A Stillwater couple with a passion for design and creativity build a family home that’s sophisticated yet approachable, lively, and open

By Linda Mack

There’s a jungle gym in Josh and Trish Hanson’s yard, but it’s hard to imagine their children play there. Their house on Little Carnelian Lake north of Stillwater is full of architectural creativity. A weathering steel walkway slopes up to a faded pink door. The dining room occupies a glass bridge floating over a swale. Green roofs slant up from the black steel structure to punctuate the Minnesota sky.

“The house is close to museum quality, but four kids, two dogs, two cats, and several stingrays live here!” says architect Katherine Hillbrand, AIA, of SALA Architects.

The secret to the sophisticated sense of fun is undoubtedly Josh Hanson, whose business, WORKSHOP, designs marketing campaigns and consumer spaces for brands around the world. “He literally would sketch with us,” says Hillbrand. “He allowed us to do things we’d never had the opportunity to do before.”

In his younger years, Hanson spent time with friends swimming in the lake, which is known for its clear water. So when he and Trish started looking for property on which to build a “forward-looking house,” they drove by the site many times and eventually bought it. They found Hillbrand through SALA’s Stillwater office and started an intense and detailed design process.

They wanted a house that made a design statement—that married art and function, says Hillbrand. And so it does.

A three-story wing clad in Endicott brick and durable Shou Sugi Ban charred cedar anchors the house. A slender living wing containing the glass dining room pierces the taller wing, its black steel roof sloping up to the east. “We wanted the house to be dark,” says Hillbrand. “If you make the structure dark and recessive, it allows what’s around it to pop.”

Inside, in contrast, walls are white, stair railings are glass, and curtain wall opens the living spaces to the verdant surroundings. “The contrast makes it more refreshing,” says Hillbrand.

In the dining room, the curtain wall extends below the floor, accentuating the feeling of floating. “This is definitely the heart of the house,” says Hanson.

It’s also the pivot between the social spaces (a sunken sitting room with walls extending out to focus the view on the lake, and a small living room with a high, sloping ceiling and a steel-and-black-brick hearth) and the private spaces (the generous kitchen with an “every meal” nook, a cozy, contemporary library focused on an Italian mirror and French-style mantelpiece, and the bedroom wing). “We didn’t want to make any room that wasn’t used,” says Hanson.

A three-story stairway with perfectly detailed glass railings and a translucent roof connects the lower-level lounge and second-story bedrooms. The minimalist master with its marble bathroom and built-in closets occupies the corner overlooking the lake and the larger green roof. The three girls’ rooms line up almost like a bunk room; they are small but cool, each with a daybed or hanging chair, built-in closet, small skylight over the entry, and translucent door (so the parents know when lights are out).

The girls all picked their own wallpaper, and it’s clear their parents’ design genes were passed on. Their bathroom features penny-round tile on all surfaces (including the bathtub) and three sinks with pink faucets.

During design, the Hansons learned they were expecting a baby boy, so the bedroom wing was lengthened to add another bedroom and bath. It cantilevers 10 feet over the garage below, with the roof extending an additional seven feet. The roof is lined with solar panels, which supply 100 percent of the electricity needed for the house and electric car in summer, and 50 percent of the electricity needed year-round.

Seventeen geothermal wells provide heating and cooling without unsightly mechanicals. All lighting is LED, and the walls are super-insulated.

Hanson’s home office occupies a glass-walled space next to the garage. It features his aquarium, which hums with movement from the teeming fish and black-and-white freshwater stingrays. The stingrays seem emblematic of the house itself: impeccably designed, cool but not pretentious, and ready for action.

Location: Stillwater, Minnesota
Clients: Josh and Trish Hanson
Architect: SALA Architects, Inc.
Principal-in-charge: Katherine Hillbrand, AIA
Project lead designers: Katherine Hillbrand, AIA; Chris Meyer, AIA
Energy modeling: Katie Leaf, Assoc, AIA; Marc Sloot, AIA
Landscape architect: Jason Aune
General contractor: Choice Wood Company
Size: 7,348 square feet
Completion: July 2015
Photographer: Morgan Sheff