Sometimes the best inspiration can be found right in your own backyard. So when local business owner Joshua Wert was looking to add an assisted-living home to the five memory care homes he already owns, he started with the home where he grew up, on Oak Ridge Trail in Minnetonka.
This isn't your ordinary bungalow, however. It's a one-of-a-kind midcentury modern residence designed by locally renowned architect Arthur Dickey, who drafted more than 300 Twin Cities residences, including a Minneapolis home shaped like the Star of David.
Wert's mother, Lois Berman, worked closely with Dickey on the plans, and she had kept the house pretty much unchanged since it was built in 1970, from the indoor pool in the basement to the massive rubber tree plants growing in the atrium.
"At the time it was built, I had a disability from a back injury, so that's why it included features like all the bedrooms being on the main level, ramp sidewalks, wide hallways and that pool," Berman said.
As well loved a place as it was for Berman and her four children, she had come to realize that after living there for 52 years, it was time to move on. Wert, owner and CEO of English Rose, a care provider for people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other complex medical conditions, proposed purchasing the home as an assisted-living site for his company.
After putting the house on the market last fall to get a better idea of its fair market value, the deal went through. Following a period of renovations, Oak Ridge officially opened to residents Nov. 1.
"I found it to be a wonderful idea," Berman said. "That house is really special, and it provided me with so much joy and a real nourishment of my soul. But it had become way too big for me, so it's a wonderful thing if even more people can enjoy it."
The home maintains many of the delightful details that Berman and her architect had dreamed up so many years ago.
The 5,550-square-foot home already included thoughtful accents, liberal use of wood, splashes of color and high-end, timeless materials, such as Clear Cedar, which is almost entirely free of knots and is beloved for its durability. Cathedral ceilings and clerestory windows provided natural light while maintaining privacy. Outdoor spaces were just as important, with several decks, patios and gardens providing easy access to the outdoors.
Minneapolis' Christian Dean Architecture and Dovetail managed the renovation. While there were five bedrooms in the family home, there now are six private assisted-living suites. Other renovations included opening the kitchen to increase caregiver sight lines and replacing carpet with hardwood floors to accommodate wheelchairs.
The renovation process included a few surprises, one of the botanical variety. "We wanted to replace those original rubber trees with a Zen garden that can be cared for and enjoyed by residents," Wert said. "We found that the plants' roots went all the way through a large hole in the basement."
The trees were successfully removed, and they're now growing in a new home in Rochester.
As work proceeded, a renovation quandary arose around the fire suppression system. Two vaulted areas prevented sprinklers that would typically go inside the ceilings from being buried. Not to be deterred, they embraced the architecture around them.
"We didn't want to mar the look with plastic piping hanging off the ceiling, which would have compromised the architectural integrity of the home," Wert said. "So we came up with a solution to use copper, which would match the flue on the double-sided stone fireplace. We've had lots of positive comments about the look of the copper, so it really was an inspired moment of design."
Inviting the community
The space has not only become a welcoming spot for its residents and their friends and family members to visit, but Wert has the same hopes for those who work here. The lower-level swimming pool is still in place, and, along with a sauna and shower, it's now a recreational space for staff and their guests.
As she witnesses others enjoying the space where she lived for more than half a century, Berman is content.
"I had already come to terms with the idea of selling the house and having it go to someone else," she said. "I'm so pleased now, and I hope others have as great an experience there as we did. It's a wonderful sendoff for a special place."
Her son agrees. "It's like being in a sacred space," Wert said. "All those natural materials are so soulful, and the architecture is inspired, almost churchlike. It's the perfect fit for the English Rose mission of meeting residents' needs not just medically, but also socially, spiritually and physically."
Julie Kendrick is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.