2021 RDAA | Custom Period or Vernacular Renovation | Split Box | SALA Architects

Split-level houses are perfunctory things—as utilitarian as shoeboxes and just about as appealing. They were cheap to build and cheap to buy but are challenging to modernize. The inner-ring suburbs are saturated with these problem houses, now located in desirable locations. “The No. 1 reason people come to us is they love their neighborhood, and they don’t want to move,” says David Wagner, AIA. 

David’s clients pondered moving but decided instead to double down on this location. Their chief ask was for a sense of “wow!” when they pull in the driveway. A tall order for the blandest of the bland in housing stock. 

But David had an idea: break the horizontal plane of the shoebox with a new entry piece that “pops up and out,” and then emphasize the horizontality on either side of it with attenuated roof planes and a new clerestory window. Not only does the new entry have solid wow appeal, it solved the problem of guests crowding at the front door. “Now four people can stand in the entryway, and you can actually put your shoes on there,” says David.

Elsewhere in the house, David’s goals were to make it more open and filled with “craft and warmth.” He removed a wall in the kitchen to link it to the living room and added windows at the rear, taking advantage of the elevated view. He eliminated a secondary bedroom to expand the owners’ bedroom, bathroom, and closet. And he inserted personal touches in the once generic house, among them shadow boxes for the owners’ quirky collection of curios—no doubt stored in shoeboxes until now.

Custom Period or Vernacular Renovation


SALA Architects
Split Box
Golden Valley, Minnesota

Project Credits

Architect: David O’Brien Wagner, AIA; Marta Snow, AIA Associate, SALA Architects, Minneapolis

Builder: Showcase Renovation, Corcoran, Minnesota

Landscape Architect: Eric Baldus, Terravista Landscape and Design, Minneapolis

Project Size: 2,100 square feet

Site Size: .23 acre 

construction cost: Withheld

Photography: Chad Holder Photography

Key Products

Cladding: James Hardie Artisan and HardiePanel

Cooking Appliances: Wolf

Decking: Western Red Cedar

Door Hardware: Emtek

Fasteners: Simpson Strong-Tie

Fireplace: Kozy Heat Nicollet

Garage Doors: Wayne Dalton

Humidity Control: Aprilaire

Lighting: MP Lighting, Louis Poulsen, Vista Lighting, Halo, Belfer Lighting, Artimede

Paints: Sherwin-Williams

Photovoltaics: Tesla Powerwalls

Refrigerator/Freezer: Sub-Zero

Roofing: Malarkey Roofing Products

Ventilation: Panasonic

Windows: Pella




Plans and Drawings


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