Not An Escape, But A Home

Expansive walls of windows help usher warmth, sunshine, and dramatic views into this lovely Gull Lake home

Photos by Lakelight Photography

The moment you arrive at Jane and J.R. Spalj’s home, you know it’s going to have some spectacular views.

It’s impossible not to: The entryway and living room are walled with floor-to-ceiling glass on both sides, allowing you to look straight through the house to the tree-lined shores of Gull Lake. This dramatic entrance was one requirement the couple had of their new home. The other was just that—that despite its location in the North Woods, where many have cabins, the place would truly feel like a home.

After decades of raising a family on a lake only 30 miles away from Gull, the Spaljes had spread out across the country. Two of their daughters were in Minneapolis, the third was in Detroit, Michigan, and Jane and J.R. had a residency in Arizona. “Since we’re so far away for most of the year, we wanted to spend more time as a family in Minnesota,” Jane says. “We wanted the place to be a home, not a cabin and not somewhere we just went on vacation.”

The main floor’s high ceilings keep the second-floor living spaces from looking disconnected from the rest of the house. Now, the upper level areas provide understated peaks to accent the home’s clean roofline silhouette.

To achieve this, TEA2 Architects’ associate principal Leffert Tigelaar and senior project manager Charlie Witzke partnered with contractor Larry Cramer to strip down the color and materials palette, and they used exterior details like cut Amber Select Kasota stone and traditional gables to create a more formal look. While the almost 6,000-square-foot house still has large, airy spaces, defined rooms keep it from feeling too much like a rustic retreat. The main living and entertaining areas as well as the master suite are located on the main floor for easy aging-in-place living for Jane and J.R. throughout the years, and their daughters stay in discreet second-floor rooms above the garage and master bedroom.

Decisions about the interior design and materials all focused on how to fill the space with as much natural light as possible, whether that meant contemplating how light would bounce off certain plaster finishes or how neighboring windows would allow light to pass through hallways and wrap around corners.

“I’ve always liked soft, contemporary design and cleaner lines that are simple and refined,” Jane says. “I wanted a calm, peaceful place while my husband likes stone exteriors.” (He also, as the architects found out, liked delving into the structural details as he was a former professional in the construction field.)

The house stretches along the north side of the land, so Tigelaar and Witzke optimized the indirect light, using precise window placements and veneer plaster to move it throughout the rooms. The long wooden dormers, which contribute to the home’s modern edge, also bring in more light, and even the memorable floating kitchen pantry wasn’t just for the jewel-box look—its shape not only expands the kitchen volume, explains Witzke, but allows light to wrap around and above it.

Due to the house’s larger rooms, the TV alcove that Tigelaar and Witzke installed off the living room is that much more intimate. “It feels like this little nest where you can retreat to if you don’t want to be part of all the action,” Tigelaar says. A lower wooden ceiling, bluestone floor, and view of the outdoor stone fireplace change up the composition of the room, and furniture like Kravet sofas and a custom coffee table by Julian Chichester, all chosen by interior designer Sue Weldon of Harris Weldon Interiors, make it the perfect space for Jane to read and relax.

“It’s surprising to me how much I’m using that room,” Jane admits. Most days, she and her husband find themselves there at some point, and although they’re not in front of their home’s eight-foot-tall windows, the room has windows on three sides to ensure they aren’t missing the lake’s beauty.

No detail that could help make life more pleasant for the homeowners was neglected—including windows situated above a roomy soaking tub and in the walk-in shower for the couple to enjoy views of their Northern Minnesota paradise.


While the team’s design brings the outdoor views in, it also brings the indoors out. A lakeside terrace, dining patio, and other seating areas use the same materials as the house. “They’re in essence little outdoor rooms,” Witzke says. The lakeside terrace, for instance, is out a pair of doors and a few steps down from the main living area. “It’s really framed by the master bedroom gable on one side, and a gable projection of the dining room on the other. A little retaining wall that comes up about 18 inches defines the end of it before you step down onto the lawn,” he continues.

Besides ensuring the kitchen had ample space for both functional and entertaining purposes, Tea2 Architects chose more formal finishings to make it feel like part of a permanent home, not simply a cabin retreat.

The architects looked at individual rooms in the same holistic manner, seeing them as different aspects of a whole. One element where that mindset is evident is the living room’s fireplace wall: The arrangement of the fireplace, the space above it, and the recesses of the cabinets, shelving, and TV was created with the frames built right into the wall. In a way, it’s a symbol of how the home is also fitted perfectly for the couple and their family.

“We wanted a house that we could live in and use,” Jane says. “The main level is not too large, and we use all of the rooms. When our three daughters are home, they have bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs, so it doesn’t feel crowded. They did a really good job of making it feel cozy.”

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