Prospect and Refuge

An architect creates a lake house designed to accentuate Superior views

Cambria design shown: BRITTANICCA™

When architect CHRISTOPHER STROM was planning this retreat on the north shore of Lake Superior, he faced an essential decision. “There’s a debate about—when you site a house on the shore—do you want to look right out to the horizon line because it’s almost like the ocean?” Strom says. “Or do you site your house so that you can see down the shoreline, which can add some more depth?” Fortunately, he noticed waves crashing dramatically against a craggy formation offshore and realized he could point the house toward the horizon, while still achieving depth by aligning it with this rock. “It really gives you something to focus the house on,” says Strom.

From there, the layout became largely concentrated on maximizing the view. “When you arrive in the house,” says Strom, “you can step down to the kitchen. Then the island is situated over another step, so it’s counter height on one side and bar height on the other side. Step down once more, and the living room is sunken. So the idea is, when you step in the door, you have this view over the furniture and out to these 10-foot doors to the rock,” Strom says.

Because the North Shore tends to be rugged, the homeowners wanted the interior to have a sense of refinement—an escape from the ruggedness outside.

This open concept seems anchored by the kitchen’s upper wall of CAMBRIA BRITTANICCA, which the eye follows down to the counters and across the ample island. “We like to play with surfaces that don’t stop, either on a horizontal or vertical plane. It makes the area that you’re working on feel more sculptural,” says Strom. “Cambria was a really beautiful touch,” he says, noting that—by accentuating its continuity—the material echoes the way that “the shoreline is carved.”

However, the clean lines of the North Shore retreat’s interior largely stand in contrast to the exterior wilderness. “You have this view, but you’re in this really refined space,” Strom notes. He sees the lighting chosen by the homeowner as a continuation of this conversation between organic exterior and ordered interior. “Especially with the chandeliers and the crystal over the island, I think they were again going back to that idea of having something really refined in this rugged landscape.”

Though the kitchen, dining, and living room areas are meant to flow together, the combination of steps and sizable built-ins help delineate each space. Cambria design shown: BRITTANICCA.

The interior boasts further contrasts: “There’s this architectural concept called ‘prospect and refuge,’” Strom explains. “If you’re in the main living space, you have prospect: a sense of commanding the view and owning your domain. But you also, intuitively as a human, want refuge.” Strom created this by tucking away second floor rooms in space defined by the roof. “There’s something about occupying a roof that gives that floor a completely different character than the floor below it,” he says. “When you come up into the second floor, it is sheltered and quiet and has these sloped ceilings, so that you feel it’s protected.”

And though such builds often evolve far from their initial inspirations, this one stayed true. “What was fun about the way that the project was completed is that we held fast to a strong idea from the very beginning,” Strom recalls. “The impression we had when we visited the site for the very first time with the homeowner was so strong. That memory of being there when the waves were crashing on that rock was enough to carry us through the whole design and construction process.”

To preserve the lake view from the second floor, Strom carefully articulated this upper window. It was cut away like the aperture to a camera, so that when you look through it, the window has a focusing effect.