The project: A young family was seeking to build a boathouse at their lake property to use for recreation, watercraft storage and casual entertaining.
The back story: Katie and Joe Cargill owned one of the last unbuilt lots on Pokegama Lake. Katie, who grew up in the area but left to pursue her education, bought the lot while she was still in dental school. "Real estate on the lake is hard to come by," said Katie. "If you see something for sale, grab it. It's a no-brainer." After she completed school, she returned to Grand Rapids to practice dentistry. The couple and their daughters, ages 8 and 5, had been living in a century-old house in town when they decided it was time to build a year-round home on their lake lot. But first, they opted to build a boathouse, where they could make the most of the lake while their main house was under construction. "The reason for being on the lake is to enjoy the lake," said Katie. "So we did the beachfront and boathouse first. We wanted a multi-use boathouse, with storage, where we could appreciate the lake and host little parties."
Clean and classic: To design both their house and boathouse, the Cargills turned to Albertsson Hansen, a Minneapolis firm that had recently designed a home for some friends. "We like their clean, classic Scandinavian touches," said Katie. The Cargills' project was similar to another that Albertsson Hansen had tackled on Pokegama, in that the boathouse would be built first, then the main house. "It's fun to do a prequel to the main house, to test the look and feel," said Hansen. "The goal [for the Cargills' boathouse] was to build an elemental simple building that was a pleasant place to hang out, with durable materials."
First things first: Before construction could begin, there were zoning issues to resolve. The township where the Cargills' property was located restricted boathouses to 10 feet in height and a 250-square-foot footprint, including any overhangs. Because of those restrictions, most new boathouses were flat-roofed square boxes with a deck on top. "That's what people were building," said Hansen. The restrictions were "a disincentive to build an attractive boathouse that matched the house." However, as written, the restrictions also were somewhat ambiguous as to how height was measured, and the township was willing to consider modifying it. "We worked creatively and cooperatively with the zoning department to get over impediments to good design," Hansen said.
Sloping site: The topography near the water posed another challenge, requiring that the boathouse be built into the bank of a hill. "It evolved from the parameters set by nature," said Katie. Like the Cargills' main house, the boathouse has a simple gabled form and board-and-batten siding, with Colonial and Scandinavian influences. "It has a clean, crisp feeling," said Katie. The boathouse was built with concrete walls to retain the earth around it. "We like how it tucks into the hill," said Hansen. When approached from behind, it has a low profile, its windowed gable peeking above the ground. "It's kind of mysterious. Then you go around to the front, and it reveals itself."
Simple shelter: Inside, the boathouse's design is clean and simple, with concrete floors and rough-textured walls of board-formed concrete. The 250-square-foot space has two storage closets, including one that opens to reveal a built-in serving buffet, with a stainless-steel countertop, for preparing snacks and picnics. The single room is lofted, with a platform for playing or occasional overnights. "All four of us can sleep feet to feet," said Katie. "The girls call it glamping." Outside, bluestone steps lead down to the boathouse and its ipe wood deck.
Bi-fold door: Instead of a retractable garage-style door on the side facing the lake, the boathouse features a custom bi-fold door that, when open, overhangs the deck, offering shelter from the elements. "We didn't want the typical garage door on tracks," said Hansen. "That wouldn't have been as nice looking at it from inside, and it would have impeded storage" in the ceiling, where there's space in the steep gable to string up a kayak. The bi-fold door is Joe's favorite feature of the boathouse. "It creates an awning out front," he said.
The payoff: The family has been able to enjoy everything the lake has to offer while waiting for their year-round house to be completed. "We boat, swim and paddleboard," said Katie. "Joe fishes, and our girls are learning to water ski. ... My favorite thing is the elevation on the water," she said of their boathouse. "You feel like you're in a houseboat. It's phenomenal!"