Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar attended the Aug. 23 groundbreaking of one of three new Veterans’ homes being constructed across the state. “When our Veterans signed up to serve, there wasn’t a waiting line,” she said in a video filmed for the local public-television station in Montevideo. “When they need healthcare, or a place to live, a bed to sleep on, there shouldn’t be a waiting line,” Klobuchar said. Walleck and Associate Principal Greg Gauthreaux share that sentiment. They led the design teams at Montevideo, in Western Minnesota, and also in Preston to the Southeast and Bemidji in the far North. After spending months traveling to each town and meeting with Veterans’ groups at their local diners and meeting halls, Gauthreaux understands why Veterans need to be with each other, rather than dispersed among nursing homes that serve the general population.
Gallery space in the community center at the future Veterans’ Home in Preston, MN, makes room for displays that speak to its residents’ military backgrounds.
“It’s a pretty big deal when they talk about it. You can tell there’s a connection they really need,” Gauthreaux says, noting they’ve often spent most of their lives together post-service, socializing, going on hunting trips, blending families. The home had to fit their lives, and not the other way around, he says. “To generate a space for them so they can continue doing what they’ve always been doing is really important.” What’s more is that the architecture also celebrates their military legacy with features such as built-in display spaces for plaques, medals, flags, and sculpture.
Each of the three homes had to follow a generally identical layout to meet VA design guidelines—the residential wings feature a large kitchen-dining hub, living-room and den areas, and a central “community center” with amenities such as a coffee shop, barber, theater, and club room. From there, designers took advantage of the many opportunities to integrate the local aesthetic and culture within each property.
The team nicknamed each site to define its personality. Montevideo was the “House on the Prairie,” located centrally near schools, churches, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
A stand-alone community center open to the public will be located at the Veterans’ Home in Montevideo, thanks to a $3 million bequest from local veteran Steve Williams.
Preston, overlooking a farming community that’s also known as the Trout Capital of Minnesota, became “The House on the Hill.”
The architecture and landscape befits the Preston Home’s broad promontory overlooking the town.
And Bemidji earned the moniker “The House in the Woods,” two blocks from the Paul Bunyan State Trail, in a region where people are fiercely independent and move there to get away from large populations.
The material selections for the Bemidji site channel a cabin in the woods. Common spaces vary in scale from a large multipurpose room like the one above to small alcoves for more privacy.
Accordingly for each site, “We always try to carry the local context on the interior,” interior designer Jen McDermott says, such as buffalo plaid and rough-grained wood finishes in Bemidji; Prairie-style interior architecture in Montevideo; and fishing-inspired accessories and locally quarried stone in Preston. “The residents get to touch and feel what’s in this final phase, so it’s really important that we get it right,” says McDermott. She’ll be working on the interiors next year as the construction continues, seeking out local artists and photographers and visiting antique shops in each area to inject unique flavor.
Move-in, expected in the spring of 2023, will add to Perkins Eastman’s growing portfolio of Small Houses within the VA. These three new homes will contrast dramatically with the institutional settings of old, where residents were treated more like wards than real people with friends, family, and routines they’re used to, such as gardening in the back yard or cooking a favorite meal in the kitchen. “These settings are much more residential—and human,” Walleck says. “I love the idea that we can make a difference with this new paradigm.”