At their home in Washburn, Wis., John and Christina Sauer were close to the water -- just not close enough.

Although their early 1900s Colonial home was about two blocks from Lake Superior, the lake-loving family longed to live right on the shore.

"We'd always been drawn to the lake," said Christina. "We'd been looking for land to build a home on the lake for a long time."

After four years of searching, the Sauers found a densely wooded three-acre lot with 300 feet of Lake Superior shoreline. It even had a small private sandy beach where their children could swim. They enlisted architects Chris Strom and Dan Nepp of TEA2 Architects in Minneapolis to design a year-round house that would feel like a North Woods lake retreat but have enough space for their active family of five.

"We wanted to build an elegant primary residence," said John. "But at the same time it would be comfortable in a wooded lakeshore setting."

Strom, the lead architect, delivered a design that was functional -- and personal.

The Craftsman-style gabled exterior suits the North Woods landscape and boasts finely crafted details requested by John, whose hobby is woodworking. Christina's Swedish heritage inspired the Scandinavian-style cheerful whitewashed woodwork throughout the interior.

"I always loved the little red houses when I would visit Sweden as a girl," she said. "So we painted it red with white trim."

The home also includes extras that make it family-friendly: a mudroom, an office and a rec room for the kids. There's even a woodworking shop above the garage for John.

Strom was able to include four bedrooms and four bathrooms, while minimizing the scale of the 4,800-square-foot home.

"We accomplished that by nesting the upper-level bedrooms into steeply pitched roof gables," he said. "On the exterior, the rhythm of the rafter tails and other details break down the mass of the house." He also added several dormers, which he described as "half in and half out of the roof."

"I love the look of dormers," said Christina. "And they create cozy spaces upstairs with slanted ceilings and knee walls."

Livable, multifunctional

Because he wanted to make the most of the views of the lake, Strom designed an L-shaped floor plan.

"The L-shape was perfect for the site because it created an inviting courtyard on the arrival side and allowed for a more panoramic view on the lake side," he said.

And, despite the home's classic exterior, the interior is surprisingly modern, with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, large open areas and simple finishes.

The Sauers warmed the interior with earthy materials, many of which they provided themselves. John cut down the three pine trees that had to be removed before building, which were milled into lumber to panel the walls and ceilings. He and Christina also unearthed a chunk of taconite stone at an abandoned mine north of Duluth, which they used for the fireplace hearth.

"We walked through with a tape measure to find one that had pretty banding and was the right size," said Christina. For the finishing touch, they built the surround from stones collected from Lake Superior. The architectural Douglas fir timbers inside and outside the home came from a mill that harvests standing dead trees.

The Sauers, who are fans of Sarah Susanka's "Not So Big House" books, asked that the floor plan include efficient multifunctional spaces. So Strom designed the kitchen, living and dining room as one area. In the living room, a 12-foot-long built-in window seat hugs a bank of windows for overflow seating. "We had a pre-prom party of 25 kids and 10 adults and there was plenty of room," said John.

Because they didn't want spaces that would get little use, there's just one eating area, which is off the kitchen, and no guest room.

The no-frills kitchen is in the center of the home, so Christina, the main cook, is never far from the rest of the family.

The Sauers especially appreciate the way Strom used windows to draw in natural light as well as enrich the look of the home. "Bringing in light was so important," said Christina. "We live in the North and it's darker in the winter."

Most of the windows extend all the way to the ceiling to maximize available light.

"It's a Scandinavian approach where they're starved for daylight," said Strom, who incorporated mullions and divided-light windows to break up expanses of glass. "It's not just about using lots of glass to get light and views," he said. "It's about proportionating the glass to create rhythm, texture and character."

The windows also open to catch breezes off Lake Superior.

And the lake is the reason why the Sauers built a home that is close to everything, but feels as if it's away from it all.

"It's still a quick run to town and school," said Christina. "And it sure is nice to be able to hop in the kayak when the water is calm and the lake is a sheet of glass."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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