The challenge: Diane and Chris Gall bought a modest cabin on a lake near Deerwood, Minn. It had been empty for some time, with outdated dark interiors, thanks to wood-paneled walls and small windows. To turn the cabin into an inviting weekend getaway spot, the couple wanted to update and revitalize the spaces — all within the existing footprint. “We wanted to start creating family memories at the lake,” said Diane.

The designer: Diane’s sister-in-law, Betsy Gall, a real estate agent who does interior design on the side. The contractor was Tim Schulke, owner of Elite Construction in Baxter, Minn.

The back story: Diane, who lives in Appleton, Wis., had been hunting for a lakeside cabin near Betsy’s family’s northern Minnesota lake place in Deerwood. On her daily runs, Betsy would pass a cabin for sale on Portage Lake and decided to take a closer look. She was impressed by the several hundred feet of sandy shoreline, a vintage stone wall and circular driveway leading to a tuck-under garage. But inside, “the cabin was a wreck,” she said. Still, she convinced Diane of its potential and shared her design vision. Betsy had rehabbed her own cabin in 2009 and later added a carriage and bunkhouse on the property. Diane and Chris were sold. “We trusted her to turn it into a dream lake home for us,” said Diane.

The Galls never considered tearing down the structure and starting over. “We both love the history and charm of old houses,” said Betsy.

All-American: Diane requested a “cozy and charming Americana look” for the renovation of the 1,400-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom cabin, likely built in the 1920s.

“With the sparkling blue water on a sunny day, happy bursts of red color and white exterior — it’s very Americana,” said Betsy. An American flag is displayed by the lakeside entry.

Bye-bye, dark walls: Betsy removed the dark paneling and brightened up each room with new wallboard and fresh white paint.

Let there be light: New big picture windows and a sliding door facing the lake create a much needed connection to the outdoors. The exterior also has a new roof, black shutters and Smart Side siding.

Re-use, recycle: In the kitchen, a white coat of paint was applied over dark-stained cabinets, which were in good condition, and sleek new steel pulls were installed. “It made the old cabinets look brand new,” said Betsy.

The walls are clad in white-painted beadboard to give the kitchen a vintage cottage feel.

The original kitchen layout was retained, but new appliances, countertops and wrought-iron light fixtures were added. “There even was enough room for a table and stools for a small eat-in area,” said Betsy.

Lake-proof: With a durable wood-look laminate floor throughout the spaces, “you can throw a wet swimsuit on the floor and not worry about it,” said Betsy.

Bathroom for all: For the cabin’s sole bathroom, Betsy created a clean, contemporary look and maximized space with plenty of storage. She tore out the 1970s fiberglass shower/tub combination and oak vanity. In their place is a white subway-tiled step-in shower and a gray-painted vanity with double sinks, which she found at Costco. “The mirrors are from a thrift store,” she added. Finally, Betsy replaced the old peeling linoleum floor with oversized ceramic tile.

Chimney character: Betsy saved the red brick chimney in the corner of the dining room, as an architectural element. She repurposed a picnic table with painted red legs for the dining-room table.

Farmhouse flavor: In both bedrooms, Betsy replaced wood bifold doors with funky sliding barn doors, which open to closets.

Water connection: The existing lakeside entry had a little vestibule, which blocked light into the cabin. “I decided it was better to rip it off, add a sliding-glass door and put on a new deck,” said Betsy, creating an outdoor room on the lake side that steps down to the shoreline.

Bargain hunter: Betsy is always poking around secondhand stores, garage sales and retailers such as Home Goods and Lowe’s, looking for items she can refinish and repurpose. “I love mixing the yin and yang, old and new, crusty with clean lines,” she said.

The result: A comfortable family cottage for idyllic lake living. “It’s nothing fancy,” said Betsy, “but it’s on a beautiful piece of property with room to add on.”


To submit Before and After photos of a redecorated or remodeled room or house for consideration, please send uncompressed jpeg images to Please include your name and number.