Natural, Neutral New Home

Delight for the Long Run

When Kate Jacobsen talks about “timeless neutrality,” she’s not discussing politics; she’s describing her family’s new home. Kate and her husband, Jeff, wanted to build a lasting look and function into their new home on Rochester’s far south side. “I wanted it to be timeless—not get tired in 10 years,” Kate says. 

The Jacobsens chose a blend of neutral colors to tie together the three levels of the 4,950-square-foot house. Neutral doesn’t have to be bland, as many homeowners have discovered. Patterns, shades of color and even sparkle can add interest. The Jacobsen house incorporates all three.


Kate Jacobson, a nurse anesthetist, and Jeff, a teacher for Stewartville Public Schools, lived in a house in northwest Rochester for 12 years before moving last fall to live closer to Jeff’s job. Kate kept in touch with RyMark Homes after being impressed by the features in a model home. “We worked with (RyMark co-owner) Ryan (Ruskell) intermittently for over two years before we committed to him,” Kate says. 


The couple finally seized the opportunity to buy the last available lot at the edge of a city park in the Scenic Oaks subdivision, being developed by Ruskell’s partner, Mark Hanson. The location was a great start. Building from scratch gave the couple opportunities to custom fit the family’s lifestyle to their new home. 


On the main floor, they installed a 10-foot-long island in the kitchen with four tall chairs along one side. The large island is a gathering spot where, among other things, “The kids do their homework,” Kate says. But, unlike some other homes, “Our meals are eaten at the dinner table,” Kate says, pointing to smaller table a few feet away. Family members face each other at meals, sparking conversation, she says. 

In-ceiling speakers invite relaxation in the adjacent great room as well as in the glass-enclosed, three-season porch. The house also contains a flexible family room off the kitchen. 

A few steps away, “One of my favorite rooms in the house is the half bathroom off the kitchen,’” Kate says. It’s an unusual, but convenient spot. 

Upstairs, off the master bathroom, is a walk-in closet with a bank of shelves for storing clothes instead of a conventional dresser. It’s another design trend: “Everything is built into the house,” she says.


Kate and interior designer Kathy Orwoll of Rochester, who works with RyMark, met over several months to decide on decor. To achieve Kate’s “timeless neutrality,” they chose a range of grays and whites through all three floors. Walls are a light shade of gray; baseboards are edged in white; a corner fireplace on the lower level is accented with large, deeper gray tiles. All are designed to be complementary. “I didn’t want a patchwork (of designs),” Kate says. 

Gray tones have been popular with his customers, says Mike DeGeus, partner in DeGeus Tile and Granite. “The kitchen is probably the most challenging room in the whole house,” he says. Lots of features—appliances, cabinets, flooring, islands—compete for attention. 

In the Jacobsen house, a DeGeus crew installed a manufactured quartz countertop. It provided a natural gray pattern and neutral color, but also, “I picked it because it had a little sparkling (in it)…a little bling,” Kate says. 

Kate and designer Orwoll placed three oversized lights in champagne gold frames overhead. Then, they extended the effect with two similar chandeliers at the main wall of the adjacent great room. “I wanted classic elegance, a mix of tradition and contemporary (style),” Kate says.


Creative Hardwoods of Rochester, which works alongside DeGeus in some projects, laid a medium-colored hardwood walnut floor throughout the main floor. “They do a lot of work for the same contractor we do,” Mike DeGeus says. Sometimes the two firms work like a “one-stop shop.”

The Jacobsens also created interest with kitchen cabinetry made in an elegant, dark color named “chocolate cherrywood,” Kate says. 

Perhaps the most stunning single piece of decor is a modern crystal chandelier, which hangs above the staircase to the upper floor. Among other visual delights is a gray pattern in the master bathroom, which covers the floor and then climbs up the shower wall in large tiles. 


The screened-in back porch allows for three-season outdoor dining. Below, the patio has design embedded in concrete. “We’ve been seeing a trend in stamped concrete, as there are many variations, colors and stamps,” says Rami Hansen, builder representative for RyMark. 

The thought and planning that went into building this home is sure to stand the test of time. 

Bob Freund is a Rochester-based writer and regular contributor to Rochester Women magazine.