River Falls Article

River Falls House gets Royal Treatment

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The saying “A man’s home is his castle” is true for Tina Gerard and Wes Dehnke — the couple lives in one. But their rural River Falls, Wis., home has an unusual shape. It’s a geodesic dome with two castle towers.

“You get a dome and it looks like a bullet coming out of the ground, so we added stuff,” says Gerard.

The couple built “Dehnke Castle” with the help of Natural Spaces Domes, a North Branch dome-building company that has customers around the nation and the world. With the growing concern about the environment, energy-efficient domes have seen a revival in mainstream interest that hasn’t happened since the energy crisis of the 1970s. As one of just a handful of larger operations, the Minnesota company is busy with orders, inquiries and workshops for its pre-engineered dome building system.

“We just got an order for a dome in Denmark,” says owner Dennis Odin Johnson. “Another dome of ours was just completed in Japan. And we’ve got one in Malibu in L.A. County that is totally off the power grid — it’s completely self-contained with solar panels.”

A dome home’s energy-efficient reputation is due to a number of factors, including its insulation and a design that incorporates plenty of sunlight.

“We have a house in Mounds View that we monitor on a yearly basis for energy use; it is 3,200 square feet and their heating bill in 2005 was $380,” says Johnson. “There’s another one in Forest Lake, which also uses a typical, forced-air furnace. That one is 1,900 square feet and its annual heating bill was $225.”

The homes cost no more to build than a traditional house, Johnson says.

But energy efficiency is just one reason for the dome’s recent cachet, says Johnson, who sees customers ranging from first-time homeowners to empty-nesters.

“We’re selling more domes than we have in previous years,” Johnson says. “The homes are more energy efficient; and the term also being used is ‘green’ — built from sustainable materials.

“But while I think the energy efficiency is the practical side of it, I think people are also looking for something different,” he says. “They have to justify it, so they’ll point to the energy savings, but the bottom line is they want to live inside of a dome. The space inside is very comfortable — I’ve used the term ‘womblike.’ ”

Like other types of houses, domes have gotten bigger in recent years.

“People are putting more into them, they’ve become larger, and they’re building not just one dome, but two or three joined together,” Johnson says.

For Gerard, the dome-home dream started years ago and was realized in 2001, when she and Dehnke started construction on three acres in western Wisconsin. Gerard, a chemist, 35, and Dehnke, a UPS package handler, also 35, did much of the work themselves.

“I babysat in one as a kid, and I used to sit inside, looking at the architecture, thinking, ‘I could do better,’ ” says Gerard.

Along the way, she added castle towers to her daydream.

“I read a lot of fantasy books,” she said.

The home is larger than it looks from the outside, with about 5,800 square feet of space.

“It feels like an Old World pub inside,” Gerard says. The couple still has work to do, including finishing the basement and adding a third castle tower.

Gerard thinks other people like the castle, which is a striking, medieval-looking landmark.

“I don’t know what they really think, but they tell me they think it’s cool,” she says.

Molly Millett can be reached at mollymillett@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5505.



What: A dome building company based in North Branch and founded in 1978 by Dennis Johnson and his late wife, state Sen. Janet Johnson.

Dome tour: Natural Spaces Domes holds dome tours each spring and fall. The next one will be May 5. The company also has an office dome, three model dome homes, a screen dome and two workshop domes that the public can visit.

More information: 651-674-4292, www.naturalspacesdomes.com

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