It was the start of the pandemic, and with their teenage kids home from school, Mike and Marie Newcome entertained the idea of a cabin on a sizable piece of land where they could spread out and enjoy the outdoors.
They found it in a 64-acre lakeside property in Deerwood, Minn., two hours north of their home in the Twin Cities' east metro.
Nature was all around, with a private boardwalk made of white oak leading to 700 feet of shoreline on quiet Birch Lake. The grounds also came with a quarter-mile outdoor go-cart track. A big red barn housed a malt shop and a two-lane bowling alley. The most recent owners, who had the place for 10 years, had converted a former recreation space in the upstairs of the barn into living quarters.
Mike, who had recently retired from running a residential cleaning business, was looking for a project, and the sprawling property would give him ample opportunity.
"Basically, there was a bowling alley and a building before, and we made it into a home and made the property feel like a Northwoods retreat," Mike said about the place they purchased 3½ years ago.
Making it their own
One of the first things the Newcomes did was reconfigure the upstairs living quarters and give it a makeover. The details that made all the difference included creating a primary bedroom suite and adding a second-story deck. They also gave the four-bedroom, four-bath barn house more of a cabin feel, installing wood-burning fireplaces and adding reclaimed wood to the walls.
"It has that northern Minnesota vibe. We ripped out everything and took it from a 1950s malt shop to what looks like your Northwoods bar," Mike said. "The pub tables and the bar tops were all custom made from 1909 hemlock out of an old warehouse in Wisconsin."
The Newcomes added other structures to bring out the property's rustic nature. Mike scored an old wood-burning sauna — handmade by a father and son duo from Bemidji — from Facebook Marketplace and brought it back to life. An old bunkhouse was also brought in, which Mike spruced up and lined with rustic wood.
Because Mike loves to barbecue, he created a "binzebo," a gazebo made from an old grain bin, sourced from a farm in southern Minnesota. He promptly converted it into a smokehouse, complete with a grilling station.
"They're really sturdy and they add a lot of that old texture and flair," he said. "Considering the cabin is a big red barn, I thought it would go well with the property."
Onto the next project
With their projects complete, the Newcomes have listed the property, known by locals as the "Red Barn Cabin," as they look to their next adventure.
"I love the build, but I don't necessarily enjoy the sit," Mike said. "We've done all the work and would love to have other people be able to enjoy it. Then maybe I'll go find the next little fun project and do it all over again."
Mike said the next owners will find a property that's turn-key ready both indoors and out. That only means more time to enjoy the property and create special memories, just as the Newcomes have.
A favorite pastime of Mike, Marie and their teenage sons is to sit on the dock and watch the ducks and trumpeter swans pass by. And with only one full-time neighbor on the lake, at times it seems they have the place all to themselves, Mike said.
"It's as private as you can get," he added.
The Newcomes have spent countless hours canoeing, kayaking and fishing. On land, they pass the time driving go-carts on the track or riding bikes, four-wheelers and golf carts along over 2½ miles of grass trails on the property. Then, in winter, it's time to hit the snowmobile trails.
Between the expansive trails and the 900-foot boardwalk leading to the lake, Mike and Marie unwittingly log plenty of steps daily. "One of the things I've enjoyed the most is my wife and I will walk the whole property every morning and every evening," Mike said.
Listing agent Michael Boege said the property is special in that it's on a 400-acre lake with only three homes. While there is some recreation on the lake, he said the "loons easily outnumber boaters."
Boege added that the surrounding area has much to offer, too.
"It's part of a big lake community. You're kind of in between Mille Lacs Lake to the south and there's Bay Lake to the north. You're a couple of miles from [the city of] Crosby and Cuyuna that has world-class mountain bike trails."