More often than not, architects are tasked with making a new structure as modern as can be.

However, in the case of a recent cabin project, Kell Architects' Meghan Kell and Dan Wallace were given different marching orders — at least when it came to the feel of the place.

The homeowners loved the laid-back vibe of their cabin in the Cable area of northern Wisconsin. So when it was time to bid the aged structure adieu and build anew, something practical and functional rather than flashy and trendy was the goal.

In other words, low-key.

"They wanted to keep it modest and have it sit just kind of naturally and quietly on the shoreline," said Kell.

The project became known as the "Campfire" cabin, as Kell and Wallace found themselves weaving in a cozy chalet theme throughout.

Cozy comes first

The first order of business was to make the cabin a functional, year-round abode.

"There was a bunkhouse and an existing shack, which was only for seasonal use," Kell said. "It wasn't properly winterized, so they had to shut down the plumbing at the end of the season so the pipes wouldn't freeze. So we built something that will keep you all warm and cozy throughout the winter with the insulation and great HRV [heat recovery ventilation] system."

Additional heating elements, such as a wood-burning stove for supplemental heat, were also part of the design.

"It's a flavor of the North Woods and a quintessential cabin experience to have that live fire," Kell said. "And it's nice that it doesn't take up that much space. When you're designing a smaller footprint, it gives you more room for furniture and additional seating when you have guests."

To meet setback requirements, the new structure needed to be moved back 15 feet from the original one. That ended up being a blessing.

To maximize views of the lake, the new cabin was repositioned where there was a natural clearing in the landscape, instead of the previous spot on a bluff surrounded by trees that blocked vistas of the water.

And, bonus, the placement also helped ring in the campfire theme.

"The building was repositioned in a way that when you're coming down that long driveway, you see the glow of the fire from the living room that's very welcoming," Kell said.

A lake cabin vibe

Inside the 1,900-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom lofted cabin, maximizing views of the lake also meant a strategic layout of interior spaces.

The living room, dining room and kitchen, screen porch and main bedroom were all situated to offer 180-degree views of both the lake and the forest.

Open concepts might be all the rage, but one of the main gathering spots was an exception at Campfire. While the living room, dining area and kitchen were located near each other for easy flow of community areas, separation was intentionally created between the living room and other main spaces.

"The living room is meant to feel like a cozy space, not a great room. So it was finding that sweet spot of making it feel closed off enough but still connected to the public space with an opening into the living room," Kell said. "Still, it's framed by timberwork and designed in a way that you're really moving into a different space that's more harking back to older homes that have more separation."

A modest cabin

Materials, while quality, well-sourced and curated, are meant to give the home a down-to-earth feel.

Inside, timberwork framing and reclaimed Douglas fir for the flooring and interior doors were incorporated.

"The Douglas fir offsets this pristine, painted nickel gap paneling that's white. The goal was to bring in as much daylight as possible, so having the majority of the interior white was important," Kell said.

In addition, "there are little bits of robin's egg blue as an accent color that we were careful not to overuse, but used to freshen up the front door, laundry room and in a shutter exterior on the peak of the house. And you'll see it on the garage doors. So only in select spots."

For the cabin exterior, a brown hue inspired by park ranger stations was used "to make it feel a little more vintage," Kell said.

The team decided on a metal roof for function and durability. And while the design on the entrance side is unassuming, the lakeside is bolder — with LP Smartside siding in various patterns and textures.

"We didn't want it to look like a monolithic form. We wanted it to look like it had grown over time," Kell said. Yet, "they wanted it to remain looking very modest. There were many pieces and parts to make this a fun-shaped house that wasn't oversized for the property."

About this project

What: A tear-down cabin was rebuilt to be low-key and modest while incorporating carefully curated design elements.

Size: 1,900 square feet.

Design: Kell Architects.

Project Team: Meghan Kell Cornell, AIA; Dan Wallace, AIA.

Home of the Month appears in the Homes section the first Sunday of every month. The program, a partnership between the Star Tribune and the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects, features architect-designed houses selected by a jury of experts. The houses represent a range of prices, styles and locations.