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"This is not going to be OK," Shane Mechelke recalled thinking when he realized his family's St. Louis Park rambler was on fire the evening of Feb. 15, 2020.

All that day, he and partner Angela Cavalier felt that something wasn't right, but since everything seemed in order, they convinced themselves that everything was OK and wrote it off to jet lag from a recent trip.

But later, reading in bed, they still couldn't shake the feeling. That's when Mechelke and Cavalier walked through the house and saw a thin layer of smoke near the basement ceiling where the family's three teenage boys were watching a movie. They got everyone — including the pets — out quickly. An electrical fire had started in the attic. When all was said and done, smoke, water and firefighting chemicals damaged the home beyond repair.

The family loves their neighborhood, so there was no question they would rebuild. Furthermore, Mechelke and Cavalier decided that something good would come from the disaster: an extra special home.

"The fire happened at the start of the pandemic, civil unrest and online school for the kids. It was a tough time, and we were in a small rental in Uptown," Mechelke said. "So that motivated us to design a home where we could spend a lot of time and never get bored with it."

They chose CityDeskStudio and its principal and founder, Ben Awes, to lead the charge. The firm took into account the family's needs and lifestyle, picking up on details such as their love for travel and collecting plants.

"Shane and Angela are creative people and took this not as a setback but as an opportunity to fully reimagine what home could be here," said Awes, whose imaginative response to the house's rebuild earned the project, called "Bluebird," a 2023-2024 Star Tribune AIA Minnesota Home of the Month win.

Spreading their wings

Fortunately, the family's neighborhood (Lake Forest near Cedar Lake) is full of eclectic midcentury and contemporary homes, so the couple knew they could have a little fun with the form without sticking out like a sore thumb. Mechelke especially wanted a butterfly roof like the ones he'd seen in Palm Springs, Calif.

"I love how they let light in and you can see the clouds and treetops," Mechelke said. While they were open to taking design risks, they also wanted the house to stay within the same footprint, shape and size since the home's existing foundation was one of the few things still intact following the fire.

Those wishes were carried out and more. Although the butterfly shape is hard to discern from the exterior, it wows inside with soaring ceilings and large clerestory windows facing the front and back of the house.

"A butterfly roof offers a different experience of space than just a high ceiling," Awes said. "The light comes in boldly from the north and south and bounces off the slope, creating beautiful shadow and dimension."

Touches of Japanese and French design — shoji screens and herringbone floors are also part of the design, inspired by the couple's travels. "We wanted a French museum feel with Japanese architecture and a midcentury modern vibe," Cavalier said.

The sleek galley-style kitchen is a good example of the mix. It has walnut herringbone floors like the ones in many traditional French homes, California modernist cabinetry and a Japanese-style courtyard with wood decking and a Korean maple tree, which, when fully grown, will perfectly fill the space.

The second floor is devoted to Mechelke and Cavalier's home office and bedroom suite. Accessible via a floating walnut staircase, the crisp office is polished enough for client meetings and features an enclosed outdoor deck.

The bedroom lies on the other side of sliding shoji doors, along with a Japanese-inspired bathroom. The space has a lush flora and fauna ambiance between the green ombre mosaic wall and a wet room with extra shelving so plants have plenty of places to perch. "I feel surrounded by nature when I'm in there," Cavalier said, of design details that include wood-slat shower floors.

'Furry' house

For the exterior cladding on the upper part of the house, Awes created an asymmetrical pattern with distinct shadow lines that echo the shoji screens inside the home. He provided builder Ridge Construction with drawings and they brought his vision to life by overlapping sheets of humble, affordable plywood.

"I wanted something that looked a little furry to counterbalance the crisp modernity," Awes explained. "Architecture can be serious business, but we remind ourselves every day to pay attention to what brings joy."

Another joyful touch that shows this family has a sense of humor is a firepole in one of the bedrooms. It leads to the basement rec room. Another charming feature is a gallery wall in the dining room filled with art collected from their travels. It has special significance as many of the pieces were brought to safety by first responders.

"We are so thankful to the firefighters and officers that saved not only many of our personal belongings but also the neighboring houses," Mechelke said. Cavalier added, "We're a pretty sturdy family and have come through the experience OK. And now that the house is done and we're back, it feels better than ever."

Laurie Junker is a Twin Cities-based writer specializing in home design and architecture.

About this project

Designing firm: CityDeskStudio

Project team: Principal architect Ben Awes, AIA; Perri Kinsman; Sophie Olund; Sam Awes

Project partners: General contractor Ridge Construction; Living Stone Concrete Design