Green technology and contemporary design merge seamlessly in a Minneapolis residence by Christian Dean Architecture

By Joel Hoekstra

The difference between anywhere in California and everywhere in Minnesota in the middle of winter can be shocking. But this past Groundhog Day, even as temperatures plunged and gray clouds piled up outside, Mel Wieting, who, with his wife, had just returned from a family vacation to the Golden State, sat in the kitchen of his South Minneapolis home, sipping hot coffee and smiling. The room was warm and bright despite the overcast weather; enough daylight filtered through a nearby wall of windows that Wieting had forgotten to switch on the tiny halogens embedded in the ceiling.

“Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights!” Wieting said to a cylindrical device sitting on a countertop. At his command, the island got a little extra light.

Wieting, an engineer who owns several patents, has long been interested in technology. So when he purchased some property on a street near Lake Calhoun in 2015 with the intention of building a new home on the site, he wanted to integrate an array of green technologies into the plans—an experiment to see how far he could push the envelope of sustainable, low-impact residential design. As his partner in the endeavor, he retained Minneapolis architect Christian Dean, AIA.

Dean, who designed the interiors for the Linden Hills restaurant Upton 43 as well as several homes in the surrounding neighborhoods, is known for his clean-lined, contemporary aesthetic. So he understood local residents’ sensitivity to teardowns and new construction. The Wietings’ new home would have to fit into the neighborhood—which, from Dean’s point of view, was about keeping the profile low.

“People don’t seem to mind aesthetic changes as much as they care about scale,” says the architect. “You have to get the massing right. You have to take your cues from what’s already on the street.”

But right-sizing the residence was especially challenging, because the lot was situated at the top of a steep hill. Dean and Wieting ultimately settled on a three-level design that dug deep into the lot but presented a narrow face to the street. A tuck-under garage and a stepped-back third level helped lessen the visual impact of the 2,858-square-foot home. “We didn’t develop fully to the setbacks either, and generally if you’re building a home there’s pressure to maximize the footprint,” says Dean. “We’re a pretty friendly neighbor in terms of how this house fits on the lot.”

Wieting wanted a home that had a contemporary feel and—despite the northern climate—an indoor/outdoor lifestyle vibe. “I lived in California for 18 years prior to moving to Minnesota,” he says. “You get used to that.” His spouse, a nurse, wanted a main floor that could accommodate the couple as they grow older, with the master suite and a laundry on the same level as the living, dining, and kitchen areas.

Both also wanted maximum flexibility. The open plan that Dean and colleague Katy Dale, Assoc. AIA, conceived has a bedroom that Wieting has converted into an office, a basement with a bath and kitchen that can be used as a mother-in-law apartment, and a large garage that Wieting anticipates will someday be developed as additional living space. “In 20 years, you won’t need a garage, because you’ll just activate an app and a driverless car will come to your house,” he says. “I wanted the space to be dual-use.”

Dean responded enthusiastically to his client’s desire to build a house that centered on sustainable technologies. The floors of the basement/garage level contain a radiant heating system, and the foundation walls are constructed with an insulated concrete panel that delivers optimal thermal performance and moisture protection yet also looks good on the interior, requiring no additional finishes.

The main level is a showcase for sustainable, high-performance materials as well. The floors are finished in Douglas fir ply made from salvaged lumber that was bleached and then cut with the end grain exposed, giving it a decorative pattern. Dean and Dale sourced tiles from a Dutch company known for its durable products and environmentally responsible business practices. In the kitchen, the designers installed recycled-paper-infused resin countertops that will develop an attractive natural patina over time.

“All of these great materials are really beautiful products,” says Dale. “We didn’t have to sacrifice design to do this well.”

In the end, the Wietings got a California-style house on a Minnesota lot. The boxy, concrete-and-metal structure is modern and sleek. Its southern flank is trimmed with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that maximize daylighting in the core of the residence and can be slid back to access a sundeck with a fireplace and a grill. Behind the house, a hot tub sits on a concrete plinth. On the top floor, a guest bedroom has its own private terrace. Indoor living flows into outdoor living when the weather turns warm.

Wieting says he’s pleased with both the environmentally friendly features and the other experimental elements the architect wove into the design at the owner’s request: A ring of lights around a vanity in the master bath turns on with the brush of a finger; a TV behind a one-way mirror is visible when activated but concealed when turned off.

“We listened very closely to what Mel’s vision was,” says Dean. “It wasn’t dollar-driven. It was always about delivering a high-quality, forward-thinking house. That was satisfying for all of us.”

Inside: Accoya, a Cradle to Cradle–certified product made from fast-growing pine, and Douglas fir floors were just two of the beautiful yet laudably sustainable products incorporated into the residence. Outside: Prefabricated structural insulated panels (SIPs) used for the wall and roof system create a tight, energy-efficient shell for the home. Landscaping: Fescue and prairie plantings minimize mowing and water usage, while drywells collect water and filter water from the roof.

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Clients: Mel and Rosemary Wieting
Architect: Christian Dean Architecture, LLC
Principal-in-charge: Christian Dean, AIA
Project lead designer: Katy Dale, Assoc. AIA
Energy modeling: Building Knowledge, Inc.
Landscape architect: Travis Van Liere Studio
General contractor: Metro Construction, LLC, jointly with Synergy Builders, Inc.
Size: 2,858 square feet above grade
Completion: September 2016
Photographer: Chad Holder