If you ever wondered where the inventor of rollerblades lives, you probably wouldn’t look in Waconia, in a barn at the end of a long gravel road. But if you stepped inside the barn, you would quickly realize that there is no mistaking it is home to the inventor, Scott Olson. From the rollerblade prototypes displayed decoratively on the wall to the rope swings hanging in every room and the infinity pool tucked in the corner, simply being in the home elicits exercise and movement from its visitors.
Olson’s dream of owning a barn started to take shape 25 years ago when he came across the 40-acre property. At the time, a farmer still worked the land, but Olson moved into the old barn and slowly started transforming it into a home. Today his bedroom sits up on the third floor with two flights of custom-made wooden staircases below, but in the early days, “the only way up that high was to climb hay bales,” Olson recalls.
And on move-in day, there were simply two small windows in the top ends of the 100-foot-long barn, so it was quite dark inside. Now, when asked about the barn’s greatest feature, Olson does not hesitate: “The view,” he says. Windows stretch along the end of the barn, letting in natural light and offering views of the wetlands below, where trumpeter swans and other wildlife make their home. “The best entertainment system around,” says Olson.
Besides leading a life committed to exercise and movement, Olson is a steward of the land. When the farmer moved off the property to a new plot of land, Olson restored the croplands to their native plants, and he takes pride in the large oak trees that still remain. Although the barn is large, it leaves a minimal environmental footprint since it is heated solely by corn. And much of the material used throughout the home is recycled or reclaimed, like the wood stairs and floors, made of pine, cedar, cherry and butternut from the property. “I wanted my home to feel like it was part of the outdoors, but to keep the barn feel too, because that’s the beauty of the structure,” he explains.
A quick tour of the property shows that Olson is still busy inventing, from life-sized foam penguins and oversized ping-pong tables to lunar beds and now SkyRide, an elevated monorail bike and row system that looks like a small roller coaster sitting in his backyard. But instead of buckling in and passively enjoying the ride, participants must engage with the machine in order to move—much like a stationary bike or row machine, only on a track in the air. This newest invention brought him airtime on the television show Shark Tank, and will see its first installment on a Carnival cruise ship this year.
“I like to think my ideas are for a wide range of ages,” Olson says. He is confident SkyRide could benefit everyone, from extreme athletes and thrill seekers on cruise ships to the elderly and those with physical limitations. Since the system is controlled, an individual with balance or visual impairments could safely move around the track and experience the thrill of self-propelled movement and exercise without the danger of falling off a bike. “Movement is important, it’s what keeps you engaged,” he says.
It’s no surprise that movement, nature and innovation form the foundation to Olson’s life philosophy. After all, his home is a barn-turned-innovation-lab surrounded by natural lands. Besides the rope swings, ping pong tables and gymnastic rings integrated into every room, his bed hangs from the ceiling by ropes so that he can literally be rocked to sleep by the breeze during warm summer months. “I like to be moving,” Olson says simply. And with a lot of hard work and patience, he is happy to create tools to get other people moving, too.