By EMILIE THIESSEN, Staff Writer
Leah and Duane Vornbrock had no intention of moving.
The couple were fond of their in-town Sauk Centre home and weren’t looking for a new place. But when a friend told the Vornbrocks he was intending to put his unique home up for sale, everything changed.
“I looked at it and could tell it would be fun to live in,” Leah said.
Since March of 2000, the Vornbrocks have lived in a 1,500 square foot dome home, which is exactly what the name indicates — a house that relies on the connection of structural triangles that form the shape of a geodesic dome.
Dome homes are famous for greatly reduced energy bills for occupants, excellent indoor circulation,
increased resistance to natural disasters like tornadoes and hurricanes and an overall unique space.
The Vornbrock home, located just outside of Sauk Centre off of Yorkshire Road, was built in 1975 by then owner Bob VanBeck. VanBeck built the unusual home to house VanBeck Sports — a shop that sold anything from guns and ammunition to clothing.
“Many people, myself included, stood on the other side of that counter and bought a gun from him,” Duane said, adding that the parts counter used at the shop 30 years ago remains in their kitchen to this day.
The couple said they never imagined living in such a home, but have really enjoyed the more than ten years of dome life. Leah said she has loved the challenge of decorating such an odd space.
“You have to have an imagination when you live in a dome home. It is not the normal home,” she said. “There are some things you can’t do in here that you probably can do in another home.”
When the couple moved in, they knew right away there was much work to be done. They quickly remodeled the first floor bathroom in 2002. A year later, they tackled the 900 square foot loft with no walls, sectioning it off into bedrooms. The couple had the home re-shingled in 2006 — no small task as the majority of the exterior is shingled — and finally replaced the bright-pink carpet throughout the first floor with vinyl tile and carpet.
The dome was originally built with a 900 square foot extension that was once a workroom for the shop. The Vornbrocks did minor renovations to the space, which is now used as a family room. With the extension, the home totals more than 2,400 square feet.
Leah, who works as a nurse at the CentraCare Clinic in Melrose, said one of her biggest challenges with decorating has been hanging pictures, which, because of the slant of the walls, always hang just a few inches out from the wall.
Leah said the problem gets worse on the second floor as the angle of the dome increases. Adding the few squared walls on the second floor has helped her establish proper space for picture hanging, however.
They have both been working on new projects each year to give the home a cozier feel, Duane said, and were lucky to find a carpenter willing to work with a dome when it came to structural issues, something that isn’t always easy with a dome.
“I had a gentleman out the other night just to bid on a repair job on one of the garage doors [on the extension]. He said ‘I want nothing to do with that. There is no way I want to work on that place.’”
For Duane, however, the dollar amounts he sees on the energy bills at the end of the month make up for any obstacles.
Duane said they rarely turn on their air conditioner in the summer and use very little heat in the winter.
“It is not hard to heat and not hard to keep cool,” he said. “There is actually only one heat duct [in the living room]. It heats the whole house, and it stays nice all day long … domes seal up very, very well, and that is why you have the low maintenance bills.”
Like patio homes, the dome sits directly on a cement slab, meaning the property has no basement. Duane and Leah both said they have not been bothered by that, even when strong storms hit the area.
“The belief is, we have heard it so many times, is that a dome home would never be taken by a tornado because it is round,” Leah said.
Duane hopes to retire from his job with Sauk Centre Public Schools in the next couple of years and
said the couple has tossed around the idea of putting the home up for sale in the coming spring.
If Duane had it his way, however, the couple would stay on their four acres in the country with their dome until their maker says otherwise.
“Our home is a piece of history,” he said.