A Minnesota couple remodels a vintage fishing cabin.

Story by Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photos by Rick Hammer, courtesy Lands End Development

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The cabin’s exterior includes siding elements that are nicely suited to its smaller scale. Rather than using wider plank siding for the main body of the cabin, which would overpower the look of the cabin, narrower 4-inch cedar lap was used.

Originally from the Northeast, Lynn Wachter grew up vacationing at her great grandfather’s cottage on Fire Island in New York. She hoped that one day she, too, would own a tranquil getaway of her own.

In 2002, her dream was realized when she and her husband, Steve, bought a 750-square-foot cabin on Goodrich Lake in Crosslake, Minn. Although she immediately fell in love with the Northwoods atmosphere, she wanted to infuse some light into the dark green retreat in order to recreate the airy ambiance of her grandfather’s cottage.

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The Wachters completely redid the kitchen. They sacrificed a small bunk room from the old layout to grab that space for the new kitchen, which has custom enameled cabinets, a built-in pantry, granite countertops, all new stainless-steel appliances, recessed overhead lighting, under-cabinet lights, and pendant lights over the massive 9-foot peninsula. “The peninsula is always the congregation point for company!” says Steve.

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To create the beach cottage feel, the Wachters’ interior includes white painted beadboard ceilings and lighter painted cabinetry as well as the clean lines of the cabinetry and window and door trim.

The ambiance would have to wait, however, since at the time the family didn’t have the resources to renovate. They did, however, snatch up the adjacent 100-foot lot with a 450-square-foot mini-cottage. With bunk beds, bathroom, small kitchen and screened porch, it was well suited for a guest cottage.

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Bedroom furniture (the nightstands, bed, and dresser) came from IKEA.

Passing the time

Since Crosslake is only 150 miles from the Wachters’ main residence in Edina, Minn., the family uses their retreat year-round, though it sees the most action in the summertime when there’s swimming, kayaking, canoeing and grilling.

“I’d say that 50% of what we do there is grilling,” says Steve. “The other 50% is probably spent floating – either on our pontoon or on our inflatable ‘Party Island.’”

With built-in seats and cup holders, the giant raft is the ideal spot for rest and relaxation.

“We’ll float all day long with friends and a well-stocked cooler,” says Steve, noting that invariably somebody has to retrieve the island with the pontoon once it has drifted too far out.

In addition to boating and floating, the lake also provides good bass fishing just as the deck provides a location for drinking good wine.

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Steve rebuilt the bath with a stall shower and re-plumbed using PEX tubing.

The couple frequently sits on the deck with their guests and their dog, Allie, an Australian Shepherd.

The couple’s son Trevor owns Lucy, a black Lab, and their son Bryan and his wife, Shannon, have two boxers, Roscoe and Rajah. Rajah spends much of his time running in circles around the property, inhaling the fresh air, gulping lake water and romping near the water’s edge.

Roscoe, however, has mastered the art of the cabin nap, parking himself on the sofa and not moving until it’s time to go home.

A former fishing camp

The Wachters’ cabin, originally erected in 1946, was part of a fishing camp that was modified through the years with several clunky additions and questionable installations. Over time, sections of the structure had deteriorated beyond repair. In short, the place was falling apart.

“It oozed vintage charm but was outliving its time,” explains Steve.

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The hall closet is unique in that it functions as both the laundry room and library. The ledge on top of the washer and dryer stores detergent and books. “When you don’t have a lot of space, every square inch must serve a purpose,” says Lynn.

After debating whether they should sell the property or renovate the current structure, the family decided in 2013 to take the cabin down to studs and use the footprint of the deck to create the master bedroom and front entry.

The Wachters wanted a place they could use year-round, so from just the original studs and foundation, they rebuilt with full insulation, new roof, walls, siding and windows (Marvin Integrity), along with a full HVAC system with air exchanger.

The couple also added a second bathroom and created a more spacious kitchen by removing the wood stove in the living room and eliminating a small bedroom. Plus, they installed a half basement to accommodate the utilities and storage, accessed by a floor hatch in the entryway. Ultimately, they added another 150 square feet.

In retrospect, the owners admit that they probably should have completely rebuilt the cabin, but they were afraid if they tore it down, they wouldn’t be allowed to build on the same footprint due to zoning issues.

“Remodels are always challenging because you’re taking the original bones of a cabin that was built 50 or 60 years ago and merging it with a new structure,” says Matt Balmer, co-owner of Lands End Development, the company that designed the Wachter’s new floorplan and executed the remodel. “Marrying up an old foundation with a new foundation is hard enough as you ensure the framing is straight, but then you don’t want to lose the charm of the original cabin. It’s a tricky process.”

An airy, colorful retreat

Eager to replicate her great grandpa’s beach cottage, Lynn stained the cedar shakes gray and painted the front door KeyWest Blue. The inside walls are Dover White and Robin’s Egg Blue with Toasted Sesame in the bathroom off the kitchen. Lynn chose design colors to fit the beach style she craved, including turquoise, white, orange and a warm terra cotta. (The exterior stain and paint were all from Sherwin Williams.)

