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Building Strong, Building Sustainable

Designing for today and for the many tomorrows to come

When the team at Otogawa-Anschel (OA) designs a new house or remodels an existing one, they don’t just envision what it can be today, but how it can work for many years to come. Their goal is to build a structure that is timeless and will serve multiple functions over its lifetime.

“We, of course, take into account the immediate needs of the current family, but we know that those needs are going to change and their styles are going to change,” says OA’s owner, Michael Anschel.

Living abroad for a number of years has clearly influenced the way he thinks about space. “Especially in cultures like China and Japan that have unique perspectives on time and of our place in the world and our relationship to the world and to each other, it really impacts the way we approach our entire process,” he says.

While others may look at a structure and decide they’re going to do something radical, that’s definitely not their philosophy; they also steer away from fleeting trends. “Those might look good in magazines, but living in them doesn’t nurture the soul,” says Michael.

Plus, he explains, they may only serve to be useful for a short period of time and that’s a problem. “We want to make sure we’re looking at it not just now but in the future, so whatever we’re doing either has to be a long-term improvement for the structure overall or it has to be something that can be easily undone for future owners with different needs.”

To do this, he and his team choose materials that have resilience and longevity such as solid woods that can be refinished and modified. And, the award-winning design firm strongly adheres to the guidelines of green building with a focus on sustainability.

“At the end of the day, green building is a responsible way to approach the design and construction of buildings,” says Michael. “There’s no good reason for us to knowingly use materials that would create an unhealthy indoor environment for our clients or to expose our employees and subcontractors to materials that are unhealthy for them. We also want to build a structure that is resilient and will be able to withstand the elements for many years to come.”

He adds, “Everything in green building is good basic common sense. Build like you care about the occupants, your workers and the structure. For example, you should seal and insulate properly so the home doesn’t use a ton of energy to cool and heat itself. It’s not magic, but it’s not the norm. A home that’s built cheaply is going to cost more later on when the homeowners need someone to come in and do it right.”

OA recently completed a remodel on a very old home in Minneapolis. “The house is over 100 years old and the original build of the house and the foundation were excellent, but it was in disrepair and had some badly done remodeling that had to be undone,” says Michael. “We got to tear a lot of that apart and put it back together the right way, so we fundamentally changed the layout of the house and opened up some spaces.

“We also used a lot of reclaimed materials and salvaged as much as possible, and we did a lot of matching of existing millwork, which is something we do often.” All of the materials used were free of formaldehyde and the finishes were ultra-low or zero VOC (volatile organic compounds). Energy efficient windows were also installed to ensure the home was super tight and efficient.

This beautifully restored home will be open to the public this summer as part of the Artisan Home Tour, so people will be able to see the amazing craftsmanship and design that went into it.

Along with these high-quality building practices, Michael also credits OA’s success to his team. “I have an awesome team,” he says. “We take care of our people, and it’s a place where they get to explore their craft and do what they love, and we support them in that. To make sure things are done right, you have to have a team of like-minded and ethical, responsible and caring individuals. This is a group that wants to work together, that is willing to ask for help when needed, and to make sure things are done right for the client.”

In addition to supporting his team, he also believes in helping the communities in which they do business. “I’ve been a Rotarian for a very long time, and part of that ethos is that a strong community supports business and in order to have a strong business, you need to have a strong community,” says Michael. “The underlying idea is to be out there either using funds to support the causes that are important for our community to be healthy or putting in the time to support those people or groups who are marginalized or at risk.” He is not only a business owner, but a native of Minneapolis who received his degree in Art with a Chinese minor at the University of Minnesota.

He and his staff engage in community service throughout the year. “Having it built into their life and into their contract that this is something we have to do is usually met with a smile.”

After 27 years in the business, Michael still finds plenty of inspiration to keep it fresh and exciting. “The client who walks into their new space and is just bubbling up with excitement and joy - that is the fuel that keeps me going. Or, when I visit a job site and everyone’s happy, and I get this camaraderie and bonding moments with a group of amazing individuals who love what they’re doing– these things are really daily inspirations.”

To find out more about Michael and his team, go to 3212 Hennepin Ave S. (612) 789-7070.