A Mahtomedi Home on White Bear Lake Captures Summertime Soul

An artful blend of contrasting elements creates the perfect contemporary lake home for a local interior designer and her family


For Kelly and Kevin McGauley, local Mahtomedi residents, living on a lake had always been a shared dream. The couple were living in a classic East Coast bungalow-style house near White Bear Lake and would often walk their dogs past two lakeside lots down the road. The previous houses went down in a fire, and the lots had sat empty for nearly five years. “Neither of us had ever really experienced lake living before—I grew up on a working dairy/crop farm in southern Minnesota, and Kevin is from the Iron Range, so our exposure to lakes was minimal,” says Kelly. “Whenever we walked past those lots, we would always talk about how amazing it would be to build there if one of them ever came up for sale.”

Then one day, Kelly was out walking the dogs on her own and saw it: a big For Sale sign. “I literally stopped, took a picture, and sent it to Kevin,” she laughs. The two quickly called and got in touch with Doug Johnson of BCD Homes, describing their vision of a contemporary California-style, flat-roof house. Johnson and his team were on board with the idea and eventually brought in architecture firm PLAAD to design the house. For Kelly, who also owns local interior design studio Leona Rose Interiors, the chance to help design her own home from start to finish was a new kind of challenge.

“I actually never wanted to design my own home before, because I feared I would go into ‘analysis paralysis’ mode,” says Kelly. “But in contrast, I found the entire process really easy once we enlisted PLAAD’s help. Prior to that, we were getting there, but it was a struggle—I had a vision but didn’t know how to put it on paper. Once the team was brought in, everything just flowed.”

While the completed 5,200-square-foot house could be described as an artfully crafted glass box flanked by concrete masses and characterized by clean lines and natural textures, according to the architects, it’s also more than that: It’s a study in embracing lake life to its fullest potential, from the breezy coastal vibes that permeate within to the sweeping sunset views without.

“The house is really a manifestation of how one should live on a lake,” says PLAAD principal Matthew Byers, AIA. “It not only celebrates the transitional spaces but also goes to show how you can use it throughout the year to take full advantage of the location.”

On the main level, a multitude of sliding pocket doors and retractable screens blurs the boundaries between the interior and exterior spaces to encourage true indoor-outdoor living. Inside, spaces are arranged for maximum light diffusion, with the kitchen, living room, and dining room facing the lake, as well as the primary suite located off the living area and tucked behind a set of double doors. The suite opens to a wraparound porch to create the couple’s own private outdoor oasis, while a larger screened-in porch adjacent to the kitchen is one of the family’s favorite areas to gather in the warmer months. Meanwhile, a series of horizontal clerestory windows ushers natural light into rooms located further back from the lake, such as the primary bath and closet as well as Kelly’s office. “Windows were key to making sure all spaces felt light and airy, no matter where they were located,” explains PLAAD principal Mark Stankey, AIA. “They also helped celebrate the tactile material like the masonry in the best possible way.”

Contrasting elements is a prominent theme of the home: The transparency of the plentiful windows and glazing is balanced with the use of heavier materials such as cast concrete to anchor the design. Industrial components are juxtaposed with organic textures, and a two-tone, light-versus-dark color motif adds visual interest.

For example, in the main living area, white walls and ceilings create a crisp contrast with black-framed windows and dark stained walnut cabinets. Stucco slurry walls designed to look like concrete invite a sense of movement into the space, while the soapstone countertops and reclaimed wood floors—oak, with an oiled finish—will both develop a patina over time. “I love authentic finishes that tell a story about the people who live there. They’re not perfect, and I don’t think their home should be either,” says Kelly. “I didn’t want smooth, predictable floors or manmade countertops that never chip or stain. For me, it’s important that a house has a soul. It’s not something you just look at; you live in it.”

That idea of relaxed, approachable livability was Kelly’s main goal when it came to the interiors. “There’s a preconceived notion that ‘California contemporary’ is colder, less inviting, and I wasn’t on board with that,” she says. Fabric walls and window treatments add a layer of warmth and softness to the space, while linen slipcovers, natural-fiber area rugs, sculptural wooden artwork, and mixed-metal décor pieces such as the antique brass island pendants add equal amounts of texture and panache. “I like a collected look, with well-appointed pieces and minimal accessories,” she continues. “I didn’t want glass artwork that would compete with the windows, and the bedrooms all have crisp cotton bedding and fluffy duvets. I wanted the beds to look comfortable and inviting, like you want to get in and relax.”

A floating glass-and-steel staircase (Kelly’s personal favorite architectural element) leads to the lower level, which was designed to be a darker, cozier entertaining space with black-painted walls and ceilings. A glass-enclosed bar with steel detailing echoes the craftsmanship of the staircase, while three bedrooms provide a place for the couple’s children to stay when they visit home—each purposely designed to be smaller to encourage gathering in the common spaces. “I didn’t want the kids to just stay in their rooms when they visit,” says Kelly. “I wanted us all to enjoy lake life together—the sunsets are amazing!”

Retractable doors open the lower level to a spacious pool deck complete with a lounge area and hot tub, and down several steps you’ll find a fire pit and bocce ball court. “We designed the lake-facing side in a few tiers of entertainment,” explains Stankey. “They’re almost like rooms themselves—part of the architecture without walls.”

Other design choices make striking statements throughout the house, from the elegant black-and-white patterned wallpaper in the primary bathroom suite to the unique glass-enclosed powder room off the entry that features a floating vanity—each representative of the thoughtfulness put into the design by the team. Even the front door, rather than being large and imposing, is subtly tucked away into a side entrance to allow for an unimpeded view straight through to the lake.

“It’s really amazing to walk up and get that view of the lake, even when you’re on the other side of the house,” says Stankey. “And Kelly and Kevin keep those back screens open all summer long, so when you open the door, you can feel the lake breeze blow over you right away. It’s magical how you can feel the seasons change from inside the home.”

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