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September is a time for new beginnings. The kids are back in school. The leaves are starting to turn. And it's the start of football season.

Of course, last year wasn't the best season for Minnesota Vikings fans. One particular game stands out for Michael Graven and Kirsten Jaglo.

It was the game that dashed the team's playoff hopes, and the one that marked the demise of Graven and Jaglo's garage.

A few hours after having friends over to watch the game in their Linden Hills home in Minneapolis, they heard glass shatter. They walked outside to find their garage engulfed in flames from an electrical fire. The structure was a total loss.

"We were extremely upset and traumatized," Jaglo said.

When it was time to rebuild, they decided to add an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) above the new garage.

The couple have aging parents and wanted to provide an independent living space for them to stay. Because Jaglo's father has been diagnosed with Parkinson's, it was important that the unit be accessible.

"We thought, 'How can we turn this into a better situation?' We had always talked about having an ADU. But honestly, we had a really nice garage and it didn't make sense to knock it down for no reason," Jaglo said. "I guess the garage removed itself, you would say."

Small spaces, big dreams

The addition also offered a chance to integrate the latest in environmentally friendly construction, design and technology. After all, the family is passionate about green living. Michael's family has worked in the field of alternative energy since the 1970s. Kirsten specializes in climate change and sustainability.

And even though the ADU would, by necessity, be small, they didn't want it to feel cramped or look cluttered.

They knew it would take an experienced architect to incorporate everything on their wish list, so they brought in Christopher Strom Architects, which specializes in ADUs, to lead the charge.

"It was a game of inches," said architect Christoper Strom.

They had 660 square-feet of space above the garage to work with. Within that footprint, the team would need to install a full kitchen, living room, bedroom, laundry area, elevator and a small deck.

To keep the spaces flowing, they landed on an open kitchen and living room design and maximized storage through built-in cabinetry and shelving.

The washer and dryer were stacked and bedside lamps were wall-mounted. Plenty of windows and skylights were installed to let natural light in and make each room feel as spacious as possible.

"When you have these small spaces, you really have to think carefully about what you're going to do," Graven said. "We used all of the space in the interior walls. Every stud, every cabinet, every inch was used for something."

Going green

Strom described the home as the "greenest" project that his firm has worked on.

"From an overall project perspective, it was fantastic that we didn't have to convince the homeowners to adopt a sustainable energy strategy," he said. "They're really passionate about making something that's sustainable and good for the planet. They were 100 percent in on using the newest technology and sustainable design ideas."

Green details included solar panels on the roof to offset the amount of energy used at the property. Solar-powered smart shades were installed and programmed to the sun's movements for proper heating and cooling.

They opted for radiant floor heating, which requires less energy than traditional heating methods and a fresh air exchange system to improve indoor air quality and recoup heat that would otherwise escape.

Insulation also played a role in making the place run as efficiently as possible. A closed-cell foam spray for joists and floors was used to keep air and moisture away while two types of insulation — a more traditional one for the inside as well as high-performance insulation for the outside — covered all the bases.

They also relied on low-maintenance materials. A standing-seam metal siding was used for the garage while corrugated metal was used on the ADU.

Elizabeth Akkerman of Christopher Strom Architects, a designer on the project, said the choice of the exterior materials served both design and function.

"If we would have put the same siding [on both the garage and ADU], it starts to look quite massive. If you pull them apart and create two levels of different materials, it breaks up the building and becomes lighter," she said.

Finishing touches

Jaglo, who lived in Denmark for two years, also wanted to weave a Japanese Danish modern style into the look. In addition to functional design and natural elements, pops of color were woven in via a dark green exterior siding, a teal entry door and navy-grey lower kitchen cabinets.

"I picked a few small things to make it more vibrant," she said.

The project, which will be featured in the upcoming Homes by Architects tour this month, is an example of how small spaces can integrate green and tech-savvy ideas.

"I've always really liked the design of small spaces as long as there's a level of craft and detail. It forces you to be more creative," Strom said. "If you have unlimited square footage, you can always add something. If you can remove 'Bigger is better' from the equation, you can implement some well-scaled architecture.

"Here, every nook and cranny is filled with design and technology. I think it's a great project in general that we can take with us to other projects as well."

With the ADU complete, the family is discovering it's a space that serves their needs well.

"Young families, aging families and when you have that eldercare factor, it gave us ideas on how we could use an additional 600 square-feet," Graven said. "It wasn't just an extra living room. Building an ADU is like building a very small house."

In addition to hosting visitors, the family sometimes uses the unit as an office, for yoga and meditation or for movie nights with their son. And when large get-togethers were on hold during the pandemic, it was the gathering spot for a quaint holiday meal.

Next up? "We look forward to hosting our family members who are Vikings fans there," Graven said.

About this project

What: The need to rebuild a garage created an opportunity for an ADU that integrated the latest in green design, technology and construction.

Size: 660 square feet

Design: Christopher Strom Architects

Project team: Christopher Strom, AIA; Elizabeth Akkerman, Assoc. AIA; Eric Johnson, AIA

General contractor: Uber Built

Structural engineer: Bunkers & Associates

More: The home will be one of several featured in the upcoming Homes by Architects Tour in person Sept. 18 and 19 and virtually from Sept. 18 to 26. For more information, visithomesbyarchitects.org.