The Inside of Your Home: Time for New Thinking

April 28th, 2009 by Mary Schmelzer

This article also appeared in the April 15, 2009 Home and Garden insert of the Northfield News.

This great room is divided by curved ceiling treatments

This great room is divided by curved ceiling treatments

It isn’t news that the housing market is drastically different. Houses aren’t selling overnight and the flexibility of moving just isn’t there. This means it is time we think differently about our homes and how we wisely make them our own.

Sarah Susanka’s building approach, “The Not So Big House” is celebrating ten years of success. The theory resonates with many home owners: it values quality over quantity and creating a home for yourself, not a generic sales market. Most people who come to Vivus Architecture + Design subscribe to these principles and want design solutions that provide personalized spaces that are right-sized with features that make living easier and more beautiful.

Breaking down the above principles into strategies, these are some of the local interior trends we are seeing:

People are doing all the planning up front, and then allowing the projects to take place in a logical and manageable sequence. Often this allows the homeowners to occupy the house during construction and doesn’t require the same upfront financing. Planning also prevents undoing good work that was previously accomplished or the budget-busting “while-we’re-at-its.”

Useful spaces that save time and money are always assets. Organized closets optimally placed save frustration and repurchasing of items that can’t be found. A good kitchen layout makes cooking, cleanup and entertaining easier and more enjoyable for everyone. By designing efficient living spaces, we are often able to reduce the square footage previously anticipated for an addition. This planning is rewarded by construction savings.

Quality cabinetry, flooring and counters save money in the long run

Quality cabinetry, flooring and counters save money in the long run

We are now seeing fewer projects that are short-term solutions: homeowners are installing high-quality cabinetry, flooring and finishes. This may mean an owner will take on a smaller project, but the enduring appeal and life span of the materials make the decision a good one. Navigating through the available selections takes effort and planning, but it pays in the long run when a remodeling lasts for decades.

Family spaces
Families are just as busy as ever, and demand much from their homes. More homes locally are planning for mudrooms. Mudrooms answer many needs: storage, organization, information/scheduling, pet spaces, and sometimes laundry.

Kitchens are designed with built-in places for homework, home offices, entertaining and specialty cooking. Homeowners are upgrading appliances, cabinetry, lighting and flooring to create hard-working and good-looking multi-use spaces. Open connections between rooms can offer new opportunities for entertaining and family connectedness if they are adequately designed to do so.

A "command center" has its own nook formed by the stairwell

We are seeing less square footage added as more owners opt to create rooms for the whole family: reading, watching TV, playing games and using the computer. Built-in nooks and work counters perform many functions without requiring much floor space. One well-planned hard-working room can replace several others. Instead of a dedicated home office, we often allocate space in or near a common room.

More and more green elements are being incorporated. Energy savings, carbon reduction, kindness to the earth and health are driving factors. We address these desires by designing a tight envelope (good windows, doors, insulation), selecting efficient heating/cooling, and recommending eco-friendly products. Efficiency and durability are strategies that also help “green” a home. Renewable energy systems are an option, too.

Don’t be afraid to make your home your own. The homes we remember are those with interesting nooks and crannies, fun features or rooms beautifully appointed. It takes a careful hand to decipher what is universally charming and what is over-the-top. We often recommend the unusual strokes be items that can be removed: paint, furniture, accessories. Well-done focal points, quality built-ins and beautiful woodwork are features that appeal to everyone.

Bold tile makes a colorful statement in a concentrated area

Bold tile makes a colorful statement in a concentrated area

Color can enhance woodwork and furniture, set a mood, and optimize natural light. Today’s spaces have touches of bright colors mixed with neutrals. Rooms are planned to have color opportunities: backsplashes, stained glass, and walls that sport a focused hue. Local colors include darker, saturated earth tones (mustard yellows, clay reds, brown-based greens) and deeper neutrals.

As you think about making your current home work better for you, employ the trends listed above to make wise choices about your updates. Planning ahead and good design will reward you with usable and enjoyable spaces that will serve you for many years. Let us know how we can help.

