St. Louis Park Kitchen Addition

June 30th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

Mary and I photographed this kitchen addition in St. Louis Park last week. The Owners are very happy with the project and were glad to show us around.

The project scope was to find a way to expand the existing kitchen and provide a suitable mud room. The small lot presented a particular challenge in this case, due to the desire for an outdoor patio, a covered entry and zoning ordinance constraints of the rear yard size.

The kitchen features commercial grade stainless steel appliances and ventilation. The countertop is granite, set upon custom cabinets in hickory. The backsplash is ceramic tile. For maximum work surface and multiple chefs, the “F” shaped counter configuration emerged, also allowing easy traffic flow to the mud room.

The mudroom has space for coat hooks and a bench (now being used for baby car seats). Behind closed doors are an ample coat closet and a stacked front-loading washer/drier combination.

Through thorough listening to the Owners, analysis of the existing structure, and creative use of space, we developed a design that simultaneously achieves simplicity, functionality, and beauty. During construction, we were able to attend to the smaller details, like centering light switches between doors and recessed lights on wall cabinets.

We took this as high praise: There is nothing that they would have done differently, and the kitchen has been functional for over six months. Guests to the house have commented on the generous interior space for such a small addition.

More images are available in our gallery. We invite to to take a look.

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Northfield Alumnus returns home

June 22nd, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

Architectural Super Drafter

VIVUS Architecture & Design welcomes Caleb Morisette to the team!

Caleb provides computer modeling, site verification, graphics and drafting support to the VIVUS architectural and interior design team. Since mid-December 2006, he has been working in our Northfield offices. During the past six months, he has assisted with several residential, religous and light commercial projects.

His education well-suits these roles; In 2005, he received an Associate of Applied Sciences degree in Architectural Technology and Design from the Northland Community and Technical College in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.

Caleb is a native of Northfield and an alumnus of Northfield High School. Since joining VIVUS, he has moved back to town and very much enjoys being back.

We hope you will join us in welcoming Caleb home.

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Screen Porch Addition Going Quickly

June 19th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

Screen porch construction underway

Since my last post on this project, things have really come together. The roof and walls are in place, and siding and trim are coming together quickly.

With this addition, the existing windows prevented a steep-slope roof on the addition. Instead, the design takes its cues from some of the neighboring houses while maintaining integrity with the spirit of the house. Colors, materials and textures all blend closely with the home, while the form adopts the Asian influences of the surrounding architectural context. The interior of the porch is lofty and airy, providing a slow spatial compression as a visitor moves into the house. The wide steps and deck will serve as seating and display for potted plant arrangements. A patio is planned at the foot of the steps.

Screen Porch design

Todd Lebens has done a nice job working through the details on the project, including the exposed beam ends as shown here.

Cross-ventilation provided by large screens also will provide good views.

The porch attaches to the house through a modest Mud Room and Storage addition, which shows to the left of the photo. The large screen panels provide wonderful cross-ventilation and light to the porch. The Owner has plans for landscaping gardens all around the porch.

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Renewable Energy Fair Wrap-up

June 17th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

Wind turbine in Custer Wisconsin, generating renewable energy for the fair We returned to the Midwest Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fair this morning, under the gentle whirring of the wind turbine above the pines.

Today was a day of more workshops.

First, I brushed up on the issue of electric and magnetic fields in homes, spending two hours listening to Spark Burmaster talk about the simple errors in wiring that can have a big effect on fields. Like allergens, people have varying sensitivities to magnetic and electric fields. Careful attention to grounding, grounding, grounding can dramatically reduce fields in the home.

Next I bought a Solar Pathfinder, to help me advise my clients on the suitability of their sites for solar energy systems. The clever device uses simple reflection of the surroundings overlaid on a sunpath chart for the site’s latitude to inform the designer what surrounding objects (trees and buildings usually) will block the sun at what time of year. Photovoltaic panels are extremely sensitive to shading, so this device will help us quantify if your site is right for PV. Solar water heaters are less sensitive, but we can now help you better understand what the impact of that white pine tree will have on your morning shower.

