More than a decade ago, Streeter Custom Builder, PKA Architecture, and Engler Studio Interior Design joined forces on a brick, Georgian-style colonial for a Twin Cities family. It went off without a hitch. And naturally, when a project goes perfectly and a group gels seamlessly, it only makes sense to rally the same crew when the next big plans—namely, a lakeside cabin remodel—start to take shape.
“Because we already knew each other’s quirks, strengths, and weaknesses, we were able to hit the ground running,” says Gabriel Keller, Associate AIA, founding principal/designer of PKA Architecture. “When you have a team that’s great, it’s fun and it’s easy.”
This trust and teamwork afforded the group all the latitude they needed to fix up the family’s newly purchased retreat. The first order of business was addressing and fixing the floor plan which, according to Linda Engler, ASID, interior designer and owner of Engler Studio Interior Design, was a “real maze of a layout, with lots of divvied up spaces that didn’t maximize the lake view.”
Specifically, the kitchen needed to be moved. Now facing the lake with an expansive “backsplash of glass,” as Keller puts it, the kitchen is situated where the old four-season porch was once located and now sports uninterrupted views of the water through several window bays. Although the glass introduced ventilation challenges above the La Cornue range, the team engineered a solution that made it possible. “It’s not typically done, but it works in a wonderful way,” Keller says of the unique proposition. “This is a cabin—not a house—so there are sensibilities that are different.”
Finding that distinction from their full-time residence in the city was part of the overarching goal for the kitchen, as was creating a “singular” aesthetic within a highly functional space that embraced the property. “I’ve exploited the word ‘singular’ by now,” Engler says, laughing. “But some designers have a set style, and they do versions of that. That’s not me. Each design is a concept unto itself. It’s not version 5.0 to something I’ve already done.”
Engler and colleague Jenn Taft, Allied ASID, were able to achieve this one-of-a-kind look by asking the clients for adjectives that could help jumpstart the process. In fact, the owners cooked up 18 different—albeit somewhat complementary—words, and each was pasted to the wall on a small piece of paper. Staring at scribbled descriptors such as “warm,” “organic,” “unexpected,” and “funky (a little),” the vision became clearer and more cohesive.
The project continually circled back to this exercise, and the clients’ ideas were then translated through thoughtful, top-of-the-line selections. For instance, a limestone slab of Belgian Bluestone tops the counters, while wide-plank white oak hardwood floors add character that extends throughout the main level. A House of Rohl farmhouse-style sink offers easy cleanup, Urban Electric Co. overhead pendants and sconces illuminate the space after dark, flush baseboards/casings provide a sleek look, and horizontal nickel board paneling lends a quintessential lake home feel.
Streeter, which engineered the latter two elements, brought a degree of detail, expertise, and quality that can’t be replicated, Keller says. “Without them and the craftsmanship they bring, we couldn’t have achieved this at all.”
Around the perimeter, one might also take notice to the distinct cabinetry—or lack thereof. Crafted from stained white oak with exposed dovetail jointing and bronze pulls, the inset cabinets are made of solid wood and are mostly lowers to not obstruct views to the lake. “We took a traditional vocabulary and put a modern twist on it,” adds Keller, who worked alongside colleague and architect/project manager Carl Olson, AIA. “[The cabinetry] celebrates metal for what it is, wood for what it is, and color for what it is—for what is beautiful, durable, and timeless.”
“The kitchen was leaning on the traditional side with the table, counter, and cabinetry,” Engler says. “It was feeling somber. These chairs bring a nice, modern form into this setting, but they were only offered in dark colors, like black, cream, brown, or leather-wrapped in the same colors. That was just going to be more of the same. We needed some levity, so I proposed we order them and lacquer them locally in a bright yellow. It was a risk, but it paid off.”
And like with any calculated risk, the reward is often significant. In this collaboration, that prize was culminated through trusted relationships that resulted in a luxurious, yet relaxed and livable cabin for a local family. “[The clients] spends their most joyous moments out there with their kids,” Keller says. “It’s so great to see families live in the art we create.”