Tuesday, September 22, 2009


photo credit: Paul Crosby, courtesy Coen+Partners

The Speckman House in Saint Paul is named for architect James Speckman, who was a Minnesota proponent of California Modernism. This 1958 house (one of the earliest examples of the style here in the upper Midwest) has an open ground-level floor plan, big floor-to-ceiling windows, and wide roof overhangs. All of that is meant to bring the outdoors in, something that works quite well in California, but is just a tad trickier here in the frozen north.

Nevertheless, when Shane Coen and Stephanie Grotta of Coen+Partners got a hold of the house’s landscape about four years ago, they made it an imperative to showcase the architecture. Add to that an almost obsessive attention to detail (in part fostered by the owner, Punch Pizza founder John Soranno) and you have a good example of L.Architecture.

The site plan basically transforms a steep slope behind the house into a series of terraces: one with a pool, one with space for outdoor dining. The upper terrace is at the same elevation as the interior floor, which creates a strong visual link between indoors and out.

Courtesy Coen+Partners

The outdoor use spaces are wrapped by simple concrete walls and a 105-foot long Cor-Ten steel wall that seems ready to vault out into the air as the back yard slope drops away. The surfaces are custom white concrete pavers, with embedded recycled glass. The plant palette is simple: a few preserved oaks, some masses of barberry, a couple rectilinear groupings of ornamental trees, and plenty of lawn.

photo credit: Paul Crosby, courtesy Coen+Partners

The design works at night and in winter, too. In fact, the firm submitted both night and winter photography to the American Society of Landscape Architects’ national award program, from which the project took home an Honor award in Residential Design. (Coen and Grotta got their award yesterday, at ASLA’s national convention in Chicago.)

Though this project is decidedly high end, there are two basic principles here that anyone can use: open up views to/from the house (the Speckman landscape used to be choked with all manner of shrubs and trees) and make the step from indoors to out as easy as possible (maybe even lose the steps entirely). Soranno seems pretty happy with it, and can’t wait for his molded dining table to arrive from Europe, so he can put it out on that upper terrace. The table, in true Punch style, of course, is bright orange.


Anonymous said...

Spectacular!!! Minnesota could use a little Californiacation.

Anonymous said...

I agree - it's a great space and a really thoughtful reinterpretation of a West Coast aesthetic into Minnesotan suburbia. (and FYI, the client's last name is spelled Soranno, not Serrano)

Adam Regn Arvidson, ASLA said...

Thanks for the tip on the name. Strangely, Punch's own website has his name spelled two different ways!? It's corrected now.