AIA Home of the Month: River retreat

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 31, 2012 - 2:15 PM

A new getaway cabin echoes an older cabin's look, updated with the latest green technology.

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Peter and Mary Gove wanted to build a new cabin on the bank of the St. Croix River. But they didn't want it to clash with their existing 1970s cabin a hundred yards away.

So they hired architect Wayne Branum to design their second retreat using the familiar gables, wood siding, a loft and lots of windows facing the river. "I wanted the design for the new cabin to have a kinship with the other cabin," he said.

But the Goves also requested that Branum fast-forward 40 years.

So the completed cabin also capitalizes on sustainable new materials and energy-efficient building methods -- a priority for the couple.

"We wanted to minimize our energy use and use recycled materials as much as we could," said Peter.

The cabin is heated by a geothermal system instead of a fuel-oil furnace. The wall facing the river is all double-pane floor-to-ceiling glass bought from local Andersen Windows. The countertop on the kitchen center island is made from recycled walnut shells. All the polished concrete floors are heated. There's even a green roof above the garage and Mary's art studio.

The cabin's design borrows from the past, but also reflects current lifestyle trends. The Goves' penchant for clean, contemporary design is evident in the wide-open floor plan. The kitchen, dining and living rooms flow from one to another, unified by horizontal bands of light maple trim and valance light boxes.

But the Goves paid homage to the 40-year-old original cabin by installing a similar old-fashioned limestone wood-burning fireplace in the living room, with energy-efficient enhancements.

"We stoke it with wood we cut and split ourselves from the property," said Peter.

Although the new cabin embodies the latest in sustainable design, it's a natural fit with the wooded surroundings.

"I tried to use materials that reflect the terrain," said Branum, of SALA Architects in Stillwater. "The St. Croix River is full of limestone bluffs."

Goves' getaway

The Goves, who live in suburban White Bear Lake, bought the rustic cabin in 1997 on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River, which is on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. It's only 45 minutes from their home and serves as a weekend and summer retreat for their family and friends. From the 23-acre property, they can hike down to the river to swim, kayak and canoe and admire the wooded bluffs across the river on the Minnesota side.

With a growing extended family, the Goves realized they needed more space than the original cabin could provide, especially when it was filled with grandchildren. "We wanted a getaway from all the excitement," said Mary.

The Goves first asked Michael McGuire, the Stillwater architect who designed the 1970s cabin, to work on the project. He referred them to Branum, who coincidentally had a history with the structure. He was the masonry contractor for the original cabin's foundation and fireplace.

"I liked a lot of Mike's work," said Branum. "It seemed very modern to me for its time." He explored adding square footage to the detached garage next to the existing cabin, but was up against site restrictions.

The best option was to start fresh and build a new cabin near the existing cabin. Because of the restrictive site, Branum had to place the two-story structure farther from the river than the main cabin, which was built before St. Croix Wild River protective ordinances were in effect.

The new cabin, which is stained an earthy brown to blend with trees, faces southwest to harness solar heat and offers a view of the river valley through the tree branches. "We wanted a cabin that was size-appropriate to the land," said Peter. The 2,300-square-foot retreat includes three bedrooms, two bathrooms and Mary's "must-have" -- an art studio behind the garage.

Eco-cabin

The Goves gathered ideas on green materials, such as the recycled walnut shells, from the Eco-House at the Minnesota State Fair a few years ago. Their "waste-not" approach extended to the handsome dining-room table, which was fashioned from a huge oak tree felled during construction.

The Goves also asked Branum to make the cabin functional for today as well as into the future. He designed the interiors to include a main-floor master suite with handicap-accessible roll-in shower and wider doorways for Mary's mother, who has limited mobility, and for the Goves when they retire.

Branum's floor plan provides flexibility for moving furniture and entertaining large groups. Mary even added wheels to the kitchen's custom center island.

"We can roll it from room to room, and it can be used as a bar or a buffet table," she said, noting that it will come in handy when they hold a wedding reception at the cabin this summer.

Upon entering the living room, the cedar-covered ceiling soars up to the second floor, which holds an office loft, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Branum placed clerestory windows and skylights at the top of the stairs to draw in more light.

"The holes that peek through the master bedroom to the living room and the borrowed light from the skylight and office loft all interact together," he said.

When it's warm enough, the Goves head to a large screened porch, which extends their living space from the back of the cabin into the wooded back yard.

"We're glad we added 8 more feet to the original porch design," said Peter. "Now there's room to sit and eat meals out here."

And watch the trumpeter swans flying in formation up and down the river. "We love to hear them trumpeting at dusk," said Mary.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

  • related content

  • Architect Wayne Branum of SALA designed a St. Croix River cabin with a limestone fireplace to reflect the terrain, heated concrete floors and energy-saving features.

  • ABOUT THIS PROJECT

    What: St. Croix River retreat combines yesterday's 1970s design with today's eco-friendly features.

    Size: Main floor, 1,616 square feet including studio space; screened porch, 295 square feet; second floor, 731 square feet. The cabin includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

    Design team: Architects Wayne Branum, Tim Old and Kelly Davis, SALA Architects, Stillwater, www.salaarc.com, 651-351-0961 and Sarah Greshowak, formerly of SALA.

    Builder: Braden Construction, Houlton, Wis.

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