The Progessive Farmer magazine has long been devoted to helping the modern farmer manage the challenges and benefits of country living, including family and home life, but it had never put much focus on houses. When PF's editors discovered The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home (The Taunton Press, $21.95), a 2004 book by architect Jean Rehkamp Larson, AIA, principal of Minneapolis-based Rehkamp Larson Architects, they were inspired to more thoroughly explore the domestic aspect of modern farm life.
Drawing on Rehkamp Larson's characterizations of American farmhouses, PF launched an annual house project, which it dubbed its Idea House and Farmstead. Through five idea houses, PF relied on the stable of architects and home plans of its former parent company, Southern Progress Corp. While the houses came close to achieving the magazine's goal—interpreting rural homes with modern conveniences for a "gentleman farmer" and family—they fell short of the ideal the editors hoped to achieve. "We were happy with those homes to some extent, but there were things we wished we could have done differently," notes PF's senior editor Dan Miller.
So for the sixth house, completed in September 2008, PF decided to return to its source of inspiration and commissioned Rehkamp Larson to design the 2008 Idea House and Farmstead. "The home Jean designed this year is really, finally, what we've been after" all along, Miller says.
Built for a specific client rather than on spec, the 2008 Idea House is situated on 80-plus acres near Lake City, Minn. Rehkamp Larson's design for a rural house for the Anderson family faithfully reflects the traditions and simplicity of Midwestern farmhouses, while integrating more contemporary details and materials. The T-plan house has a central gable, two side wings, and wraparound porches supported by galvanized steel posts. "From a distance, the form and shape is classic Midwestern farmhouse," says Rehkamp Larson. "Then, as you get closer, we've incorporated some industrial materials and brought some industrial elements of a barn into the house—not in an overly slick way, but in a simple, modest, Midwestern way."
The 2,800 square feet of finished living space includes four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a large combined entry mudroom/kitchen/living area; there's also 1,400 square feet of unfinished basement space. A cupola, typically found on barns of the region for ventilation, is incorporated into the house directly over a centrally located open stairwell, designed to resemble a traditional corncrib. The combination allows air to circulate between floors and brings light into the interior rooms of the house.
Interior finishes are kept light and natural, with a white color scheme throughout most of the house, except in the kitchen, where the cabinets are painted pale blue. The many windows draw light into the interiors, but also provide views of the prairie landscape, long sunsets on the house's west side, and the wooded slope on the east side. "When you're in the space, the outside views really dominate," Rehkamp Larson says.
An original barn and Quonset hut have been kept on the property to preserve connections to the past, and a new timberframe barn, in keeping with the original structures, has been added to house the family's cars.
Not only does the house and property meet PF's objectives, it does so efficiently and sustainably. Whenever possible, the design and building team chose locally sourced materials, such as Wisconsin cherry for floors, stairs, and countertops and local limestone masonry. SIPs comprise the building envelope above-grade, and below-grade the foundations are constructed of insulated concrete forms, which combine with energy-efficient appliances and the HVAC system to reduce the home's energy use. Water-efficient fixtures are used in the kitchen and bathrooms. The house is targeting LEED for Homes certification, but the certification level has not yet been calculated and approved.
Open for one month for public tours, the house has received favorable reviews. Miller says the house resonates with visitors because it looks so familiar and comfortable to them. "We've had people [who have visited the house] call and tell us they didn't even think it was a new home, because it fits into a style that's very common to the Midwest," he says.
For a virtual tour of the Progressive Farmer 2008 Idea House and Farmstead, click here.