Like many couples, Shelley and Jon Hyytinen have a long bucket list. They finally were able to check off one of their items by building a cabin on their favorite lake.
Shelley had grown up spending summers at Chap’s Lodge on massive Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota. Later, when Shelley married Jon, their family vacationed at Ludlow’s Island Resort for many years.
The couple wanted to share with their two daughters — and eventually their daughters’ families — the “serene quiet of Lake Vermilion in the evening when the only thing you can hear are the loons calling, watch the northern lights at night and the beautiful sunrises at the crack of dawn,” said Shelley.
Jon was crazy about the walleye fishing on Minnesota’s fifth-largest lake. And both liked that part of the state, which is close to Ely and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
In 2007, the couple decided to hunt for a cabin or an empty lot on their beloved lake, but Ludlow’s owners and real estate agents Mark and Sally Ludlow told them that properties stayed in families and rarely came up for sale.
“One day my daughter and I were puttering along the shoreline in a fishing boat, and came across a ‘For Sale’ sign on a dock,” said Shelley.
Would-be buyers weren’t aware of the property because it had been incorrectly listed online as being in central Minnesota, not northern Minnesota, said Shelley. “Mark looked it up, and the price had just dropped. He said if we didn’t want to buy it, he would.”
The Hyytinens snapped up the lot, which had a 1950s-era uninsulated hunting cabin with a crumbling foundation. But the double lot had 250 feet of shoreline on a quiet inlet. They knew they were meant to be the new owners when they discovered a Finnish cinder-block sauna.
Finnish by design
After a few summers, the couple were ready to tear down the hunting cabin and build new. They contacted Duluth architect David Salmela, a friend of a family member, who has won dozens of local and national design awards.
The Hyytinens told Salmela they had a small budget but a beautiful lot on the lake — and that they felt a connection to his work.
“We loved the houses David designed in Jackson Meadow [in Marine on St. Croix],” said Shelley. “And he and his wife were Finnish like us.”
Shelley and Jon’s primary home in Champlin is a traditional Cape Cod, and they longed for a simple streamlined modern aesthetic for their lake retreat. “We had traveled to Finland many times and admired the architecture there,” said Shelley.
Salmela’s designs are sparked by his Scandinavian roots in the way he adds familiar, livable elements to a modern minimalist form, he said. “Scandinavians are drawn to simplicity and straightforward details — with no decorative embellishments.”
Salmela created the Hyytinens’ one-of-a-kind cabin with two long rectangular boxes stacked perpendicular to each other. The upper-level box cantilevers out an astounding 12 feet over a cedar deck. “It’s visually eye-pleasing and balanced,” said Salmela, “yet dramatic.”
The new cabin is only 90 feet from the water, like the old one, but is sited to better connect to Lake Vermilion.
Shelley requested a screen porch to feel the lake breezes, but Salmela told her he would “make the whole house a screen porch.” The expanses of glass on three sides “take full advantage of the lake views throughout the day,” he said.
Several terraces, an entry wall and steps going down to the lake — all made of bluestone — bring an inviting earthy element to the cabin’s modern vibe.
Inside, the open main floor includes a great room, kitchen and dining area. At the other end of the floor plan are two bathrooms and a private master bedroom. “The style is Scandinavian modern, which has warm qualities to it,” said Salmela.
The dining table by the fireplace is a favorite sitting spot. “We feel like we’re in the treetops, and sometimes we forget we’re inside,” said Shelley.
The streamlined galley-style kitchen was missing just one piece — a cabinet to hold the couple’s collection of Finnish Arabia dishes. Salmela’s solution was to hang a see-through cabinet from the ceiling over the center island so it wouldn’t block outdoor views.
The Danish Wittus steel wood stove, aptly named “Cubic,” easily warms all the spaces. But in wintertime, the Hyytinens have a backup — heated slate floors.
The second level holds two guest bedrooms for their daughters and husbands, with room for future bunk beds.
Jon’s workshop is in the basement, where they eventually plan to finish off a family room.
Many of the 1,360-square-foot cabin’s materials were locally sourced, such as the light basswood covering the walls and ceiling, and are long-lasting like the rubber roof.
“We used economical materials,” said Salmela. “But the craftsmanship is priceless.”
Of course, the couple kept the Finnish sauna on the property because of its nostalgic nod to the past. The cabin’s main entry has a walkway connecting it to the sauna, which they restored, and painted the door red.
The modern boxy structure tucked into the gently sloped lot is not what you’d expect on the shore of Lake Vermilion. But it still blends right in with its surroundings.
“We didn’t want to be those people from the city that built this big modern thing that sticks out,” said Shelley.
So the cabin’s textural cedar-lap siding is covered with a black stain that “gives you the look of pine tar, which is used on homes in Sweden,” she said.
“It disappears on the site because the black blends in with the bark on the trees,” added Salmela.
The cabin has fulfilled its most important function as a year-round escape from the couple’s stressful daily jobs — next to the lake they’ve always loved.
“I haven’t met a season I didn’t like up there,” said Shelley.