His + Her's = Ours    Split Level Living

as seen in The Woman Today Magazine April 2002

This is a tale of building a new home. Picture his and her towels hanging on a rack – or his and her cars parked in a garage. Now picture his and her levels. Separate, yet equal – parts of a balanced, integrated whole.

A distinctive split level home, featuring dramatic and expansive paned windows, nestles into a ten acre lot with gently rolling wooded hills on the edge of Duluth. It is the new home for Iron Range natives Sandy and Rick Myers, a couple on the edge of the empty nest who up-sized rather than down-sized, creating a home that successfully blends formal and casual, feminine and masculine.

 From Chaos to Calm

“We used to live in a tiny house with a one-stall garage in Duluth Heights,” says Sandy who is a Service Delivery Coordinator with Qwest. “With three growing boys and their toys, plus a lack of storage, we were always on top of each other. Our frequent family gatherings were always chaotic.” To help ease the space crunch, the Myers’ purchased their lot several years ago with the intention of building something where they could spread out a little, but ultimately ending up with something where they could spread out a lot!

Rick, a Maintenance Technician with Stora Enso, remembers, “When we started looking at plans, we didn’t imagine going so big – we wanted only one level. But we both wanted different things, and to achieve this, we took a one-level house plan and adapted it into a split level.  Hence, “her” level is upstairs and “his” level is downstairs creating a delightful effect that pleases both.

Upstairs, Sandy fashioned a main living area that is formal, comfortable, and exquisitely feminine, ideal for frequent gatherings of family and friends. Downstairs, Rick’s domain is where “I can hang out and entertain in a ‘kick-off-your-shoes’ atmosphere that is masculine, relaxed, and comfortable,” he says.

Choosing Quality

After getting advice from trusted friends, Rick and Sandy chose Robert Wallner, owner of RWC Inc., as their contractor. Rick and Sandy are appreciative of the quality of the workmanship of Wallner and his crew. They also trusted the wisdom he has gained after 33 years of building homes. “Bob had great ideas, plus we learned to listen to him, using our intuition to sense when he thought something wouldn’t work well,” comments Rick. Construction began last June; by October they were moved in.

When approaching the steel-sided beige home with its attached three-car garage, one first notices the welcoming, covered porch with a white wooden railing greeting guests – brick trim adds a warm touch. Four dramatic and large, paned windows – two are arched and custom designed – provide a distinctive façade across the front. Rick says, “We didn’t want to create a typical split level so we used windows to dress it up and provide the natural light we wanted.”

The Feminine Side

Going upstairs from the ceramic tiled entryway onto the main living level, a wall of built-in shelves, cupboards, and a marble framed gas fireplace provides the focus for the spacious living room with a ten-foot ceiling. A large, paned window looks into the woods outside where deer often browse at the feeder Rick built.

Flowing from the living room are the casual kitchen area, with hickory cabinets and sliding glass doors that lead to a recycled plastic deck, and the formal dining room framed by white pillars; it features a cathedral ceiling. The master suite lies beyond the kitchen and dining room. The L-shaped master bath features a walk-in closet with fluorescent lights that Sandy just had to have. “In the old house, the closet was small, crammed, and dark – many times I went to work with navy blue socks and black pants!”

On the opposite end of the living room, an angled wall opens toward a hallway that includes the garage entrance plus access to a spacious guest bedroom and bath and the laundry room complete with window, sink, and fold-down ironing table.

Harmony and Balance

When it came to the daunting task of decorating a large house, Sandy worked closely with interior designer and Feng Shui practitioner, Patricia Kellar of Interiors by Patricia. Kellar, a Schneiderman’s Furniture employee and independent consultant for Floor to Ceiling, provides a unique service for the area – a one-person guide for those living the stresses associated with decorating. In this case, she was able to help Sandy choose not only the furniture but also the carpet, vinyl, and ceramic flooring.

The exquisite furnishings suit the house perfectly. Says Patricia, “I feel privileged to have decorated a home built by Bob Wallner, a quality builder with a good reputation.” She used both her design expertise and knowledge of Feng Shui – the Chinese art of placement to correct the flow of energy in the home and workplace – to work with Sandy during the decorating process. “We made a great team,” Patricia notes.

