Paul and Mary Reyelts were introduced to tiny Crane Island and its bucolic setting years ago, when they would hop a boat and spend the day at their friends' century-old yellow cottage. "We never wanted to leave," said Mary.

There, they discovered a unique, close-knit community of 14 cottages dotting the perimeter of the densely wooded island on Lake Minnetonka's Upper Lake.

Even though it's only a 30-minute drive from downtown Minneapolis, the island is very much like it was when local businessman Charles Woodward founded it in 1906: a rustic summer getaway.

There are no cars, limited TV reception and no grocery store. Many of the cabins have been passed down from generation to generation. And it's still just a summer sojourn. Residents close up on Nov. 1 each year when the water is turned off.

In 2010, a piece of Crane Island went on the market and "we jumped on it," said Paul. "The island is such a lovely spot and it's close and accessible. And because it's a historic island, it couldn't be turned into McMansions."

Paul had just retired and Mary, who had grown up going to a family cabin in western Minnesota, said she "always wanted to be on water."

The Reyeltses were on their way to becoming true Crane Islanders.

Their new lot, which was populated with pines and Kentucky coffee trees, sloped down to 160 feet of Lake Minnetonka shoreline. Though there was still a turn-of-the-century cabin, it was so dilapidated that it had to be demolished.

The Reyeltses enlisted a friend, architect Tom Meyer of MS&R in Minneapolis, to help them design a new summer home that wouldn't stand out among the neighboring cottages, but would incorporate green materials, expanses of glass for lake views and a modern floor plan.

"This island is the kind of place where no one is trying to impress anyone," said Paul. "We wanted to have something nice, but not showy, so it would fit in."

Meyer quickly learned he had two challenges: Come up with a design that would be embraced by longtime islanders wary of changes, and follow the city of Minnetrista's historic preservation guidelines.

Because everyone on the island would be their new neighbors, the Reyeltses took the unusual step of offering to share their home plans with them.

"We showed images of what it would look like to the 14 families on the island and the people who responded were supportive," said Paul.

Living large

The Reyeltses had requested a plan with three bedrooms and a music room for Paul's grand piano, so Meyer knew their lake home would take up more space than a modest cottage would allow. To reduce the scale, he designed two houses linked together.

The main structure of the 2,240-square-foot home contains the living and dining rooms, the kitchen, master and guest bedrooms and a cottage must-have: a wraparound screened porch.

The other smaller structure, which is angled for a better lake view, contains a bunk room for visiting children, and a combination music room, den and office. The two are connected by a mudroom and laundry room on the main floor and an open-air deck on the second floor.

"It fit the scale, proportion and style of the summer homes surrounding it," said Meyer.

The interiors are clean and open, with large double-hung windows that allow the lake breezes -- not an air conditioner -- to cool the home. Whitewashed knotty-pine walls and Baltic birch ceilings lighten the large, open rooms.

"Everything is useful and open," said Mary. "You can see from the front to the back when you're standing in one place."

The uncluttered, streamlined lines are visible in features such as a fireplace surround made of charcoal soapstone remnants.

"No mantel, no moose head," said Paul. "We wanted simple and clean."

Builder barge

Building the home proved as much as challenge as designing it.

Since the only way to the island is by boat, builders Pete Welch and Don Forsman of Welch Forsman constructed a barge to haul materials and heavy equipment to a boat landing. Then the crew had to haul it to the site with a tractor-trailer.

The heaviest components were concrete blocks for the mini-basement, which provides extra storage space and serves as a storm shelter. The rest of the foundation is composed of a helical pier system, which is made up of large screws that are twisted into the ground to support beams for the house. This system alleviated the need for a large concrete foundation, which would have required extensive excavation.

After months of construction, the Reyeltses are surrounded by neighbors who have become good friends and are enjoying their first summer as Crane Islanders.

"There's something magical about being on an island and having your own place," said Mary.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619