By Melinda Lavine, Duluth News Tribune
The Halls weren’t planning on building a house.
But after several visits to the Northland to care for an ailing relative, the couple fell in love with Duluth. They read an article about renowned local architect David Salmela, and a family friend introduced them.
“He talked about his philosophy, and he looked down from his house and said, ‘I think they’re going to sell,'” said Sherry Hall.
The couple bought that house next to Salmela’s, which was built in the late 1800s. The rooms were in the wrong place, Salmela said, and the space didn’t take advantage of the magnificent views. But the foundation was solid. They kept it and tore down the rest.
After working with Salmela to design and build from scratch, the couple moved in in 2011.
Today, the Halls are ready to sell. Their three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2,424-square-foot home was listed for $1.2 million in early February.
The home boasts an open floor plan on the main level with a kitchen, dining room, living room and library area. There are glass walls, opening the space up to the panoramic view of Lake Superior. (You can see through the house to the lake from the front deck.)
“When you’re in the space, there’s light coming from every direction,” Salmela said, and light is an important element in his designs.
In the kitchen, there are clean lines, white cabinetry and a substantial island. Lighting is recessed, and the sink is centered between two picture windows.
Off to the side of the sink, the eye is drawn to one deep indigo wall.
“We talked about that for at least six months,” said Ed Hall.
“I think you’re cutting it shorter. It was at least a year,” his wife added.
The topics: colors, how high up the paint should go, and why an accent in the first place? Salmela presented the couple with Photoshopped examples, and after some trial and error, “It looks like a piece of art that you hung there,” Sherry said. (And she’s right.)
The couple also considered painting the ceiling red, keeping in mind another of Salmela’s designs in Bayfield’s Wild Rice Restaurant.
Working together on the design was a step-by-step evolution, Salmela said. “Nothing was preconceived,” he said.
Salmela is a nationally recognized, award-winning architect whose work includes Bagley Nature Pavilion, Gooseberry Falls State Park Visitors Center near Two Harbors and nature photographer Jim Brandenburg’s Ravenwood Studio near Ely. The Hall home has won two American Institute of Architects awards. (They’re like the architectural equivalent of the Oscars.)
Move further through the Hall house, and there’s Vermont slate tile in the bathroom and shower, in-floor radiant heat and an indoor sauna. The guest washroom is camouflaged in one of the white walls.
Step out onto the back deck, and there are black panels on the house exterior made from a wood byproduct. They never need to be painted, Salmela said. There’s what he calls an “un-chimney” — a high-standing white pillar with three walls that acts as an open-faced fire pit. It’s symbolic of a ruin, he said.
There are two “deceptively comfortable” chairs, where the Halls said they watch and listen to the goings-on at Bayfront Festival Park — concerts, even the July 4 fireworks.
Follow the “west deck” to a outdoor building that could be used as a potting space, an art studio or a storage room. Above a built-in work table are more shallow windows with which to view the water.
Of the many windows and glass walls, the Halls said they don’t feel exposed. Their home is elevated and inset from the road, and their backyard faces the lake.
They live in a cluster of boxy, modern Observation Hill houses designed by Salmela. Every project has territorial boundaries, and the Hall house is an extension of all the other lessons learned by designing and building on Observation Hill, Salmela said.
One of Ed Hall’s favorite spots in the home is a brown chair in the living room.
“I can sit in that chair and drink coffee and see the sunrise. In the evening, you can see Duluth and watch the traffic,” he said. A close second is in the lower level, where he plays guitar. Because the house is built on masonry piers, it has a floating effect, and you can still see the lake.
Real-estate agent Frank Messina said the higher the price, the longer it takes to sell.
The couple loves their home, but they’re looking ahead and would like to downsize, said Sherry Hall. “If it takes two to three years to sell the house, we’re fine. We’re happy.”
As for Salmela’s ideal next-door neighbors? “Ideally, people who like the place,” he said.