In high school, Sue Beach took a woodworking class where she learned how to transform something old into something new. And that’s how it started.

“I’ve always enjoyed finding a fresh, unique use for an item,” says Sue. She calls it “re-purposing” and she has done everything from converting an old cupboard into a fireplace, to turning wooden vegetable crates into shelving units.

Given her passion for re-purposing, it is no surprise that when Sue bought four cabins and a lodge in Turtle Lake, Minn., she was eager to put her skills to use.

Warm, Inviting and Unique

When she purchased the cabins, Sue hoped to create a cozy Northwoods atmosphere complete with antique fishing paraphernalia, animal mounts and quirky décor. She also wanted to “bring the outside in” by decorating with stone, rock, trees and natural elements.
  
“I wasn’t looking to create the cliché fisherman’s cabin with mismatched furniture and stark decorating,” says Sue. “I wanted the cabins to be warm, inviting and unique.”

Like a squirrel preparing for winter, Sue scoops up little gems she finds at antique stores, flea markets and estate sales. Several years ago she even found goodies at a local bowling alley.

“They were selling the lanes, and I couldn’t resist,” says Sue. “They were 2 inches of solid maple!”

Ultimately, she made the lanes into two narrow dining tables (8 and 12 feet) to accommodate seating when her entire family visits.  

“They are long, sturdy, decorative conversation pieces that are both functional and distinctive,” says Sue.     
Sue also used a burl (a large, rounded outgrowth on the trunk of a tree) as a base to support a stone sink made from a granite boulder.
  
 “It looks like a tree is sprouting out of the floor,” says Sue.

Creative and Quirky

Sue loves distinctive. In fact, she wouldn’t know what to do with a traditional curtain rod. The window treatments in her cabins are outfitted using tree branches, rowboat oars and fishing spears. She uses old cane poles and fishnets as curtain rods and curtains, and clothesline and antique clothespins hold the curtains in her laundry room.

One of Sue’s favorite hobbies is finding creative uses for items that some might consider useless. For instance, she hung an old washtub bench upside down and stores folded towels on it.

“Because it’s flipped over, the legs of the bench stick up, which keeps the towels from falling down on either side,” says Sue, who also hung vegetable crates to serve as shelving for washcloths and toiletries.
  
 “I love giving something normal a quirky use,” says Sue. For example, an old grain scoop – turned upside down and mounted to the wall – is now a toilet paper holder. She also attached antique hooks to a wooden ironing board to make a coat rack.
On the master bathroom wall are two wooden hymnal racks from the back of church pews, which are used to hold bath salts and towels.

Beautiful Design on a Budget

Sue scours magazines to spark innovative design ideas, and then brainstorms ways to duplicate the look without incurring the cost. She notes that giving a room a makeover does not require outfitting it with brand new accessories but rather “decorating around the old.” For example, Sue says she has a bathroom sink with hairline surface cracks. Instead of discarding it, she decorated the room with a nice shower curtain and plush towels, giving the room a rustic yet luxurious feel.

Even if a cabin needs major revamping, Sue suggests tapping into one’s creative energy rather than one’s bank account. A fresh coat of paint will do wonders and can be applied to almost any surface including wood, paneling or even wallpaper. Sue applied a sand-textured paint to achieve a suede-like texture that hides wall-paper seams and imperfections.

Sue owns antique beds, dressers and nightstands, but she’s quick to point out that it’s not a matter of randomly setting out old stuff.

“Beautiful antiques don’t look good if they are poorly displayed,” says Sue, who juxtaposes the old with the new in a purposeful way. For instance, she set up an antique headboard but outfitted the bed with a quality mattress, high-end linens, and some cushy throw pillows.

Sue’s advice to anyone looking to decorate is to not limit oneself. “Nothing is impossible,” she says, “when you have a good imagination.”

Christy Heitger-Ewing took an industrial arts class where she turned something pink into something blue when she smashed her thumb with a hammer.

Reader Resource: Wilderness Lodge, www.thewildernesslodge.com.

For most of us, revamping a cabin seems like a daunting task. Well, how about four cabins?
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This table is an antique library table that someone threw out. It was in pieces when Sue got it, but with a little wood glue and elbow grease, it came back to life as a dining table.
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The first thing visitors see when they enter the cabin is this custom burl spiral staircase made of black spruce.
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Sue transformed a discarded wooden door into a message board by popping out the door’s insert, replacing it with metal, and painting it with chalkboard paint.
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Sue bought the burl base, added the faucet, and asked her builder to cut a groove in the back of the log to fit the plumbing.
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Old vegetable crates hang on the wall and hold towels, toiletries, and other odds and ends.
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To create unique towel storage, Sue took an old washtub bench and turned it upside down, then hung it on the wall.
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Sue chose this bedroom pattern because she felt it defined the Northwoods feel.
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The handmade log cabinets and farm sink came from the original log cabin built in the late 1800s. The unique drawers are angled and the handles are fashioned from pieces of wood found on the property. Sue displays her collection of blue and white granite wear on the shelves.
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