Fish Trap Lake, near Brainerd, has been the vacation destination for Kristi Holden's family for decades.
"I've been going there since I was born," says Holden. In 1948, her father built a simple rustic cabin, which Holden and her siblings eventually bought. But as the extended family grew to include eight grandchildren, the three-bedroom, one-bathroom structure simply wasn't big enough, especially for sleeping everyone.
"We tried a few times with tents," Holden says. "Putting babies to bed was difficult."
When a small cinder block cabin nearby became available, Holden and her husband, Barry, snapped it up to have more family-gathering space. They had hoped to expand that cabin, but setback requirements made it difficult to get a permit for an addition. So the Northfield couple decided to tear it down and build anew.
"We needed more space but we didn't want to build a really big place," she says. "This is a Mom-and-Pop kind of lake." They envisioned a simple structure with a Nordic vibe. "We both have Scandinavian backgrounds. We like that aesthetic." Holden had cut a picture of a cabin out of a magazine, thinking, "If we ever build, I'd want it like this." The cabin in the magazine turned out to be the work of Albertsson Hansen Architecture, the firm the Holdens ultimately hired.
Founding partner Christine Albertsson, who also has Scandinavian roots, envisioned a "Northern Minnesota twist on Scandinavian" for the Holdens' new retreat — "capturing the essence of Scandinavian design" without copying the details. "It's about how you use space to create functional coziness," she says.
Fitting a new structure onto the site was tricky. The lot was narrow, with a steep bluff, and the Holdens didn't want to bulldoze and destroy the natural beauty of the setting. "There was only one spot we could put the building," Albertsson says. "It was a technical feat." After securing a variance, Albertsson and architect Mark Tambornino, along with builder Howard Homes, created a retreat that makes the most of the lake while not overwhelming the site and neighboring cabins.
"The goal was to create a really efficient, well-thought-through plan that wasn't too large and felt well-connected to the lake," Albertsson says.
The home's understated roofline folds at the perimeter for a lower profile. Deep brown shingles let the exterior melt into the landscape, while jaunty red trim is "a nod to Nordic sensibility," Albertsson says.
A screen porch sits on the side of the house, allowing the living room to be unobstructed on the lake side. It has become Barry's favorite spot to relax, without having to swat away bugs. Inside, the retreat is open and light, with large, high windows to capture views. "Any space in the great room, you see a big expanse of lake," Kristi Holden says.
At 2,500 total square feet, the home is big enough to accommodate large groups — a built-in bench with a table for 10, plus a big center island, makes seating 17 or 18 people doable, with more room at the fireplace hearth. Upstairs, there's a main-floor master suite and three bedrooms, including a charming children's bunkroom that sleeps five.
Working with the Albertsson Hansen design team, the Holdens chose harmonious finishes, incorporating materials salvaged from the old cabin and combining them with Douglas fir, gray Caesarstone countertops and a greenish-gray kitchen island. Karen McKay of Gunkelmans Interior Design provided direction on fabrics and furnishings. There's slate flooring in the entry, wood flooring on the main level and carpeting upstairs, to absorb the sound of children's running feet.
"At least once a year, we try to get everybody up there," Kristi Holden says. "It's a beautiful space to be in."