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Shou Sugi Ban Exterior View

Shou Sugi Ban Modern Home With Dramatic Exterior

By Camille LeFevre Home Features Editor
Feb 3, 2020

"People always ask, 'Why do you want to be out there?'" says Debbie Koop, who, with her husband Steve Koop, built and lives in their sustainably designed soon-to-be retirement home in rural Minnesota. The reasons are simple—and go deep. "I grew up on a farm, so I'm used to rural," she says. "Plus, this place is special to both of us."

Debbie went to the College of Saint Benedict. Her husband attended Saint John's University, known internationally for its architecture by Marcel Breuer. The schools are four miles apart in Saint Joseph/Collegeville area, about 10 minutes from their new home in Avon. Steve's grandparents are from the area, and he has lots of relatives living nearby. Moreover, the colleges provide the couple with an active social life full of arts, culture, and spirituality.

Their son, Colin Koop, is an architect and partner at SOM. "We wanted him to design a house for us," she says. His interest in modernism, in addition to the Breuer buildings nearby, turned them toward contemporary design. The desire for a home that lives lightly on the land came from her father, "a farmer ahead of his time with his sustainable approaches to working the land."

Shou Sugi Ban Garden View
Shou Sugi Ban Garden View. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

In the Fall of 2017, the Koops moved into their 3,300-square-foot-home, comprised of a one-level house and garage enclosing a courtyard designed by Laura Kamin Lyndgaard of Coen + Partners in Minneapolis. The open-plan home has 16-foot-high vaulted ceilings. Two nearly 40-foot spans of energy-efficient Marvin floor-to-ceiling windows are on the exterior walls.

Shou Sugi Ban Wood Burning Fireplace
Shou Sugi Ban Wood Burning Fireplace. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

A sculptural, wood-burning, board-formed concrete fireplace, built by Mike Gohman of W. Gohman Construction, designed to reference Breuer’s Abbey Bell Tower at Saint John's, anchors the living space. Family friend and Saint John's University potter Richard Bresnahan hand-crafted the clay bricks in the firebox.

Interior designer Sheree A. Vincent, Certified Green AP, founder of Fusion Designed in Forest Lake, MN, guided the couple in their interior sustainability selections. "Sustainability is the foundation of my design practice," Vincent says. "As a couple, Debbie and Steve are in tune with the environment and want to protect it any way they can. Colin works within a sustainable practice. It was a great collaboration between all the parties."

Shou Sugi Ban Living Room
Shou Sugi Ban Living Room. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

An Indoor-Outdoor Relationship

The team created a symbiotic relationship between the indoors and the outdoors. Colin sited the home, so the entire interior is flooded with natural light throughout the day, while window coverings provide light and temperature control when needed. Within the open-plan interior, a free-standing wall between the morning room and dining room, and another between the living room and kitchen, delineate those spaces.

Shou Sugi Ban Dining
Shou Sugi Ban Dining Room with Pendant Lighting. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

Pendants over both the dining room table, kitchen island, and table bring the ceiling height to a more human scale. A custom-sized rug in the living room is the sofas' foundation and the unique reclaimed wood coffee table. A sense of intimacy is achieved with dimmable LED lighting installed in the perimeter beams.

Shou Sugi Ban / Charred Cypress Exterior
Shou Sugi Ban / Charred Cypress Exterior. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

The unique timber-framed home was built using wood from Blue Ox Timbers in Alexandria, Minnesota. The home features a shou sugi ban (charred cypress) exterior (with Douglas fir accents), a sustainable, pest-resistant, and maintenance-free material. While the charred wood came from Japan, Vincent explains, the siding won't need any upkeep for at least 80 years. Throughout the home's construction, she adds, sustainable strategies were incorporated.