Window in the Strawbale demostration hut

During a break, we checked out the straw bale demonstration hut, which will eventually house composting toilets for the facility. This hut is a load-bearing system, meaning that the bales actually hold up the roof structure.

Rammed tires for entry steps
The entry steps are (obviously) old tires filled with compacted dirt.

Artistic play in the plaster

And, of course, the plaster work provides a medium that can be artistically inviting as well.

The hut

Seeing the hut after yesterday’s seminar makes me want to design and build such a house. If you might be interested, let’s talk!

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Saturday at the MREA = Energizing!

June 16th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

MREA Headquarters in Custer, WI

At the end of the day, we are physically tired but mentally energized after spending the day immersed in the 2007 Midwest Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair.

We left home early this morning to arrive in Custer, Wisconsin, for this annual event. Powered by biodiesel from Northfield Amcon, we pressed through light rain to arrive for the morning classes. We met my parents here, who inspired me to thinking sustainably before it became newsworthy.

Of particular professional interest to me were photovoltaics and strawbale construction, although earth-sheltered homes captured my attention more than ever before. The synergies of ideas and experience represented here is exciting.

pV Class mrea-fair-2007-022.jpg

If you have never been to the Renewable Energy Fair, I highly recommend it. The grounds of the MREA are filled with eye-catching booths and tents of vendors of sustainable products; aisles of the latest fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles; solar water heating systems; wind turbines; good food; and even a tent with fun activities for the kids.

Wind turbine Recumbent Recycling

Here the kids make organic ice cream, which of course they sampled quickly thereafter. They thought it was wonderful having desert before lunch!

Ice Cream

Organic Pizza

Speaking of food, here is a solar oven that was on display. The mirrors reflect the suns rays into a glass oven. The thermometer read 275 degrees F inside!


In addition to the cool stuff to see and learn, the MREA has made this event very welcoming. The atmosphere is one of collegial sharing, courtesy and peace: very appealing and noteworthy in this time of global instability over non-renewable energy sources.

Tomorrow we will return to the fair, for a few more seminars, conversations, and learning. I’ll report again soon!

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Great Space in Downtown Northfield

June 13th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

Downtown Northfield, Minnesota

I thought immediately of our hometown, Northfield MN, when I found this link. It is an article on the four qualities of great places, written by the Project for Public Spaces.

Northfield has a great historic downtown and is working hard to make it better. Check out the article, then follow up with Ross Currier’s NDDC blog post on what’s happening in Northfield.

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St. Ansgar’s Lutheran Church Master Plan

June 13th, 2007 by Peter Schmelzer

St. Ansgar’s Lutheran Church Master Plan Image

We’ve added some images of our work for St. Ansgar’s Lutheran Church in Cannon Falls, MN to our portfolio, and we invite you to take a look.

The congregation came to us with an idea that they needed an elevator to provide proper hospitality to people of various mobility levels. Also, they acknowledged that their Gathering Space was too small and the building was difficult for visitors. Through discussion with leadership, staff, and members, we discovered the needs of the broader congregation.

The needs included a stronger presence to the highway; a more inviting entry way (including a canopy); a larger and more gracious Gathering Space; an elevator in an easy to find location; a larger Fellowship Hall on the main level with a new kitchen; and professional grade office space for better ministry.

We conducted an investigation into the existing building to determine what needs might exist that could be met through remodeling or addition, then reviewed our findings with the Building Committee. The design process followed, resulting in five initial floor plan options. Option 5 was selected as the most feasible and was developed into the final masterplan. Curtis Duden, a contractor from the congregation, formulated estimates of cost.

To broaden the discussion, we put the concept studies on our website for congregational members to peruse as they found time.

On 15 April 2007, the congregation voted unanimously to adopt the Master Plan and to begin a Capital Campaign toward realization of the plan.

We enjoyed working closely with the Building Committee through the discovery and design phases and wish them many blessings as they take the next step.

The masterplanning process used here can help your church or business find its way to a place that truly serves your mission. We welcome your call to discuss how.

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