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Third Street Progress

April 23rd, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Butler's Pantry

The first phase of this master plan is complete.

Above is the Butler’s Pantry, which replaced the existing bathroom and serves as a connection to the four-season porch. An existing bedroom was renovated for a new bathroom, as seen below.

Master Bathroom

The exterior was resided, reroofed and third-floor windows were replaced. A unique part of this project was adding an exterior hot tub to the third level. Creative structural design allowed us to safely accomplish the feat: the full tub weighs as much as a Volkswagen Beetle! The four-season porch finishes were undisturbed during this work, and the hot tub has been used frequently through the winter. It’s lofty perch affords privacy to the bathers and a wonderful view of the stars at night.

winkl0601-2009-04-22-004 Third Floor Hot Tub


The finished product looks good and the owners are pleased with the outcome.

The master plan was developed to convert the attic space into a new Master Suite, but that is being reconsidered. The unfinished attic now seems to be a better entertaining space, so a reconfiguration may be forth-coming.

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Complete Addition

April 22nd, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


A little exterior painting is all that remains on this addition.

The addition tackled a tough site problem and a challenging blend of historically unique structural additions. The L-shaped lot wrapped around the neighboring parcel. The home’s previous additions were done with poor or absent foundations.

Now the addition affords space for a sorely needed back entry and mud room, a Master Bedroom, larger bedrooms, and two bathrooms. The kitchen will be remodeled in a subsequent phase; It will be a much more functional kitchen due to the space opened up by the expansion.

For more before photos and the design sketch, see previous posts on this home.

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A Discrete Addition

April 21st, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


As the trees begin to bud, an already humble addition recedes behind its craftsman host.

Our design intention for this project was to create an addition that appeared minimal from the street, allowing the colorfully painted bungalow to retain its visual identity. The modern form ducks cleanly under the existing eave, forcing no modification to the roof lines. It’s angled walls preserve a comfortable relationship with the existing garage and stretch views to the back yard, where the Owner has grand garden plans. They also nicely reflect the artistic and edgy tastes of the occupants.

The garden roof will be installed this spring, incorporating storm-water runoff reductions and minimizing potential seepage into the existing basement. Landscaping around the base of the addition will follow. The interior of the addition is more modern, with stainless steel countertops and handmade tile as seen here. (The tile was created by Clay Squared to Infinity.)

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Project Completed!

April 21st, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

johne0501 done

Here is a shot of a completed historic home remodeling on Union Street in Northfield.


The project consisted of a complete exterior make-over and a small, two-story addition (single-gable portion on the right) that provided significant value to both the interior flow and exterior look of the home. For a sense of what existed before our work, see the before photo. I hope you’ll agree that we’ve added some richness, similar to other historic homes in Northfield.

Careful listening, collaborative design, and sensitive detailing allowed us to make a marked improvement to this home while respecting both the budget and the homeowners’ desire to do the work themselves.

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Quote: Friedrich Engels

April 13th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

online casino“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”
-Friedrich Engels

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Take the MN Energy Challenge

April 7th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer


Take the challenge!

The challenge is to reduce your energy footprint. The benefits are cost savings, a more comfortable home, a cleaner environment, and possibly improved physical fitness, to name a few.

The challenge begins with simply bench-marking your current energy usage. Your home mechanical systems, your plumbing, your composting practices, and your vehicle usage all come together in your benchmark carbon dioxide emissions.

The next step is to look at suggested ways to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint. From a list, pick those ideas that seem most readily achievable to you and commit to them. Come back in a year and check your progress. As you select a strategy to employ, the online Member Dashboard will reflect the money and emissions you have saved. Mine says I’ll save $683 per year and reduce my emissions by over 18,000 pounds of CO2.

You can also join an Energy Challenge Team, to see how quickly your individual actions compound into big results. For example, 315 Northfield residents are currently on the Northfield team, saving over $283,000 and 2.4 million pounds of CO2 per year. That is a big impact!

Team Northfield is currently eighth in the rankings, but within easy reach of Fridley, Plymouth, Bloomington, and Prior Lake. Join the MN Energy Challenge and help pull Northfield to the top!

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