Luxury in the Twin Cities: Outdoors

When Peter Taunton purchased a large lakeside lot in Minnetrista a few years ago, he knew he had a showcase property on his hands. Palmer Pointe occupies a busy corner of Lake Minnetonka, and the steep rise of the land makes it even more visible to passing boaters. Taunton, the founder and CEO of Snap Fitness, hired Eskuche Design and Denali Custom Homes of Wayzata, to build a stone-clad house at the top of the knoll, with a commanding view and an impressive aspect.

Outdoor pool at night
A nighttime view shows the fire bowls and water jets in constant motion. (Steve Silverman)

Part of the appeal of living on Lake Minnetonka, of course, is the opportunity to enjoy the water, the summer breezes, and the natural surroundings. So it wasn’t long before Taunton started thinking about making some additions to the property. He wanted a place where he could play and entertain, a place that felt high-end yet relaxed. “I wanted the space to be luxurious,” he says. “I wanted the landscaping to match the home.”

He bought an undeveloped lot that adjoined his land and enlisted the services of Denali and Eskuche to lay out a plan for what would become a new guest house, pool house, and pool for the newly combined lakeshore properties. Inspired by visiting another Denali project on Lake Minnetonka, Taunton decided to incorporate an infinity-edge pool and fire pots as central elements in his own lakeside paradise. Once the structures were designed, laid out, and under construction, he hired Mom’s Landscaping & Design of Shakopee to fill in the green spaces and make the connection to the lake.

Outdoor pool on Lake Minnetonka
With the shimmering infinity pool as the focal point, this is an outdoor space designed for entertaining. The cabana and covered dining area opens to the large travertine-tiled and bluestone pool deck made dramatic with fire, water, and tropical plantings. (Steve Silverman)

The slope of Taunton’s property presented some unique challenges, says Mom’s founder and senior designer Jim Sweeney. The grade of the land drops more than 25 feet between the home and the shoreline, and the infinity pool introduced additional complexity into the project. Sweeney and landscape designer Heather Grossmann proposed adding several terraces to the lot. The series of curved ledge-stone retaining walls provides a place for colorful sprays of blooms and bushes while simultaneously softening the verticality of the lot. A 4-foot-wide bluestone stairway inset with charcoal pavers serpentines up the terraces from the dock to the pool deck.

“The whole design steps down to the lake,” Grossmann says, “so you have this connectedness between the water at the top and the water below.”

At the terraces’ crest, shimmering water from the infinity pool spills over into a blue-tiled trough, establishing a visual tie between the swimming area and Lake Minnetonka. Palms, Birds of Paradise, and other tropicals in planters shade the travertine-tiled pool deck, and a burbling globe fountain (made of acrylic, but looks like glass) adds to the overall sense of elegance. At night, the pool deck acquires a more theatrical feel, illuminated by flames from several fire bowls perched on glowing white-onyx bases.

Lakeside landscaping
New terraces and retaining walls of curved ledge stones transformed the steep slope from the house to the dock. A bluestone walkway meanders through the flowering shrubbery. (Bullis Photography)

Guests who don’t wish to swim or lounge poolside can gather in a nearby conversation area. The circular space is ringed by curved glass partitions that define the space and stop wind without blocking the view. A fire pit at the center of the space helps ignite and fuel engaging exchanges. And when the night turns chilly or rain dampens the mood, Taunton and his guests can retreat to the “cabana,” a large indoor/outdoor space with a stone fireplace and grill inside.

The design of the guest and pool houses echoes the forms of the main house, and Taunton also hired interior designer Annie Graunke of Studio M Interiors to select finish materials that tie the new and existing structures together. Graunke designated the paver stone material surrounding the pool to connect all the elements and soften the hard surfaces. She added pops of color to the luxurious furnishings from Studio M, drawing guests to the multiple gathering spaces that overlook the lavish plantings and down to the lake.

Another custom touch: An array of screens can be lowered around the cabana to keep out bugs as needed. Mosquitos are rarely a problem, however, because Taunton installed a mosquito control system that allows him to mist the entire property with repellent a few times a day at the touch of a button. “There’s nothing worse than trying to enjoy a beautiful summer night and being eaten up by mosquitos,” he says. Similar systems help keep the grounds properly irrigated even at the peak of summer heat (there are zone controls for plants that need differing amounts of water). Taunton can listen to music lakeside, poolside, or almost anywhere he likes, too, thanks to an outdoor speaker system that can be controlled via iPad.

Outdoor patio on Lake Minnetonka
A conversation area is ringed with glass partitions that stop the wind without blocking the view. (Bullis Photography)

In addition to palms, designer Grossmann incorporated honeysuckles, hydrangeas, arborvitae, blue spruce, ninebark, forsythia and ligularia into the landscape. Annuals give the scene added pop in summer, of course, but the landscapers were also careful to add varieties that would be attractive in the winter. Taunton has been impressed with the results: “It’s amazing to me that horticulturalists can choose blooms that are timed, so you have color and variety throughout the summer but also things that are interesting in winter.”

It’s not surprising that the shoreline side of the house got the most attention from Mom’s landscapers. But they didn’t neglect the approach from the street: An antique stone basin from Indonesia and a contemporary Cor-ten steel trough have been fused together into a water feature. A new circular driveway of stone pavers was also added, tying the newly constructed garage and guesthouse to the main house. And an arched gateway made of metal, wood, and stone creates an enticing entry to the pool area.

“I think we accomplished what Peter wanted us to do,” says Sweeney. “It feels right, I think. It feels like the landscape goes with the house.”

Front gate to Lake Minnetonka home
Gateway to paradise – The 20-foot wide entrance features a standing-seam metal roof and stonework that matches the house. (Bullis Photography)


Poolside palm tree
Potted palms lend tropical ambiance. (Steve Silverman)

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