In 2011, the Clients approached TE Studio about a plan to build a new Passive House home on their lot in the Como neighborhood of Saint Paul, Minnesota. At the time, their property still had a midcentury rambler on it, which they decided to have deconstructed and repurposed. Around 2011-12, they commissioned a contractor to disassemble the house and asked TE Studio to provide a couple of quick designs of what could be built on the site. Furnished in 2012, those designs lingered for a number of years until we started design in earnest in 2016.
The property is pie-wedge shaped, without access from the broad side on Lexington Parkway, but rather from its narrow side off of a side street, which is a unique condition. Between the shape of the lot and the City-required setbacks, siting the house became a challenge. Furthermore, mature trees on site and the desire to keep them complicated the design process, but also the forethought given to later staging by the contractors. Ultimately, several trees were removed to make the project practical.
The Clients’ wish list called for a 4-bedroom, 2-bath layout without basement and with a strong emphasis on aging-in-place. Level ground access became paramount; as did the inclusion of an elevator to ensure usability of both floors over time. While the original designs also included access to both the main house and garage roofs as outdoor spaces, those features proved cost-prohibitive and ended up being replaced by ground-level outdoor spaces and a second level balcony. The garage roof is now structured to become a vegetative surface and the main roof will be host to a photovoltaic panel array.
One of the key features on site is an uninterrupted view of the southwest—overlooking Como Golf Course and Park. The site is elevated over Lexington Parkway, enabling opening up of the building to take advantage of solar heat gains but also the magnificent view. The living space is essentially surrounded by glass—making strong connections with the outdoors. Ornilux bird-safety glazing is used to ensure that the house plays nice with the natural habitat.
Covered entries and a covered south patio offer sheltered exterior spaces and ground-level access to and from the home and garage. The underside of the canopy roofs is clad in reclaimed Ash wood, as is the ceiling of the dining area—bracketing indoor and outdoor spaces and offering material continuity from inside to outside.
The house layout is simple and intuitive with public spaces on the main level, and private spaces on the second floor. The front entry and hallways connect to a side entry and mudroom, which doubles as a project room for the Clients’ hobbies and passions. The kitchen is located in its own room with a large passthrough to both the main entry and living room. This enables access when desired, and separation when needed. A guest bath and bedroom, which also serves as an away-space or future caregiver accommodations, complete the first-floor layout.
On second floor, one is greeted by a generous commons area with picture window at the top of the stairs. From there, the plan offers individual office spaces for each of the Clients, as well as access to the master suite, which includes a bedroom with sweeping views, a bath, walk-in closet and dedicated laundry space. An outdoor balcony is located adjacent to both the master suite and commons area, offering sweeping views of the Como golf course area and beyond.
The home is designed for the Clients to move through life changes and still enjoy self-determination, self-respect and quality of life by incorporating universal design features. Spaces are laid out for efficiency and workflow, a connection to nature from all vantage points, to minimize hazards, eliminate unnecessary complexity and to provide flexibility for future adjustments. Rigorous criteria were prioritized for results that reflect the Clients’ passions, personalities and intentional lifestyle.
Designed with resilience, durability and low maintenance in mind, the home offers heavily-scrutinized materials and surfaces throughout. Each product was carefully selected to provide the Clients with a specific experience and performance. Their desire for exciting colors is vividly expressed by a selection of green and purple colors on the exterior, which are paired with natural wood tones of reclaimed, thermally modified Ash wood to echo flowering spring trees.
Natural materials like cork, porcelain tile and linoleum are used on the main floor, while more tile and sheep’s wool carpet will be installed on second floor. Each provides non-slip surfaces, level transitions and comfort under foot. All paints are free of VOCs, woods free of added urea and formaldehyde. Lighting is planned for appropriate visibility and to support the circadian rhythm. Surfaces and objects are selected for adequate contrast, low glare and ergonomic shape. Other products were similarly scrutinized for earth and human impacts.
A Passive House-certified, balanced, whole-house heat-recovery ventilation system provides superior air quality all year-round with minimal energy expenditure. Heating, cooling and dehumidification are provided by an air-to-air heat pump system. Domestic hot water is produced by an electric water heater, and incoming municipal water preheated with a waste water heat recovery unit, which harvests warmth from the outgoing waste water to boost the temperature of water coming into the water heater. All of the energy consumed on site will be offset by a ballasted PV system on the roof.
In sum, the Lexington Parkway Passive House is not only the first certified Passive House in the City of Saint Paul, Minnesota, but also a beacon for sustainability, resilience, easy ownership and aging-in-place.