Brian Smith couldn't pass up an empty piece of land for sale on a small lake near Avon, Minn. That's because his neighbor would be his father, J. Weston Smith.
"I was always coming up to visit my dad, so I thought it would be great," said Brian. "And the lake is super-clean because it was formed by a glacier."
In 1998, Brian collaborated with SALA architect and "cabinologist" Dale Mulfinger, who has designed and written several books about cabins, to help him build a lakeside weekend getaway."He was known as the cabin guy," said Brian.
The dwelling's simple silhouette was steeped in Scandinavian influences, including a high-pitched red roof and covered front porch. Inside, the walls were clad in knotty-pine paneling and furnished with bench seats and a wood stove. Light streamed in through an open second-floor loft.
The completed three-bedroom cabin sat on a hill overlooking the glacial lake, surrounded by pines, maples and oaks on the property's 2 acres.
In 2004, Brian married Dixie Lee Boschee, who moved to the cabin in 2010 when she started teaching at St. John's Preparatory School in nearby Collegeville. Brian stayed in Minnetonka near his job in the Twin Cities.
They added a bedroom and bathroom wing facing the lake, also designed by Mulfinger with Chris Meyer, to increase storage and make it more homey for Boschee.
"I wanted a home versus a cabin, and more room to spread out," she said. Eventually Brian sold the Minnetonka home and moved to the lake place full time.
It was casually filled with a mishmash of furniture where you could flop on a couch and be there for the weekend, said Brian. "It was a wonderful, cozy place to escape — but not really functional for day-to-day living."
The couple had heard that Mulfinger had retired [he is still working as an architect at SALA], and they connected with another SALA architect, Bryan Anderson, whose portfolio closely aligned with the contemporary aesthetic they had in mind, said Boschee.
The couple envisioned a year-round residence integrated with upgrades, including ample closet space, long-term all-season storage, a kitchen worthy of two passionate cooks, and maximizing outdoor vistas — all within the original footprint.
"They wanted a more contemporary version of the original Scandinavian inspiration," said Anderson.
"It was too much pine for me for every day," said Boschee.
"We like a more midcentury modern look," added Brian.
After mulling over several of Anderson's design options, the couple chose a massive makeover entailing stripping the cabin down to the studs, starting fresh and reconfiguring the main and second floors. The plan kept the cabin shell and foundation.
"We decided to go through with the full transformation, and put on a new roof," said Brian. "It's the last stop for us."
But first, Brian and Boschee tore off the knotty-pine paneling and did extensive demolition. "We Craiglisted and recycled everything we could," said Boschee.
With the new open floor plan, the couple gained more space for the kitchen. And the living room, rather than the guest bedroom, now has the primo lake views.
"Everything moved — it was one big shift," said Anderson. "The new layout makes it feel bigger and brighter."
And most of all, multifunctional. "The design is with real use in mind — for three dogs, two cats and a husband," said Boschee.
At the front entry, Anderson added a vindfang, a Norwegian entry chamber, which is similar to today's modern mudroom. The additional 60 square feet holds a huge storage closet, a bench to put on shoes and a spot "to wipe down the dogs when they come in," said Boschee.
The re-imagined gourmet kitchen has a midcentury modern vibe with vertical-grain larch cabinets, their rich red and yellow undertones complementing the existing refinished red oak flooring.
The soapstone-topped island has a base of enameled graphite-hued cabinetry to echo the black steel surround on the nearby fireplace. Upscale appliances include a four-burner Wolf range, requested by Brian as a Christmas gift.
A simple sheet of glass backsplash protects the walls, is easy to clean and enhances task lighting. "We went from a cramped two-butt kitchen to lots of multiple work spaces," said Boschee.
The kitchen flows into the dining area, which is lit by a Danish Louis Poulsen reflective glass chandelier.
The centrally located three-sided "peninsula" gas fireplace is wrapped in black metal and accented with warm wood and built-in display shelves. It's easy to see through the fireplace's clear glass, yet it still separates and breaks up the space between the dining area and living room.
Minneapolis designer Lucy Penfield composed the collection of clean-lined comfortable modern furnishings splashed with shades of lime green and teal blue. The couple hung eclectic artwork from their travels and by local artists.
"Architecture helped create the spaces, and Lucy helped us fill them," said Boschee.
On the second floor, Anderson closed up the loft opening and created a wood canopy of fir beams and pine above the main-floor dining area.
"Covering up the loft took out the awkwardness of the second floor and made another room," said Brian, who uses the space as a home office and sitting/socializing spot.
During warm weather, the couple extend the living space to a bluestone terrace and pergola-covered deck. An outdoor kitchen is equipped with a grill and pizza oven. "It's a nice place to drink wine and watch the bald eagles and loons," said Boschee.
At first, the couple weren't sold on staining the existing exterior board-and-battan siding a bold black. But Anderson showed them ebony-stained cabins from a book on residential projects, by Norwegian architect Wenche Selmer, that were designed to blend with the natural setting.
"Black seems trendy today, but the book showed that the look has been around since the 1940s and '50s," said Anderson.
"And black looks great with the galvanized-steel roof," said Brian.
After the eight-month renovation, the new iteration still evokes the spirit of the original cabin designed by Mulfinger, with chunky ceiling beams and various connections to the outdoors.
"It's essentially the bones of the original — but totally updated," said Brian.
It's also home base for bonding and making memories with family and friends. The couple are throwing a big bash with a pig roast for Brian's dad's 90th birthday in June.
And everyone will be camped out at their house — which now sleeps up to 10 — and on the property.
"Our lake home is a place for respite and celebration," said Boschee. "Where we get to live is a real gift."