Debbie concedes that she and Steve "weren't exactly downsizing with the house, and we used a lot of wood in the building of the timber frame. But the house is all on one level. The bedrooms are small. And we have a big family and want them to stay." The team incorporated in terms of sustainability, one could argue, far outweighs Debbie's concerns about the framing (using timber from sustainably managed forests) and the size. Here's why.

Debating Geothermal

In Avon, electricity is expensive. Natural gas isn't an option. Nor did Debbie want propane, with unsightly tanks outside the house. While deciding on a system to heat and cool the home, the Koop's were reluctant to install closed-loop geothermal. One reason was the expense. "They expressed that they would most likely never realize the financial payback because of their age," Vincent recalls. "My response was that payback, maybe, wasn't the major reason for deciding to do it—that creating a legacy for the future was perhaps the guiding factor."

The Koop's were convinced. They also realized several benefits. "We were required to buy 40 acres to build, and we wanted to restore the prairie in front, so we put the geothermal system underneath the prairie," Debbie explains. "We learned that the geothermal would pay for itself faster than if we were to use electricity. And now that we're using geothermal for heating and cooling, we love it. It reaches every area of the house."

"Sustainability, good indoor air quality, and land stewardship were all a part of the decision-making process," says Vincent. "I can't emphasize enough how comfortable we all are with the decisions made."

Shou Sugi Ban Kitchen Island and Floors
Shou Sugi Ban Kitchen Island and Floors. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

Sustainable Furnishings

The home has rift, and quarter-sawn oak flooring finished with a water-based stain and topped with a combination of natural oils and wax. Porcelain tile in the entry/powder room, master bathroom, and laundry room provide skid-free durable flooring in wet locations. The couple chose natural wool carpet for the office, guest hallway, and bedrooms.

Shou Sugi Ban Laundry Room
Shou Sugi Ban Laundry Room. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

The home has LED dimmable lighting throughout. Sherwin Williams's zero-VOC paint covers the walls. Energy Star appliances, an induction cooktop, and steam ovens are extremely energy efficient. The plumbing fixtures include dual flush toilets and WaterSense faucets.

Shou Sugi Ban Kitchen Cabinetry
Shou Sugi Ban Kitchen. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinetry

The Koops selected European-style Puustelli MIINUS cabinetry for the kitchen and bathrooms. Puustelli frames are made of a bio-composite material that contains zero formaldehyde. The cabinets are MDF and chipboard free, incorporate formaldehyde-free glues, and are not made from endangered wood species. They are also recyclable. In manufacturing the cabinets, the company uses 50 percent fewer materials.

Shou Sugi Ban Living Room Furniture
Shou Sugi Ban Sustainable Furniture. Photo Credit: Ben Clasen

Sustainable Furniture

Ninety percent of the furnishings that Vincent specified came from manufacturers vetted by and are members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. Several sofas and chairs, and the fabric with which they were upholstered, come from Lee Industries, a company committed to manufacturing earth-friendly products in the U.S. using sustainable processes.

Other swivel and lounge chairs, dining chairs, barstools, soy cushions, fabric, and outdoor furniture came from Room and Board, committed to environmental responsibility. The office chairs are from American Leather, a U.S. company that constructs each frame from wood harvested from sustainable forests. These leathers use water-based pigments.

Colin designed the walnut dining table and buffet, hand-crafted by a Minnesota based business, Eastvold Furniture, that uses sustainable materials. The project used local materials, contractors, and subcontractors throughout the construction process.

Sharing a Sustainable Philosophy

Situated between an old-growth forest and a restored prairie, the home was "a dream to work on," Vincent says. "To design at this level, with sustainability at the forefront, was possible because Debbie and Steve shared the same sustainable design philosophy."

 Simultaneously, the team worked with the basic design principles of harmony, scale, balance, proportion, and color to create open and intimate spaces. As a result, the home serves the couple, their extended family, and their extensive social network. Says Debbie, "We're all pretty happy and proud with how the house turned out."

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Camille LeFevre

Article by:

Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an architecture and design writer based in the Twin Cities.