What’s it like to live in a glass house? This Woodland couple discovered

Two extraordinary houses laid the foundation for the transparent glass house that David and Kathleen Daniels built.

One was Philip Johnson’s iconic 1949 rectangular glass house. The couple admired how the historic Connecticut home disappears into the landscape.

“I wanted to experience the outdoors like I did in this house,” David said.

The other house was the one they had seen during the 2008 Homes by Architects tour. Built on White Bear Lake and designed by Altus Architecture, the house features bluestone gabled pavilions connected by glass ties.

“The house was all on one level and had great stone detailing,” Kathleen said. “It was timeless, yet modern.”

Exactly what the Daniels wanted.

But it wasn’t until they found the perfect property in Lake Minnetonka’s Woodland community that they were able to make their glass house dream a reality.

They had planned to sell their three-story Arts & Crafts-style home in Orono and were looking for a secluded wooded acreage in the western suburbs.

“We weren’t interested in developing a golf course,” David said.

In 2012, a 6-acre property with wetlands, a bog, and a small lake appeared on the MLS. The land, which was in foreclosure, was in Woodland.

Kathleen was fascinated by the small wooded hamlet of winding, winding roads. So the couple consulted architect Tim Alt of ALTUS Architecture + Design about the property. He advised them to go there.

“It’s like an observation deck,” Alt said. “When you look at the lake, you don’t get the sense that civilization is all around you.”

There was a 1950s house on the property, which the Daniels had torn down because it wasn’t profitable to update and remodel it. This allowed them to build a modern and sober house that merges with the landscape.

The new, flat-roofed home, made of glass and dark-stained cedar, offers sweeping panoramic views and “amplifies the gift of the site,” Alt said.

Massive floor-to-ceiling widows create a seamless experience and allow views of the outdoors from every room in the house, which Alt describes as “organic minimalism.”

“The rooms are tactile and natural — the bluestone fireplace, the blackened steel hearth, and the cedar wood beams and columns — so it’s cozy,” he said.

The one-level linear floor plan contains three wings – one for the living/work area, another for the master suite, another for the garage/workshop. The wings are connected by two glass entrance links.

With 13 foot high ceilings, the central living-kitchen-dining space is open and airy. Six 80-foot-long glass panels form the back wall. Amidst all the glass are walnut floors with radiant in-floor heat and exposed wooden beams.

“It feels seamless inside and out. There are no boundaries,” David said. “We feel a lot more connected to the changing seasons.”

Since the house has no basement, Alt designed a freestanding “cube” on the edge of the compact kitchen, which provides plenty of storage and conceals the fridge and other kitchen essentials. The cube also houses the laundry room and a shower room.

Natural materials are repeated inside and out, including bluestone, which is used in the fireplace, exterior wall, and exterior deck.

“The transparency of the house makes the livability much larger than it is,” Alt said. “The terrace looks like a living room.”

Kathleen and David both work from home, so Alt designed a home office at the end of the living/work wing to create a sense of separation from the rest of the house, which aids concentration and productivity.

“This is how many people will live in the future,” he said.

The main wing, which houses a den for watching TV and the owners suite, is tucked away from the public side, making it a restful retreat.

“Every morning we see wildlife – deer, coyotes, wild turkeys and hawks – through the bathroom window,” Kathleen said.

The 2,600 square foot home’s clever space planning and size also reflects emerging trends in home design.

“Almost all of our projects are under 3,000 square feet,” Alt said. “People are looking to live more efficiently, more flexibly, with less investment and maintenance. And that makes sense.

shiny shed

Since the side-entry two-car garage has limited storage space, the couple requested an outbuilding near the house to store their John Deere lawn tractor and other tools.

But they wanted the addiction to blend into the environment. Alt’s solution was to clad the shed in mirror-polished stainless steel, which mirrors the surrounding maples and oaks and makes the structure itself disappear.

“The polished steel transforms a utilitarian structure into an art object,” said Kathleen, who dubbed it the “shiny shed.”

The house itself also blends in with its wooded surroundings, thanks to its brown-toned cedar siding, which mimics the bark of trees.

“It looks timeless,” Kathleen said of the house. “It could have been built in 1960 or 2014.”

Living in a glass house isn’t for everyone, Alt admits.

“The design should strike a balance between open, outdoor living with a sense of sanctuary,” he said. “Owners need to feel comfortable and comfortable there.

It works for Kathleen and David because they have a private site with trees, wetlands, and even loons on Lake Marion. “It’s so peaceful to see the moonlight coming in,” David said.

And, in addition, if they want a little more privacy, they just have to lower the automatic blinds.


An earlier version misidentified David Daniels.

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