It's hard to imagine undeveloped lakefront acreage just 5 miles from downtown Minneapolis. But that's exactly what Kathy and Norm Baer discovered in the early 2000s, when they were looking for property on which to build.
The land was on a peninsula between two lakes in Golden Valley, part of a parcel formerly owned by Glenwood Hills Hospital and later Golden Valley Health Center.
The larger lake, Sweeney, is a recreational lake with boating and fishing but no public access. The smaller lake, dubbed Hidden or Twin — is spring-fed, clear and quiet, with no motors allowed.
"Not a lot of people know it exists," said Kathy of their secluded neighborhood, now an enclave of six homes.
The peaceful setting, alive with birds, deer and other wildlife, seemed perfect for a couple who longed for a getaway cabin — but didn't have time to drive to one.
"We talked about having a cabin for a long time, but my husband [an attorney] works long hours, and we would never get there," Kathy said. "We were poking around and found this. We decided to have our house and cabin all in one."
Working with designer Tom Rauscher and builder Kyle Hunt, the Baers took their time designing and building just the right home. The couple wanted to make the most of their setting, with maximum views of both lakes. They also wanted to create inviting spaces for their two young-adult children to visit and have space for hosting groups large and small.
"We like to entertain and do fundraising," said Kathy. "My husband is on the board for Habitat for Humanity, and part of building a big house was knowing we wanted to do that."
The 6,400-square-foot house has a grand-scale living room, with a two-story cathedral ceiling crafted in mahogany, as well as a large, party-sized porch, complete with wood-burning fireplace, overlooking the lake. Every level of the home — from the 1,300-bottle wine cellar to the third-floor lounge with bar and pool table — was designed with entertaining in mind.
Kathy, an enthusiastic cook, wanted a kitchen and hearth room that allowed her to be part of the action. "It's open to the house," she said of the kitchen. "You still feel like part of the group."
The house, which took a year to design and another year to build, doesn't adhere to a particular architectural style. "I purposely tried not to have a house with a label — I didn't want to depict something," Kathy said. "Some people think it looks European."
The exterior is clad in stone. Not stone veneer, but entire chunks of Chilton Castle Rock in a variety of hues, with hints of blue, green and red. There's also an abundance of copper on the exterior, including gutters and downspouts, and the roofs over the bay windows.
During construction, Kathy got in the habit of feeding the crew after she noticed a worker toiling in the winter, so cold that his cheeks looked almost blue.
"I said, 'I'm bringing a hot lunch tomorrow,' " she said. "I love to cook. I brought them cornbread and chili, stews and soups and hot sandwiches. I really enjoyed the process of building this house, and I wanted them to enjoy it, too. I wanted a good aura, good vibes. On Mother's Day, the framers brought me flowers. One of them said, 'Sometimes we never know the owner.' They were thrilled the owner was excited about it."
For more than a decade, the Baers have enjoyed living in the home. Kathy, an avid swimmer, takes the plunge into Hidden Lake almost every day in summer. "It's very clear — I can see my toenail polish underwater," she said.
And even though they now have a handful of neighbors, the large lots and dense foliage keep their home feeling private and secluded. "We never close our bedroom drapes," she said. "We're up half a story, and the lake is across from us. The views are so spectacular."
Their homesite, which adjoins Theodore Wirth Park, has provided the relaxing, retreat experience they were seeking. "There are lots of migrating birds. We became birders living here," Kathy said.
The screen porch is their living room during the summer months. "The first summer we were here, we were on the porch having a glass of wine before dinner. Norm looked at a heron, and I could see him relax. I thought, 'This is the best thing.' We're not stuck in traffic for two hours going up north. We're already here — watching the water, trees and wildlife. You can take the back roads [from downtown] and never get on the freeway. In just a few minutes, you feel like you're up north in the woods."
Entertaining in their home has been another highlight of living there. "Sometimes we start in the wine cellar with appetizers, then move [to the main level] for dinner, and finish upstairs at the bar. People move through the house, which feels special. It's a very fun house to entertain in," Kathy said.
Despite its large size, listing agent Jacqueline Day of Edina Realty said the house is "elegant but very comfortable. It feels cozy. It's not one of those monster houses. There are very intimate spaces."
And the location presents a rare opportunity, Day said. The Baers' house is the first to be offered for sale since the peninsula was developed. "It's a pretty awesome place, considering you can be downtown in six to seven minutes. It's really private."
The Baers originally thought they might age in place in their home. (They designed it to accommodate an elevator, should one become necessary. They also included about 800 square feet of unfinished space over the three-car garage, plumbed for a bathroom, that could be converted into a caretaker or nanny's quarters, or a guest suite.)
But they've decided to downsize instead. "We love the house, but as we think about retirement, we'll probably move back downtown," Kathy said. "There are phases of your life, and we're entering another phase. It makes me sad. It was a labor of love. We will miss the lake. We hope to sell it to someone who feels the good vibes in the house, and maybe can use it to raise some money for a good foundation."
Jacqueline Day of Edina Realty has the listing, 763-522-9000.