“I wanted the interior to be light and bright since Minnesota has a long, dark winter season,” says Lynn. “Now I love every nook and cranny of this place.”

“And I love having central air conditioning!” pipes in Steve, quick to point out that despite rumors to the contrary, Minnesota summers can be rather warm and humid.

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The porch, which is accessible from two different doors, wraps around the east side of the cabin, with the glass door facing the lake. That’s where the picnic table and gas grill sit. “Our favorite cabin meal is steak, baked potatoes and Caesar salad,” says Lynn. “Except in the winter when lasagna is our comfort food.”

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The cabin is now 900 square feet; the owners added 150 square feet to the original structure.

A haven for every season

The family enjoys biking back roads, building campfires and playing a host of yard games, including disc golf, corn hole and “the crazy homemade ones that only college kids know,” says Lynn.

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Near the front door, there’s an alcove with a bench, hooks and boot trays for storing coats and shoes.

While the family doesn’t spend as much time at the lake during the bitter cold months, they do relish winter getaways, so they can partake in snow-shoeing, ice-skating and cross-country skiing.

“When the lake freezes over, it’s like we own an extra 400 acres,” says Steve, who crafts his own winter wonderland by stringing white twinkle lights along the property. The soft lighting coupled with a blanket of freshly fallen snow makes for a breathtaking sight.

On those occassions when the family is in the mood to venture out, they often go just five miles down the road to the quaint resort town of Crosslake. Brimming with souvenir shops, miniature golf courses, tasty ice cream parlors and a general store that sells the essentials, it’s the “just big enough yet not too big” kind of town, says Lynn.

“When the boys were first learning to drive, Crosslake was the ideal place for them to practice their skills,” says Lynn.

The beauty of simplicity

After years of cottage ownership, the Wachters have made an observation about cabin living: Even the bad memories are good. For instance, they reference the massive spring storm that caused a tree to fall on top of their roof. It would’ve been a long and messy cleanup had it just been the two of them, but all the neighbors rallied to lend a hand.

Then there’s the time when they had a houseful of guests and lost power during a brutal heat wave.

“It was too hot to sleep inside, so everyone spread out on the grass with the chiggers and mosquitoes and kept the good times rolling,” recalls Lynn. Despite sweaty bodies and itchy skin, the humid air was filled with campfire smoke, bug repellent and hearty laugher.

Steve says that it’s obvious why everyone was in such good spirits. “People are just thrilled to be at the cabin.”

Allie-on-pontoon

Cabin Stats

Year renovated: 2013
Location: Crosslake, Minn.
Square footage of remodeled main cabin: 900
Bedrooms: 1
Baths: 2
Square footage of guest cabin: 450


An Architectural Design Challenge Becomes a Cool Cabin Feature

“As with all remodels, we face challenges that come up during construction,” says Jeff Balmer, co-owner and lead designer of Lands End Development, located in Crosslake, Minn. “On this project, one of the parameters of the small lot and the local zoning was that the footprint could only be expanded minimally, so we had to get creative with the space we had.”

When faced with this constraint, Jeff decided that the best location for the master bath was at the roadside of the cabin. Although this choice worked fine with the interior layout, having no windows on the roadside did not provide the homeowners with the aesthetic they were hoping to achieve.

Plus, although Lynn welcomed the idea of natural light in her bathroom, she wasn’t thrilled about the lack of privacy that would come with installing a window.

Jeff ultimately solved two problems with one creative design solution by making a bump-out in the bathroom for the vanity area. He then fashioned interior mirrored shutters that cover the bathroom window. Closing the shutters provides a mirror over the top of the sink on the inside and only a reflection of the property’s pine trees are viewed on the outside.


Design Tips from a Pro

When it comes to decorating a cabin, interior designer Krystal Lutgen, who works with Lands End Development in Crosslake, Minn., tells owners not to fear blending various styles.

“You can fuse rustic with industrial, farmhouse with beachy, cottage with modern,” says Lutgen. “When these different style elements are combined in a well-balanced space, you’ll have a fresh design palette that you can call your own.”

For homeowners trying to make the most of a small living space, Lutgen suggests incorporating elements that perform “double duty.” For example, the right sized kitchen island could be used as a bar, buffet, game table and dining room table. In many homes, the kitchen is the heart of the home. That’s certainly the case for the Wachters. In fact, Steve jokes that they “built the kitchen with a little bit of cabin around it.”

Lutgen encourages folks to exhibit sentimental family items or heirlooms as a way of honoring multiple generations. “It might be pieces of silverware displayed in a shadow box or great grandpa’s old plane propeller on a vaulted wall,” she says. “The more inventive you get, the better, as these are great conversation starters.”

To get even more creative, Lutgen says cabin owners should consider repurposing weathered metal and wood elements, such as metal brackets, wood paneling and metal sheeting.

“For example, old wooden door slabs have a variety of fun re-uses,” she notes. “They can be attached to a track system to make a sliding barn door. They can be used as a headboard or even a table top. With a little bit of inspired thinking, the possibilities are endless.”

Frequent contributor Christy Heitger-Ewing, typically not a big fan of math, adores the 50/50 breakdown of the Wachter’s day; 50% grilling, 50% floating is the kind of math she can fully embrace.