A restful retreat pays tribute to a family bond
When nature roots you to a locale, it seems only fitting to build a structure that honors the treasured surroundings. So when an adult brother and sister realized the rustic cabin their family had enjoyed near Detroit Lakes for five decades was becoming unlivable, they decided to build a larger all-season cottage worthy of the glorious lakeside location and lifestyle they cherished.
The two-story Arts and Crafts-style retreat is a warm, welcoming sanctuary of gleaming wood and dramatic stone. The building’s modest footprint occupies roughly the same space as the former cabin yet better accommodates a growing extended family and their modern lifestyle. The new 3,000-square-foot cottage also serves as a dynamic tribute to their mother, who instilled in her children a strong appreciation for the arts, architecture, and the great outdoors.
Not surprisingly, the design process highlighted artistic differences within a family of creative thinkers. The family matriarch was a modernist at heart, while her only daughter was strongly influenced by the American Arts and Crafts movement. Everyone involved in the process—including landscape architect and project manager Mike Allmendinger of Land Elements in Fargo—agreed the building should complement the pastoral landscape of northwestern Minnesota and incorporate natural materials.
The team envisioned an Arts and Crafts-minded cottage offering seamless indoor-outdoor living, large terraces, and views of the lake. They were inspired by brothers Charles and Henry Greene, early twentieth-century architects known for bringing high-art aesthetics and fine workmanship to the Arts and Crafts movement and for building “landmark” bungalows.
The exterior of the home includes bungalow elements such as low-slung rooflines, wide eaves, and exposed rafters. Cedar shingles and a stone foundation bind the home to its woodsy setting, while decorative brackets bookend panoramic views from second-story decks and gabled dormer windows.
After the exterior was completed, the family brought in David Heide, a Minneapolis designer with a passion for architectural history, to realize their vision. He designed a massive stone fireplace and an open staircase to anchor the window-lined central living room. Two bedrooms and a full bath made room on the main floor for the family matriarch and her caretaker/driver. A custom balustrade encircles the open second level, which houses two bedrooms, a sleeping loft, a home office, and a children’s play area.
Custom doors, cabinets, and millwork made from honey-colored, vertical-grain fir drape much of the interior, infusing the cottage with warmth. Heide also placed wood on portions of the ceilings to visually contain the light fixtures and mimic the shape of the room.
Cabinetmaker Paul Muckenhirn from Detroit Lakes fulfilled Heide’s ambitious designs. Exposed joinery on much of the millwork draws upon a Greene and Greene aesthetic that celebrates construction as a decorative element. One cabinet-door pattern has raised pegs and a restoration-glass front to showcase books, vases, and glassware; the other cabinet-door style in the cottage features a flat panel with a small rectangular inlay of iridized glass.
The amber iridescent inset can be seen on the balusters and built-in newel lights as well. “I like the play between the matte finish on the wood and the shimmer of the light and the sparkle in the glass,” Heide says.
By integrating natural materials and symbols, such as handmade tiles with plant and wildlife artwork, into the built environment, Heide communicated the architectural legacy of Greene and Greene without plagiarizing their work, so to speak. “We’re using a particular design vocabulary and speaking in the same language,” the designer says. “But it’s important to me—and it’s the philosophy of this firm—that we’re not simply lifting the work of someone else but rather furthering it.”
Heide’s choice of natural materials began with slate floors, around which he selected the cottage’s earthy color palette. The golden-chestnut granite kitchen counters followed suit, as did custom-glazed subway tiles for the kitchen backsplash, bathrooms, and main-floor halls. The clients used as many indigenous resources and local tradespeople as possible, Heide says. They also demonstrated midwestern sensibility and their love of streamlined aesthetics by incorporating several built-in dressers, bookcases, benches, and beds into the cottage.
“The built-ins were driven by the owners, who really were willing to and interested in spending the time to talk about how the house gets lived in—sometimes to unparalleled detail,” Heide says. “They were familiar with life on this lake, and they were familiar with life in this exact place on the lake and with sunlight in that space, in a way we [as the designers] could only conjecture.
Carefully considered details abound in the iron railings commissioned from a Wisconsin blacksmith, the hand-painted stencils applied on site by an artist whose creations recall historical motifs, and the antique chandelier from which Heide based the original designs for the cottage’s hand-forged fixtures. He placed curved shelves between the kitchen and breakfast room to display heirloom crocks and allow views to the screen porch beyond. One hallway and the resulting trim work were specifically built to accommodate a painting bought during construction, permanently merging architecture and art.
None of these embellishments were added without reflection from the homeowners. “They’re savvy clients, which makes them interesting clients, because they challenged everything,” Heide says. “You really had to have your homework done; you really needed to be able to answer why, because everything garnered a why. This was a really special project because literally nothing was left to chance.”
Under Heide’s direction, the cottage’s more utilitarian elements function seamlessly in the space, just as the family who gathers there. Decorative fabric panels in the living room walls conceal speakers, while wainscot along another wall easily slides out of sight to reveal a full-size television. Oil-rubbed bronze hardware adds a subtle level of ornamentation to the peaceful space, which the family matriarch found pleasingly sufficient and structurally elegant.
“It’s so beautiful to be there and the things that are beautiful are also functional, which was crucial to my mother’s way of thinking. It had to have purpose,” her daughter says. And it does, naturally.
St. Paul writer and editor Michelle Baltus is a frequent Midwest Home contributor