Mandy Tuong, a former classical pianist, and Paul Johnston have fallen in love with their custom Minneapolis home on “a soul level,” Mandy says. Working with Charlie Lazor, principal of Lazor Office, they envisioned a contemporary, daylit home inspired by the architectural genius of Marcel Breuer.
As a college student, Paul developed an eye for architecture—and he lived, studied, and worshipped in Breuer’s Brutalist structures on the St. John’s University campus in Collegeville, Minnesota.
The couple sought a design that shied away from “the type of modernism that is popping up these days that feels a bit less inspired. They wanted something different,” Lazor says.
“There are plenty of modern-looking places out there that are gorgeous, but no one’s work really spoke to us like Charlie’s. It was beautiful in its simplicity; bold because of its nuances; unpredictable, and so incredibly personal and usable all at once,” Mandy adds.
The home sits just off Cedar Lake in a neighborhood full of ’60s and ’70s homes with a handful of modernist dwellings. There’s even a home across the street designed by the famed Elizabeth Close, one of the first professionally trained female architects in the world.
When Lazor Office began developing the design, one of the first challenges was the site itself. The home would have to be embedded into a steep hill, yielding a 12-foot height difference from street level to the second-floor patio. It’s also an usual-sized lot. While many Minneapolis homes are narrow to the street and long from front to back, this lot is square. “We had to think about making spaces that worked from side to side as well as from front to back,” Lazor says.
The firm decided on a three-story structure. The first features a two-car garage, mud room, and accessory dwelling unit, while the middle level holds public spaces like the kitchen, living room, dining room, and corner den. There’s even an elevated performance space with a baby grand piano.
The program features an array of boxes, which Lazor says is “an architectural element that really spoke of the hill the house was set into.” Throughout the interior, curvaceous shapes mimic the form of the baby grand and demarcate different parts of the living space.
“We discussed how we wanted to live for many, many hours over the course of the house design,” Mandy says.
In terms of materiality, Lazor has been fascinated with perforated metal since he was an architecture student. Here, the material provides privacy with a touch of opacity, while white corrugated metal siding references a “Miyake blouse rather than the tough metal of sheds and warehouses,” Lazor says. White oak adds a touch of elegance to the box concept.
Instead of designing one large, single room for daily living, Lazor sought to develop precincts within the spaces—”nooks and crannies you can tuck yourself into,” he says. These separate, intimate spaces are especially important because the home is for a young family.
The dining room, which is located around a curved corner, offers views of a big oak tree on the property, while wood floors contrast warmly with white walls. In the living room, there’s a perfect reading spot right above the TV. “We were looking for geometry that we felt you could nest yourself into,” Lazor says.
The kitchen features zinc countertops and design features suited to the family’s lifestyle. “He does the dishes, and as a tall man he wanted a higher countertop—while she is an avid baker and wanted a surface for rolling out dough,” Lazor says. The extended island also provides a secondary dining surface for the family.
The practice/performance space, which is carved out with a curved ceiling, is the result of careful collaboration with a team of carpenters. Its paneling was carefully installed to enhance acoustic projection.