always wanted to build new,” said Chuck, who recently retired from a career in IT sales.
The couple were seeking a lower-maintenance home. Their previous house, where they raised their two children, required more upkeep than they wanted at this stage of life.
“Our house was on a hill. The yard was a huge job,” said Deb, who recently launched a new career in food photography. “One of our goals was to simplify our life — in cost, time and maintenance.”
The couple have lived in Lowry Hill since the 1980s, and love its proximity to Uptown, downtown and Lake of the Isles. “We walk around it every day,” said Deb of the city lake.
On one of their walks, they noticed a sign for an estate sale in front of a house just a few blocks down the street from theirs. They were especially interested in what was next door to the house — a “garden lot.”
It looked like it had potential as a homesite, so they connected with the owner and asked about buying the extra lot. But there was a complicating factor: The house had a bay window that jutted over the lot line. If the Van De Weghes wanted the lot, they would have to buy the house next door along with it, work with the city to move the lot line, then sell the other house.
They decided to forge ahead.
“We were wanting to do a project together — something new,” Deb said.
They enlisted the help of Rehkamp Larson Architects.
“Our main goal was to create a home that blended in with the neighborhood — somewhat traditional in front but contemporary inside,” said Deb. “They [principal Jean Rehkamp Larson and project architect Sarah Nymo] understood our desire.”
Studying the street
“Early on, we studied the streetscape,” said Nymo, even measuring eave heights on neighboring houses to ensure that the design for the new home was in scale with surrounding ones.
Many of the rooflines in the neighborhood have a little “kick” at the corners, as does the roofline on the Van De Weghes’ new house. “It’s a detail that could be replicated,” Nymo said.
She described the home’s architectural style as “foursquare with a modern edge.” From the street, it looks like a freshened-up contemporary of its neighbors. “The form is historic, but we wanted it to look new. Big casement windows is a modern move.”
So is the exterior color scheme — navy blue siding with a chartreuse door. “The color makes it modern,” said Deb.
The lot dimensions — 45 by 140 feet — “drove a lot of our design decisions,” said Chuck, including putting the garage at the back and attaching it to the house with a slim galley containing a mudroom.
“It [the design] keeps the traditional scale of the house and garage, and still allows light into the back side of the house,” said Nymo.
As the design took shape, the Van De Weghes began inviting groups of neighbors over to see the plans. “The neighbors had quite a bit of concern,” about the house blending in, said Deb. But seeing the plans eased their fears.
“The evidence that Rehkamp Larson pulled it off is that people ask, ‘When did you remodel?’ They assume it’s an existing house, which is a huge compliment,” said Chuck.
Another goal was ensuring that the couple could live there as long as they wanted — “future-proofing,” in Chuck’s words.
“We planned for aging in place,” said Nymo.
The three bedrooms are all on the second floor but there’s a first-floor office that could be used as a bedroom, and an adjacent powder room with a closet that could be converted into a shower. And there’s framing for an elevator, should one become necessary.
The floor plan is open, with the living room, dining room and kitchen all flowing together into one large space.
“I love the openness from front to back,” said Deb. “Our other house had little spaces.”
Color was an important part of the design from the outset.
“One of the early conversations was about how they wanted color to be strategic and kind of daring,” said Nymo, who said it was a joy to work with “a client willing to make that leap.”
Working with interior designer Brooke Voss, the couple chose a color palette drawn from their artwork and two pillows they brought back from Italy. “They were the starting point,” Deb said.
There’s lots of crisp white in the home, offset by bold splashes of color, including two banks of chartreuse cabinets in the kitchen.
“The chartreuse has plenty of white to balance it,” Deb said, along with black honed granite on the countertops and on the massive 10-by-4-foot island.
The mudroom is a vivid peacock blend of bright teal cabinets set against a cobalt blue Marmoleum floor, flooring that was repeated in the second-floor laundry room.
The powder room has a tiled accent wall in juicy orange, while Deb’s office contains an orange couch and a built-in bookshelf painted hot pink.
“I love it!” she said.
Chuck got some features that were on his wish list: a heated garage with floor drains, a basement workshop where he refinishes furniture and makes wooden frames for their daughter’s craft business and a built-in beverage cooler in the kitchen for his beer.
“I was always fighting for space in the refrigerator,” he said.
Building a new home allowed them to incorporate up-to-date technology.
“It’s a smart house,” Chuck said. “From our smartphones, we can control the temperature, lighting, sound system, garage door, front door and irrigation system.”
And while building a new home is often stressful, the Van De Weghes found it “joyful.”
“We had a great team,” said Deb. “We were in sync and on budget. That’s what made it joyful. Most people design their dream home, then have to shave it down” to accommodate financial realities. “This was designed to the budget, which made it less stressful.”
“Part of design is budgeting,” said Nymo. “No one wants to design something no one can afford to build.”
That’s why the builder, Reuter Walton, was an integral part of the team, providing “an immediate feedback loop on pricing” and the cost implications of design choices.
“We made a list of ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have,’ ” said Deb.
Some trade-offs were made. Instead of the pricey European appliances the Van De Weghes originally thought they wanted, they ended up choosing less-expensive American-made models.
They also considered a truss design above the garage for added storage. But it would have added cost, and they were aiming to pare down their possessions anyway.
“We were trying to get rid of stuff,” said Deb. “We had a big sale, and now we have empty drawers and cupboards. That feels good.”
The couple splurged on their glam dining-room chandelier and custom steel-cable stair railings, but chose a budget-friendly Ikea vanity for the guest bath, which Deb called “a low-use area.”
Life in their new home is everything they hoped it would be.
“Our weekends are more free in summer,” said Deb. Chuck, who likes to garden, can do so without having to spend all weekend, every weekend, on outdoor chores.
“This strikes the perfect balance of low-maintenance, carefree living,” he said. “We love this house!”
About this project
What: New home with modern interior and traditionally scaled exterior in Minneapolis’ Lowry Hill neighborhood.
Size: About 2,770 square feet of living space on two floors.
Architects: Jean Rehkamp Larson, principal, and Sarah Nymo, project architect, Rehkamp Larson Architects.
General contractor: Reuter Walton Construction.
Interior designer: Brooke Voss Design.
Landscape designer: Sticks & Stones Design Inc.