Better Together – Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

The results of architect Kyle Huberty’s StrengthsFinder assessment would surprise no one: He excels at winning over others. Two minutes in his company, and you find yourself climbing on board with whatever wild idea he’s psyched about that moment—be it building a better suburb or rethinking the entire concept of communal living.

The thing about Huberty, though, is that he’s not just a talker; he’s a doer: the kind of guy who dreams big but has the drive (and pied-pipercharisma) to pull off the seemingly impossible while inspiring those around him to follow his lead.

A willingness to act on a hypothetical is what led Huberty to transform his own home—a 112-year-old triplex near Indian Mounds Regional Park in St. Paul—into a guinea pig for cohousing. The property is a living social experiment, providing both shelter and office space to Huberty and his wife, Elsie, a clothing designer for Hackwith Design; their toddler, Birdie Lou; Huberty’s childhood best friend, graphic designer and illustrator David Rollyn Powell; David’s wife, Morna, a clothing and product designer who also happens to be Elsie’s younger sister; the Powells’ three-month-old son, George; an Australian cattle dog named Trout; and a 50-something single tenant who no longer wants the hassle of maintaining her own place.

When the pandemic hit and both couples started working from home, they knew they needed more space. Huberty’s solution: flip a dumpy garage behind the triplex into a 600-square-foot Northwoods cabin–inspired “creative escape”—a playfully lived-in space where everyone could work but also hang out and share ideas (or beers) around a crackling fire. He did it on a budget of $26,000 by enlisting the help of friends and family and sleuthing out bargains on Facebook Marketplace.

At his core, Huberty believes that a “shared life is a better life” and that Americans have become painfully isolated in their quest for independence. He thinks a lot about urban density and is intrigued by cohousing models in Sweden and Tanzania that prioritize community above self and take a village approach to raising children and caring for elders. “We’ve lost our village mindset,” he says. “I want to live in a meaningful, intentional community.” By sacrificing a little space and privacy, he’s able to recreate that village experience in St. Paul—where his support network is “literally a door or a staircase away.”

Sharing land and resources is not only an economic necessity, says Huberty; it’s a potential solution to the housing crisis. While many understandably pine for single-family homes with rolling lawns, it’s not the most efficient use of space. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a really nice home,” says Huberty. “But what if a million-dollar home was designed for two families instead of one? That would be a soft but radical improvement.”

By living his vision, he’s seeing firsthand what design and architectural challenges he may have to solve in the future. “We have three families and four companies on a single lot,” he says. “The yield that has come from this place is great. Why don’t we look at every lot with that possibility?”

Such wide-eyed idealism is what inspired Huberty to launch his own practice after spending years in the trenches at Minneapolis architecture firm RoehrSchmitt. Just three months old, Saunter Architecture Workshop is charting two parallel paths—one focused on recreational architecture (think: cabins in the Boundary Waters that make canoeing more accessible to children with special needs) and the other on progressive cohousing. His triple bottom line weighs social, economic, and environmental sustainability in equal measure, and he’s already working on a conceptual project for a cluster development in Stillwater.

“Can this be scalable? I don’t know,” he admits. “Right now, it’s about finding brave clients who share my vision.” If his StrengthsFinder test is any indication, he will be just fine.

Design/Renovation: Saunter Architecture Workshop,

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