Art lovers Marilyn and Bill Van Sant weren’t driven to include a fabulous trophy kitchen or an extravagant owners’ suite in their newly built retirement home in Bayfield, Wis. The couple were most excited about creating spaces for their treasured collections: a gallery for their Impressionist oil paintings, rooms for their Oriental rugs and alcoves for their books, amassed during travels over the past three decades.

“We built the house for our paintings,” said Bill. “Every piece of art has a story.”

And, of course, the home’s design also needed to maximize sweeping views of nature’s ultimate work of art — Lake Superior and Madeline Island to the east.

The couple also requested that Dan Nepp and Tom Van De Weghe, of TEA2 Architects in Minneapolis, come up with a plan that would showcase age-old craftsmanship inside and out — from hand-chiseled stone to finely detailed woodwork.

Today the Van Sants’ new cedar-shingled retreat looks as if it might have been sitting on the bluff overlooking the vast blue water for the past century.

“I wanted a home that embraces you when you walk in,” said Marilyn. “And glows like a candle at night.”

On summer trips going back to the 1980s, the Van Sants had been charmed by Bayfield’s timeless setting and small-town personality. Marilyn soon became involved in the Bayfield Heritage Association, and in 2002, the couple left their house in Eden Prairie, and bought and renovated an old Victorian, making the Lake Superior getaway their permanent home.

“We were balancing the lifestyle in the city and up here in Bayfield,” said Bill, a semiretired corporate executive. “The lake won.”

But finding property for sale along the Lake Superior shoreline was like searching for gold. Finally in 2007, the Van Sants got lucky; they bought land the same day they toured a wedge-shaped site that sloped down to a deep ravine to the south and to the rocky shore of Lake Superior to the east. They knew it was a one-of-a-kind setting, with the ravine offering privacy, light and wooded vistas.

To build their retirement home, the couple were committed to using skilled local craftspeople and tradespeople. They hired Carrier Construction in Bayfield, and Carrier referred them to TEA2 Architects, which had designed several other homes near Bayfield.

Nepp and Van De Weghe’s mission was to build a single-story dwelling that merged into the hillside and the wooded surroundings, yet offered enough gathering space for the Van Sants’ extended family, which includes 11 grandchildren. The down-to-earth design by TEA2 combined a sweeping hipped roof and flared stone base to accentuate a connection to the land, said Nepp. Natural materials in earthtones, such as cedar, copper and Colorado Rose stone, which resembles the red sandstone that was quarried in the area a century ago, will develop a patina with age.

The 4,600-square-foot plan includes two wings outfitted with bay windows that jut over the ravine. “They liked the idea of the home being hunkered down into the site,” said Nepp.

Gallery-style corridor

The home’s architecturally rich interior reflects the Van Sants’ love for the Arts & Crafts aesthetic, as well as their art collections. Beyond the entry hall, the TEA2 team devised a gallery-style center corridor to display paintings by Clark Hulings, Joanna Arnett and other favorite artists on the upper walls, and books and objets d’art in lower built-in bookcases. Reproduction Greene and Greene period lanterns, sourced by Marilyn, and strategically placed skylights light the way.

“We created a pathway, guided by books, art and collections, that all leads to the views of the surrounding landscape,” said Nepp.

At the end of the art hallway, visitors are rewarded with a soaring 14-foot-tall great room anchored by a massive, old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace. The materials, such as the Colorado Rose stonework, give the room an Old World flavor. “In the winter, I love to sit in front of a crackling fire,” said Bill.

The comfortable gathering space is composed of three kinds of wood — a Spanish cedar ceiling, mahogany beams and Brazilian cherry floors — to infuse richness and warmth. Handcrafted ceiling light fixtures of copper and mica feel like they’re from long ago. Two high shed dormers also draw light into the top of the vaulted room. “The light animates the ceiling and adds a warm glow to the tremendous amount of wood,” said Nepp.

For flexible functionality, the TEA2 team divided the mahogany-framed kitchen into two sections for cooking and entertaining. Marilyn requested a “presentation” area where she could serve food to guests and still be a part of the party. The center island also works for the couple’s everyday meals.

The butler’s pantry serves as the “support” area, offering prep counters, beverage station, wine coolers and abundant storage for Marilyn’s blue-and-white china collection. Both spaces are enhanced by cabinets built of gummy cherry with “pockets of imperfections that give the kitchen unique character,” said Van De Weghe.

The TEA2 design also gives the couple lots of opportunities to feel the lake breezes, watch sunsets and gaze at wildlife from multiple outdoor-connecting spaces. A sheltered screen porch boasts a stone fireplace, which echoes the one in the great room. There are also two bluestone terraces, one looking out over the ravine, the other delivering a wide vista of the Bayfield Channel.

From their terrace perch, Marilyn and Bill can wave to locals and tourists hiking the Brownstone Trail and crossing a bridge spanning the ravine below. As part of the homebuilding project, the couple filled in and restored the ravine and built the Corten steel bridge.

“A wonderful aspect of living on the lake is to watch other people enjoying the view,” said Marilyn.


What: A gracious Lake Superior retreat’s Arts & Crafts-inspired elements and wood-clad interiors also serve as an art gallery for the owners’ collections.

Size: 4,670 square feet on the main floor; does not include the partially finished lower level.

Design team: Architect Dan Nepp and project designer Tom Van De Weghe, TEA2 Architects, Minneapolis., 612-929-2800.

Builder: Greg Carrier, Carrier Construction, Bayfield, Wis.

Interior design: Marilyn Van Sant.