Honed in stone

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2012 - 7:29 PM

A century-old camp cabin is reborn as a cottage that looks like it's been there forever -- thanks to reclaimed building materials and vintage finds.

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More than 100 years ago, boys slept in little log cabins at a summer camp on Lake Minnetonka's Sunset Point in Deephaven.

When Patricia Newton bought the nearly 4-acre site in 1990, the camp was long gone, but there were still a few remnants from its history: a wooden sign with the name "Camp Mini-waste" and cast-iron lampposts. But the most striking time capsule was an original split-log cabin at the property's entrance.

The little cabin had a dirt floor, and was smelly and decaying. But Newton thought it had potential. "It was just asking to be something more than it was," she said.

She drove past the little cabin every day to get to and from her home, a 1920s English Tudor, also on her acreage. In 2009, she decided it was time to renovate the cabin and turn it into a personal retreat and guesthouse.

An avid collector of old stone, wood and iron objects, Newton had tons of Platteville limestone, salvaged over the years. That stone inspired her vision for the cabin.

"I could see it as a stone cottage that would mirror the main house," she said. "It just evolved after that."

Residential designer Jeff Murphy of Murphy & Co. Design in Buffalo, Minn., masterminded that evolution, which began with a plan focused on meeting city zoning requirements. If he and Newton wanted the renovated structure on the same site near a pond, his design had to retain the existing L-shaped footprint, roofline and exterior wall locations.

Murphy's solution was to "build it from the inside out" and carve out a new limestone cottage within the old log cabin. But the ultimate goal was to make it look like a charming European-style stone cottage that would appear to have been on the property for more than a century.

"We used Old World artisan construction with handcrafted methods," said Murphy. The cottage boasts intricate stonework and is supported by chunky pine posts and oak beams salvaged from mid-1800s barns. The slate shingles on the roof are from an 1800s barn in Pennsylvania. Murphy added a copper ridge cap with ball finials and patina copper gutters.

"The post-and-beam construction was modeled after techniques used 100 years ago when timber framers used wooden pegs instead of nails," said Murphy, who paged through books on small English countryside cottages from centuries ago. "I looked for stonework details, window proportion and authentic elements to achieve the final look."

That attention to period detail extends inside. First Murphy knocked down interior walls and vaulted the ceiling to make the 860-square-foot, one-bedroom house feel more open and airy. He calls the main living space the "great hall," and put in a floor fashioned of wood salvaged from another 1880s barn. Murphy also custom-fit the living room wall to hold a new masonry fireplace and Newton's French antique iron pharmacy racks.

The kitchen is the only contemporary space that melds elements of yesterday and today by combining wormy chestnut cabinets and a vintage butcher-block table with stainless-steel countertops. The kitchen is well equipped but Newton admits she's not a cook. "I've only made soup."

She filled the cottage with many other mementos from her extensive travels, from distressed wood doors from France for the bedroom closet to a steer-hide rug from Scottsdale, Ariz., in front of the fireplace. She's also hand-picked objects from her collections, amassed over 20 years of rummaging through garage and estate sales and antique stores.

"It feels like the lovely and charming home I rented in France in the middle of a vineyard in Saint-Privat," she said.

The stone house took two years to build, and Murphy relished the one-of-a-kind experience. "It was a big project, but it sure was fun," he said. "It was a good synergy between all of us."

Fairy-tale gardens

Suburban landscape rock and potentillas would look out of place in front of the fairy-tale stone cottage. So Newton, who is also a gardener, tends colorful front-yard beds bordered by clay tiles that mix old-fashioned foxglove and delphiniums with Japanese maple and weeping spruce. A walkway made of old reclaimed street pavers curves around the gardens and leads to the front door. "Don't ask me where I got them," she joked. "It was a very dark night."

When the stone cottage is not filled with visiting friends and relatives, Newton retreats to the calming haven to read, knit, watch hawks soar over the pond and "think about what I want to do in the garden," she said.

She's named the cottage "Fox Hollow" and adorned the front door with a bronze fox ringer because each spring there's a den of foxes in the nearby woods.

"My friends called it my latest folly because I like to build things," she said. "But it's just sweet, isn't it?"

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619

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    Residential designer: Jeff Murphy, Murphy & Co. Design, Buffalo, Minn. • Builder: Bill Ziegler, Ziegler Remodeling, Hamel. Stonemasons: Larry and Sean Bagge • Interior design: Patricia Newton

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