Loft at the Lake
A family complex overlooking Cedar Lake embraces alfresco living
The bold white shapes rise from the green hillside, highlighted by the saw-toothed sweep of arborvitae that accentuates the home’s disciplined geometry. The concrete block and glass of the structure’s exterior glow in the sunlight, turning white or golden depending on the time of day. It appears to be integral to the lush slope that overlooks a restored wetland next to Cedar Lake and offers views of the Minneapolis skyline. But the site had been vacant since a fire destroyed a house there decades earlier.
Deephaven architect Charles Stinson had his eye on the property, however. In July 2003, he and builder Steven Streeter of Streeter & Associates in Wayzata purchased the site and subdivided it into three lots. They planned to create an urban development of elegant, loft-like modern homes.
In 2007, the team completed the original house, a white structure of horizontal and linear forms on a base of limestone block, custom cut with a tile-like finish. To take full advantage of the views, Stinson lifted the 4,000-square-foot main living area to the second level. He also wrapped the window walls with a U-shaped rim for privacy, while decks cantilever off the living areas and bedrooms toward the lake.
Inside, the open-plan house unfolds around a central, 22-foot-high, steel-framed staircase. Ten-foot ceilings and Venetian plaster walls, limestone tile and white oak flooring, a limestone fireplace whose chimney bisects the interior, a sleek Valcucine kitchen, and strips of glass along north and south walls contribute to the home’s clean, European aesthetic.
When Peter and Mona Vrijsen, who were relocating to the Twin Cities from Brussels, entered the home, they were sold. “We knew within a couple of minutes that the house matched our taste,” says Peter Vrijsen. The couple made an offer the next day.
“We’d been living in a penthouse in downtown Brussels, and were thinking of looking for a condo in downtown Minneapolis,” Vrijsen continues. “Then the realtor showed us this house. No one had lived in it because it was a showcase home, so it was finished with modern lighting and upscale appliances. We just needed to move in.”
The Vrijsens’ only hesitation lay with the remaining two lots on the site: They didn’t want another home built in front of them. So they bought that lot, as well. Then Peter’s brother visited, and urged him to purchase the remaining lot for a guesthouse to accommodate family members during long stays. During a housewarming party that October, Vrijsen asked Stinson what he thought of the idea.
Stinson immediately pulled out several colored pencils and began sketching a guesthouse, pool, and garden—all linked to the house via open decks and a glass walkway. “We were very attracted to Charles’ ideas and decided to do it,” Vrijsen says. “I think I still have those napkin sketches somewhere!”
Today, the rectangular original house and the vertical guesthouse bracket the site, mirroring each other in forms, colors, and materials. The house’s original upper deck extends to the guesthouse, while a glass breezeway connects the two structures on the ground level. Between the two structures are the resort-like amenities: a large swimming pool with lawn, sitting area, and fireplace. Coen + Partners of Minneapolis designed both phases of the landscape, including the tucked-away “secret garden” or courtyard on the other side of the glass link.
The guesthouse’s sleek aesthetic is similar to the main house, with its first-floor Valcucine kitchen, and a living room with two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows that open to the pool area. When not in use by family members during summer visits, the guesthouse and outdoor living space—open to views of the lake, yet walled for privacy—serve as an alfresco relaxation area.
The master bedroom on the second level of the guesthouse opens to a walkout upper deck. Mona Vrijsen’s fitness center is below the main level. She also purchased the modern European furnishings for the main house and the guesthouse.
“Mona wanted continuity and has a great eye,” says Streeter, who with Stinson finished the interior of the original house. The guesthouse also features a back-to-back fireplace (providing for fires both inside and out), Venetian plaster walls, and floors of limestone tile and dark-stained white oak, all ensuring aesthetic continuity between the structures. The result is a complex of understated modern elegance, in which space, light, and people flow freely through the interior and exterior. The Vrijsens have embraced it as home.
Since moving to the Twin Cities, Peter Vrijsen has noticed colleagues and friends often speaking of “going up north” to the lake or cabin during summer weekends. For his family, there’s no need.
“It’s almost like we have a summer house on the same lot as our regular house,” he says. “The pool area, the corner with the fireplace near the guesthouse kitchen, the glass corridor that we can open up to the garden—this is where we spent most of our time in the summer. And from everywhere, we have views of the lake.”
Camille LeFevre is a St. Paul arts writer.
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