It's hard to pick one feature that encapsulates the most arresting design elements of Prairie Prospect, the eye-catching house built near Stillwater during the pandemic for a young immigrant couple who were newlyweds.
Is it the airy kitchen that has no pantry but is so large and open that it can be its own family party room, albeit with aromatic swirling spices thrilling the senses to a soundtrack of stovetop sizzling instead of fog sliced by laser lights and punctuated by throbbing beats?
Or is it the ginormous 21-foot-long, five-panel sliding door off the kitchen that blurs the border between indoors and out, giving a sense of living, nay, floating in nature?
Get our Floored newsletter
How about the way the light permeates the house from sunup to sundown so that the owners do not have to turn a switch to illuminate their prairie-set dream?
The structure, imagined and brought to life by husband-wife team Jeremy and Sara Imhoff — he's the architect of record, she the designer — has drawn a raft of accolades, including winning a Home of the Month award, presented by the American Institute of Architects — Minnesota and the Star Tribune.
"There's a streamlined simplicity to what we're doing — a carefully crafted quality so that even though the house might appear to be simple, we're thinking about light and volume and space," Sara said. "Our designs are much more than the floor plans and the massing."
Married for 21 years and the owners of Imprint Architecture and Design, the Imhoffs refined their process and aesthetic at home before going into business. The couple, who met as undergraduates at the University of Minnesota, lived in Washington state, where Jeremy went to graduate school.
It was there that they spent eight or nine years — he said eight, she said nine — renovating a house. Their marriage survived.
"We really learned how to work together on that project," Jeremy said. "If we have disagreements here and there, we go back to the drawing board and come up with something better."
"Through all the years of working together on a variety of different projects of our own, and then also with clients, we just have learned how to, you know, feed off of each other's strengths and weaknesses and come up with some really great designs," Sara added.
When the young Nepalese couple tapped them to build Prairie Prospect in the White Oaks Savanna, a residential community amid more than 150 acres of prairie, they wanted to understand the parameters of their clients' dreams, both architecturally and in terms of function. What's important to them? What do they want in a house?
The family, they learned, was really into gatherings. The home they sought was to be a retreat where they could all luxuriate in one another's company, whether in a kitchen or by a pool.
Aesthetically, they craved openness and light for public spaces and a sense of privacy for the bedrooms. And, of course, they wanted to live in harmony with nature.
The Imhoffs visited the site. It was open and sat on a rolling hill. And because of the topography, plus a stand of trees, it had a sense of privacy.
This is a space where they could play, they thought, where they could use floor-to-ceiling windows.
"On a wide-open parcel like this where you don't see your neighbors, you can really explore those larger window concepts and inside-outside concepts," Sara said.
They came up with two designs and the commissioning couple chose the one with a stronger prairie aesthetic. The task was to come up with a biophilic design where light, water and air enhance the feeling of being alive and well-balanced.
"The concept behind this house is … you're on this great lot with lots of views so I'm really homing in on that idea of large windows taking advantage of the best views and then bringing in a lot of the daylight," Jeremy said.
Prairie Prospect is an L-shaped, 3,200-square-foot home with two large wings — one oriented west, the other north — connected at the main gathering spaces: the kitchen, living room and family room. These shared spaces have huge windows and towering sliding doors to provide ample daylight and views of nature. Those features, as well as the large overhangs, provide passive heating in the winter and natural cooling by inviting the breeze in the summer.
Upstairs, the bedrooms all have vaulted ceilings.
The design also called for a pool with privacy achieved through a natural tree line, along with that north and west floor plan that keeps it from public view. And the house has natural tight-knot cedar siding and a metal shed roof made from recycled materials that is angled in multiple directions. Both functional and poetic, it shelters while reaching dramatically skyward.
"The shed roof definitely nods to the Pacific Northwest," Sara said. "That and the prairie style of the house — it's our dreams meeting theirs."
As the design process evolved, there were some architectural changes. The clients at first wanted a pantry and an office. But the architects and their larger team did not want to give up the light coming into the home.
"The general consensus was that there were some really great views that were going to get blocked by the pantry," Sara recalled. "So, we asked the client if they would be open to just creating a really large kitchen with lots of extra storage cabinetry so we could open up the views to the east and northeast."
The house also anticipates future needs. It's set up so that a mother-in-law suite can be added behind the garage. And it is primed for a buildout of a roof deck.
"It is designed for age-in-place living and for them to accommodate their extended family," Sara said. "It's future- and forward-facing that way."
It also grounds a couple from a mountainous country in Asia firmly on the Minnesota prairie. It's a medium house, not a little one, that helps them write their own American story.
About this project
A young Nepalese newlywed couple had a vision of what family life could be in Minnesota. They were drawn to the prairie and wanted to build a new home for their growing family. The home is designed to sit low in the landscape. Large overhangs as well as ample doors and windows provide passive heating in the winter and natural cooling in the summer. Natural tight-knot cedar wood siding and a metal roof made from recycled materials were used for the exterior.
Designing firm: Imprint Architecture and Design.
Project team: Lead architect Jeremy Imhoff, AIA; Sara Imhoff, AIA; Jordan Magistad.
Project partners: General contractor Redstone Builders; landscape architecture Travis Van Liere Studio; Andersen Windows and Doors; Northland Woodworks cabinets; Living Stone Concrete Design sink and fireplace. Travis Van Liere Studio — Landscape Architecture