Rich natural materials and a lifetime of collected treasures infuse a family retreat with warmth and personality
Transforming a dated house and a collection of resort cabins into an inviting family retreat isn’t a project every couple would willingly undertake. And when they first saw it—in the dead of winter, buried under two feet of snow—the owners of this lakeside property in Wisconsin’s Burnett County weren’t completely convinced they could manage the task, either. “But, we were so taken by the land itself, and by the way the cabins were connected to the lake, we decided to take the plunge,” they say. “Of course, we never quite imagined that the project would end up taking ten years!”
Envisioning a gathering place for their extended family and friends, the couple started their work with the cabins, planning to build up to an eventual renovation of the main house. First up: Creating a home base for a family of four in a historic cabin, a charmer with lake views on three sides. Then, they continued around the property, replacing moss-covered asphalt roofs with metal, updating systems and siding, adding insulation and indoor bathrooms (the cabins relied on outhouses pre-renovation), and removing dropped ceilings to reveal beautiful open trusswork.
In the kitchen, Cambria in a matte finish pairs the look of aged stone with the durability of quartz. Cambria design shown: Montana Midnight Matte™, Gensler product design consultant
The couple took inspiration from the work of well-known midwestern architect, Edwin Lundie, painting the exteriors with Lundie’s signature barn-red finish and adding—inside and out—the hand-hewn detailing he was known for. “Edwin Lundie designed the Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior and a lot of cottages, and we had his style in mind as we were working on our project. We loved the Swedish influences of the main Lutsen lodge, the timbers, the red color, so we incorporated some of those elements throughout,” they say.
Once the cabins were completed, the couple finally turned their attention to the main house, a closed-off 1960s design with low ceilings and few windows. “There wasn’t much to like about the existing house, or much to salvage—but it was sited closer to the lake than we’d be able to build today,” say the owners. “So, we rebuilt on the exact same footprint because we loved the location so much.” The style of the new house is based on that of the cabins, to keep the look true to the flavor of the resort—with Lundie-esque detailing worked in throughout.
“WE WANTED EVERYTHING TO FEEL TIMELESS AND COLLECTED, AND AT HOME WITH THE LAND.”
In the main house, natural materials define the interiors, with open-plan living spaces, floor-to-ceiling reclaimed Douglas fir and plenty of natural stone. In the kitchen, gray subway-style tile and gleaming stainless steel appliances add a modern twist, contrasting with the custom wood cabinets and Cambria counters in Montana Midnight Matte™. The bedrooms and baths are just as warm and woodsy, but white-painted wall paneling lends a lighter, brighter look.
Throughout all the spaces, the owners layered a lifetime of collected furnishings and artwork, favoring antiques and artisanal elements over off-the-shelf décor. Reclaimed architectural elements, like heavy teak doors discovered during a business trip to India, lend a unique flavor and a sense of age to the newly constructed rooms. “We wanted everything we chose for the house to feel timeless, and personal, and special—to have a little soul,” they say. Accordingly, distressed finishes, hand-carved details, hand-woven textiles, textural leathers and hides, carefully chosen and well-loved art abound. In these interiors, the drama is in the details, and there’s always someplace new to look and a new treasure to discover.
Not everything is “old”—the design incorporates clean, modern elements as well, from the sleek bathroom vanities in the main house to the Mies Van der Rohe–style loveseats in one of the cabins—but all the elements in the mix speak the same style language, pairing touchable textures with sculptural shapes. And, speaking of modern elements, after years of eschewing TV or screen time during their weekends and vacations at the lake, they finally relented and connected the new house to the internet, a concession to the realities of modern work-life. “It lets us spend more time at the house, because now we can work here.”
The result is a cohesive compound that feels eminently livable and comfortable, where friends and family can come together in communal gathering spaces—both indoors and out—and then retreat to their own private cabins or rooms for work or relaxation. It might have taken them a decade-plus of work, but the hazy vision of that first snowy site visit is now a beautiful reality.