Photos by Julie Arnold
The renovation of SweetWater cottage began with a desire to connect—to the wooded setting along Lake Superior, to the history of the area, and to foster connection among the people who would spend time there. Secluded on three acres of boreal forest near Lutsen, the property was in dire need of a refresh when Kail and Becky Katzenmeier, Kansas residents and frequent North Shore visitors, purchased it to use as a family retreat and vacation rental for their business, NorthLight Lodging. They named it SweetWater, from French explorer Samuel de Champlain who called Lake Huron La Mer Douce, the sweet sea.
Julie Arnold of Kansas City-based Place Interiors led the design process and encouraged the couple to consider a Nordic aesthetic. “Swedish immigrants settled Lutsen, and the area is rich in Scandinavian history,” she explains. “This, along with the Katzenmeiers’ desire to create a peaceful retreat, was a driving force in the design.”
The kitchen in particular needed attention. Separated from the main living area by a stone fireplace and storage closet, it was dark and cut off from the views to the lake. To open it up, Arnold removed the fireplace and replaced it with a more efficient wood-burning stove. This change allowed natural light to flow throughout and also created a central gathering place, a key principle in Scandinavian design philosophy.
Raw, natural pine and soft white walls create a feeling of simplicity in keeping with the Nordic aesthetic. Cabinets in a simplified beadboard style painted blue-gray echo the color of the lake and offer a subtle contrast without detracting from the outdoor view. A large pantry and built-in refrigerator flank three new windows, blending in thanks to matching cabinet fronts. “Now the cook can enjoy the lake view while they’re flipping pancakes or searing trout,” Arnold says.
She also chose a mix of countertop materials to create more interest: tough quartz on the island, and wood that will develop a patina over time on the sink side. Pendant lights in a matte black and white finish are in keeping with Scandinavian design and offer a quiet focal point.
“We wanted to keep it calming to the eye—pure, but not too minimalist,” says Arnold, who spent a fair amount of time hunting for new and vintage artwork, objects, and décor to complete the cottage, finding pieces at local antique shops and galleries as well as from Swedish dealers via Etsy. “We wanted a natural, authentic space, and I think these small touches add a lot of character.”
And the Katzenmeiers are delighted with the renovated space. Becky says, “There is truly an inspired sense of Scandinavian influence, rooted in the area’s history, and calming energy that wouldn’t have been possible without Julie’s disciplined restraint and skilled design eye.”
Interested in booking a retreat at SweetWater? Visit vrbo.com/1770536 for rental availability.