The living room is decorated in a traditional elegance style. The couch and love seat are invitingly upholstered in an Old English floral pattern of rose, jade, and creams; a cranberry Queen Anne chair is Sandy’s favorite. Accent end, coffee, and sofa hardwood tables with glass tops are ornately carved and finished in patrician, a rich brown cherry with white glaze and golden highlights. There is little room for hanging pictures but a Cheng Khee Chee rose print has found a home on the wall.

The stunning furniture in the formal dining room and master bedroom are classic European styling constructed of rich pecan solids and veneer and olive ash burl. The pieces have carved acanthus leaves with accent cabriole legs. A special feature of the magnificent king-sized sleigh bed is the intricate relief carving of the acanthus leaves, which makes it a rare find. Striking brass accent lamps are strategically placed throughout the upper level.

Sandy is pleased to have benefited from Patricia’s expertise and holistic approach that resulted in harmony and balance between the two levels. “Patricia was a great guide for balancing my primary desire to have a look and feel that was formal yet comfortable. It has been a long process – we started picking out furnishings even before the building began.” It continues to be a work in progress. “As we live in it for awhile, I’m hoping the house will let me know what it wants, where.”

Eric Aamodt of Arrowhead Supply also played a crucial role in the finished product. Sandy comments, “Eric’s advice was crucial in designing the kitchen. One feature he suggested that has worked out wonderfully when we entertain is the installation of two ovens rather than one. In addition, he worked closely with my friend Sue to design the kitchen built-in that has also helped make entertaining easier.” His expertise was used in choosing the Corian kitchen countertop and sink, appliances, cabinets, bathroom fixtures and countertops, plus the gas fireplace.

The Masculine Side

Downstairs – on his level – Rick enjoys the large family room area that features a built-in entertainment center with a 57-inch surround sound TV, kitchenette, and foosball table. (Sandy loves to tell the story of how impressed son Kris was when she polished off her long unused foosball skills!) Furnishings include the matching and inviting hunter green leather sectional couch and lounge chair. Radiant floor heating keeps the temperature comfortable. Natural light pours in through an expanse of windows looking into the back yard.

The spacious kitchenette and bar has a small TV suspended from the ceiling “just in case someone needs to find out what’s happening with another game,” Rick says with a smile. His interest in car racing has resulted in a small but growing collection of model race cars that line the knee wall ledge and other memorabilia. This provides balance to Sandy’s doll collection that resides in a curio cabinet in the upstairs living room.

Kris, the remaining son who lives at home (Jesse lives in the Twin Cities, David in Keewatin), has his spacious bedroom downstairs. Sandy says, “He gave me explicit instructions to decorate this as a guy’s room.” Decorated in dark blues, it is a room befitting a young man. With direct access to the downstairs bathroom, which features a Finnish electric sauna, Kris has his own bedroom suite.

A home office, accessed through French doors off the family room and another guest bedroom, where Sandy keeps her treadmill (used daily!) complete the lower level, Rick’s home within a home.

Bringing It Together

Even though each floor is distinctive, common elements abound. All rooms are connected by a sound system from DADs Electronics, which can be accessed on both levels. Features include unobtrusive recessed speakers and volume controls in every room. All the woodwork is stained a rustic dark brown. Recessed lighting is used throughout the house; unique ceramic entryway and dining room chandeliers are both elegant and fun. Though they are different styles, both levels feature off-white carpeting. Countertops in both kitchen areas are green. A central vac makes life easier, although both Sandy and Rick had to be convinced of its value. After using it, they have no regrets. Window treatments are rare – natural light fills all the rooms.

In the end, the natural setting cements the two halves together. Rick gazes at the deer grazing in the backyard and says, “I love watching them – this is why I’m here.” Sandy too enjoys the woods and the deer. “This is a new experience for me – I’ve always lived in the city with houses on either side of me. Having this natural world outside my door is wonderful.”