After the NFL, Greg Jennings Goes Back to the Drawing Board

Jimi Swagger

I say whatever I think should be said
Jan 25, 2015
Turtle Island to DXB
Greg Jennings deferred his design dream to pursue a career in football. Now retired from the game, he took the lead building his Edina, Minn., home.


When he was in college, Greg Jennings faced a life-changing decision. He was following his passion for architecture while studying at Western Michigan University. But the coursework was getting in the way of football. So he switched majors to focus on his game, eventually playing 10 years in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl ring with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. No regrets.

But when the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver retired after the 2015 season, he was finally able to redevote himself to architecture, and the result is a contemporary 10,150-square-foot mansion in Edina, Minn.

The story of this home begins in 2014. Mr. Jennings was playing for the Minnesota Vikings, and his four kids were enrolled in school in a neighborhood outside the Twin Cities. Mr. Jennings, now a Fox Sports television analyst, and his wife, Nicole, owner of the Minneapolis-based women’s clothing business Queen Anna, were renting a home at the time. Because they both worked, they had a live-in nanny. They were looking to buy a house, but found nothing with seven bedrooms that worked.


The living room. While the feel was to be curated and modern, Mr. Jennings says it had to be homey—not a ‘don’t touch this and don’t touch that’ kind of place.

“We didn’t plan on building, but it kind of just happened,” says Mr. Jennings. “I was like, ‘You know what? This is it. This is going to be my baby.’”

Mrs. Jennings, busy launching her business, was more than happy to let her husband take the reins. Mr. Jennings partnered with Alexander Design Group, a local architecture design firm, and hired a local builder, David Bieker of Denali Custom Homes. He purchased a teardown for $1.6 million on 1.2 acres just down the street from where the family was renting. The location was perfect: 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, 15 minutes to the airport and a seven-minute drive to their children’s school. As a bonus, the property was flanked by two golf courses. :ohlawd:(Mr. Jennings is a 13-handicap.)

The pen hit the paper. Mr. Jennings took his initial inspiration from a home that he had seen on the design website Houzz, a contemporary mansion set at the base of a Utah mountain. “He had a very clear image of what he wanted,” recalls Kathy Alexander of the Alexander Design Group. “He had this vision of a modern mountain look. He wanted it edgy but not over the top,” she says. The home would be unusual for an area where domiciles are more traditional, but not so much that resale would be risky. It would stand out, but not stick out.

Future resale also figured into the design aesthetic. “We went into it with the mentality that it would feel timeless,” says Mr. Jennings, who is 34. “I wanted someone to be able to walk through those doors in 20 years and say, ‘Wow, whoever designed this home was a forward thinker.’ That’s why you see a lot of clean lines, not a lot of trim, and open space. I don’t like walls. They restrict. They don’t promote the beauty of the bone structure.”
Greg Jennings on the sport court of his new home in Edina, Minn. His children are, from left to right, Alea, Aice, Ayva and Amya

The kitchen has ample seating and flows into other rooms, such as the living room on the right.

The large kitchen island does double duty as a foot-prep station and a homework hangout.

The dining room.

The foyer has the home’s centerpiece: a stairway backed by a wall of windows.

The family room on the lower level.

The basement landing features of portrait of Mr. Jennings and his wife, Nicole, who owns Queen Anna, a clothing boutique in Minneapolis.

A seating area in the kitchen.

Another view of the family room, which has a wet bar, shown in the background.

Greg and Nicole Jennings like to escape to this lower-level space for a glass of wine with some privacy from the children.


The master bedroom.

A free-standing bathtub in the master bathroom.

Aice’s bedroom.

Amaya’s room.

The house was designed to be useful also. According to Mr. Jennings, all but 300 square feet of it (namely, the bar area, built for special occasions) is used on a daily basis. “I wanted all the rooms to functionally flow into each other,” he says, “from the kitchen to the great room and the dining room.” And while the feel was to be curated and modern, it had to be homey—not a “don’t touch this and don’t touch that” kind of place, he says.

The front entrance opens into a foyer that has a dramatic view of the home’s centerpiece: a three-story staircase with walnut treads and a railing accented by stainless-steel cable. The staircase is backed by a window encasement that runs from top to bottom, offering a broad view of the backyard, with natural light flooding in. To the right is the living space, and to the left is the master wing and office.

A contemporary kitchen is anchored by a big island that does double duty for both food prep and the children’s homework. The kids (Amya, Alea, Ayva and Aice, who range from 5 to 10 years old) each have a bedroom with a bathroom (two of those bathrooms are joined by a jack-and-jill sink setup). A bonus room above the garage serves as the nanny’s quarters.

The finished basement is where Mr. Jennings did his most detailed work. Winter is long in Minnesota, so for much of the year, this is where the family would spend leisure time. “The entire lower level, I laid out,” he says. “I thought, ‘OK, I am walking downstairs. What is the first thing I want to see? I want a glass of wine. Where will the bar be? The last thing you want when you want a glass of wine is to have to go a long way to get it.’”


Now complete, the bottom floor contains a theater room, a guest bedroom, a family room, a bathroom with a sauna, an indoor sport court with a basketball hoop, a kids’ playroom (that could be easily turned into a workout space, Mr. Jennings says), and the bar, which has a nook where Mr. and Mrs. Jennings can have a glass of wine with some privacy from the children. The flow of this downstairs space spills into a backyard that features an outdoor kitchen and dining spot, a fire pit and a pool.

In all, the project took almost two years from start to finish, and as Mr. Jennings points out, when building a home this ambitious, “there are always setbacks.” While digging out the area for the indoor sport court, groundwater became an issue. Winter also caused major headaches. Construction on the outdoor kitchen had to wait until after the stormy season.

Naturally, there’s plenty of NFL memorabilia on display in the home. Mounted on walls around a pool table, Mr. Jennings has a helmet he wore for each of the teams he played for, from his Western Michigan Broncos helmet to one he wore for his last pro team, the Miami Dolphins. Also on display is a football he caught for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV. Still, the house itself might be Mr. Jennings’ favorite trophy of all.

“Architecture has been something I’ve been passionate about and wanted to do more of but I never could because of football,” he says. He recalls that even as a high-school student he had interest in architecture, once designing a floor plan for a church he wanted to build for his father, who is a pastor. “Football stunted the furthering of my education in this way,” he says. “I couldn’t pursue this passion like I wanted, until now.”

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