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Reading Nature - MSP Home & Design Magazine July 2019

Photos by Steve Henke

Shiplap walls and white oak floors create a look that is as calm as the home’s lakeside site. Color comes in through rugs, pillows, and homeowner Paula Riggi’s collection of beach glass displayed in a tall built-in.


Sustainable design, building, and landscaping choices shape a new home on Minnetonka's Libbs Lake

Living on a lake means a lot more to Paula and Kayvon Riggi than a beautiful view and boat access. It means a responsibility to environmental sustainability in nearly every sense. So when the couple learned of an opportunity to buy land and build a home on Libbs Lake in Minnetonka—a channel away from Gray’s Bay on Lake Minnetonka—they jumped on it, and they wanted to make sure they did things right.

That started with the teardown of the nondescript previous house (the Riggis recycled, gave away, and sold as many materials as possible), as well as decisions about the size and scale of their new home. “We wanted to keep it a reasonable size,” Paula says. “To me, that’s a big part of being green—that you don’t have all this space that you don’t use.”

Architects Andrea Peschel Swan and Constance Chen understood the couple’s sustainability goals and designed a relatively compact, two-level, 4,000-square-foot house. The floorplan puts the key spaces on the main level, with a family room and extra bedrooms on the walk-out lower level. “The living room, dining room, and master suite are arranged closer to one another, which creates a cozy feel,” Chen says.

The design also eliminated the need for bedrooms on a third story. “That would have had a much bigger impact from the shoreline, and we didn’t want that,” says Bill Costello, division director for builder Elevation Homes. “This has a better sense of scale and proportion and ties in with the fabric of the neighborhood.”

Design details inside connect with the surroundings, too. “We kept everything very simple, with a natural influence,” interior designer Laura Ramsey Engler says. Wood finishes in the floors and furnishings evoke driftwood, she notes, and color choices connect with Paula’s upbringing on Lake Michigan and lifelong collection of beach glass. “Some of our first inspiration pieces were a large glass urn and well-worn glass shards,” Engler says. “They inspired the watery palette of blues and greens, which vary from marine and sky blue to navy, with touches of turquoises and teals.”

Furnishings are made with quality materials and craftsmanship in the hope that they will be long-lasting. For example the dining room table—a poplar tabletop with a black walnut accent and a raw steel base—was custom-made locally by Gather Table Co. in Sauk Rapids.

Each room has its own story of energy savings and sustainability, from Energy Star–rated appliances and PaperStone countertops to LED lighting, wood windows made by Wisconsin-based Kolbe & Kolbe, dual-flush toilets, sustainably harvested decking from Arbor Wood Company in Duluth, and 32 solar panels on the roof of the detached garage.

Perhaps the most meaningful element is something that takes the lakeside site back to its roots: a landscape design filled with native prairie plants. “We really wanted other people to see the landscaping and think, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful, maybe I can do this too,’” Paula says. “It’s much easier to go with nature than try to fight it.”

A Sense of Place

Going with two levels rather than three keeps the house grounded with its setting. “We didn’t want a huge, soaring house peering over the lake,” says Bill Costello, division director for Elevation Homes. The landscape of environmentally friendly prairie grasses includes wildflowers that will sport more color as they mature.

Vertical board-and-batten siding, stucco, and shiplap on the home’s exterior come together to convey a casual cottage look. “We like to break up the massing by mixing up material selections,” architect Constance Chen says.

A Water-Friendly Landscape

By planting native grasses and wildflowers and two rain gardens, homeowner Paula Riggi is ensuring more than sustainability for her own landscape. She’s preventing polluted runoff from reaching the lake she lives on, not to mention the rest of the watershed downriver. As with other forms of sustainability in and around her new home, it’s a personal passion—but also part of her role as a master water steward.

Paula will become a master water steward following 50 hours of course work and subsequent volunteer service through the Master Water Stewards program, founded six years ago by the Minnesota-based Freshwater Society. As one of nearly 300 stewards, she volunteers at the grassroots level to educate people about the benefits of prairie restoration, rain gardens, and other design practices that prevent polluted stormwater runoff from entering lakes, rivers, and creeks. Visit to learn more about the program.

See the entire article from the July 2019 issue of MSP Home & Design Magazine along with more fabulous images here

interior design: Laura Ramsey Engler, ASID, CID, Ramsey Engler LTD, 1201 Currie Ave., Mpls., 612-339-9494, // architecture: Andrea Peschel Swan, AIA, and Constance Chen, AIA, Swan Architecture, International Market Square, Ste. 438, Mpls., 612-338-5976, // builder: Bill Costello, Elevation Homes, 18312 Minnetonka Blvd., Wayzata, 952-449-9448, // landscape design: D/O, 227 Colfax Ave. N., Ste. 205, Mpls., 612-259-8623,

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