Photos by Spacecrafting
“We were a little desperate,” admits Karyn Whitely, when reflecting on the house she and her husband, Bill, found themselves buying in 2001. The couple had just relocated from Chicago with their four young children and were searching for a home they could move their family into quickly. Although the house they settled on was located on a peaceful lot just off Lake Minnetonka’s Crystal Bay, it featured a distinct lack of lake views, a convoluted layout that meandered randomly through far too many small rooms, and an odd interior design style described as “part fake farmhouse, part overgrown Victorian.”
Still, its 10,000 square feet offered the space its new owners were looking for, and for a family of six—soon to be seven—that was the most important factor at the time. “There were definitely things about it that bothered me, but it didn’t matter so much at first because we were so busy,” explains Karyn. Some small cosmetic changes (new lighting and a paint job) managed to tide her over for a while, but once the kids started moving out, she and Bill were ready for a change—namely, a custom new build in St. Paul, designed by Charlie Simmons of Charlie & Co. Design in a completely different organic and modern style. However, the kids didn’t want them to move, and a career change—combined with the fact that their house wasn’t selling for the same reasons they had hesitated in buying it themselves—led to the project getting shelved.
Then, about a year later, Karyn called Simmons with a rather unorthodox request: Would it be possible to take the plans for their St. Paul house and incorporate those elements into the existing home they knew and loved?
“I literally started laughing,” says Simmons. “The houses couldn’t have been more opposite. I told them they might as well just tear it down and start over, but if they were serious about it, we could explore the idea.”
After a meeting that got everyone—including Simmons and his coworker, project manager, and designer Douglas Tang—on board and excited about the possibilities, the process of converting the plans into a full-scale renovation officially began. The goals? Simplification, serenity, and a seamless connection to the surrounding nature. The first step was figuring out what had to stay. Kareem Reda of Edina-based custom home builder Anderson Reda joined the team to analyze what structural pieces needed to remain (luckily, not many), and then the team got to work removing all nonessential architectural elements—from cosmetic walls and partitions to wraparound columns and superfluous interior-exterior doors. Then it was just a matter of arranging spaces.
“I wanted the layout to flow like a river, where you enter and there’s no question about where you’re going,” says Karyn. “It always felt like navigating a maze before, and I wanted to remove all those physical and visual blocks and just be able to flow peacefully.” One structural partition—a brick wall—had to stay on the main level, so Simmons used it to define the new formal entry. Now, when you walk through the front door, you’ll see the white-painted brick wall straight ahead, acting as the perfect backdrop to showcase art and a sculptural black Bioma bench.
To the left is the kitchen and dining room (separated from the entry by a blackened steel and glass partition) and a sitting area with sliding doors that open onto the deck. The cooking range, dual islands, dining room table, and doorframe are all centered on an axis that leads to the living room, explains Simmons, which creates an arrangement of spaces that connect seamlessly to the outdoors through large, modern architectural windows—several of which span from floor to ceiling.
Outside, the home’s unnecessary exterior elements were also stripped off. The roof was replaced, new cladding installed, and old siding swapped with weathered gray-brown cedar siding, integrated vertically with an alternating board width pattern to create an elongated appearance and tree bark-like texture. “Trees are a huge inspiration for me; I love the color of tree bark, burned wood, and dead wood…those browns, grays, and whites,” says Karyn. “I actually like to think of our house a little like a tree—I wanted it to look as if it sprung up out of the earth, blending right into nature.”
The inspiration for the remodeled interiors was also rooted in nature, with neutral colors and organic materials chosen to complement the simplified architectural palette and enhance the scenic surroundings. “We thought, ‘Why compete with the views in every direction?’” explains Suzanne Kickhaefer, senior interior designer at MartinPatrick3. “The setting is spectacular with the lake and lush green trees, so we wanted the natural physical environment to influence the eye inside.”
For Karyn, the most important part of the interiors was the materials. “I wanted everything to be authentic to fit into the organic construct, no fake cement or fake stone, and nothing fussy or ostentatious,” she says.
Exposed wooden beams, ash woodwork, and fumed French oak flooring establish natural elegance throughout the main level. Carved block stools made of solid cedar soften the effect of the cement islands in the kitchen, while the natural stone backsplash ties into the design of the stone fireplace in the nearby dining room. While nearly every surface was painted Benjamin Moore Super White, pops of color like deep navy, gold, and pumpkin manage to pack panache into the spaces.
“Everything was driven by nature, from the slab behind the range that emulates a seascape to the blackened ash finish on Bill’s office desk,” says Kickhaefer. “Even the kitchen cabinets have those oversized, solid walnut pulls—it’s those special little elements that add warmth and interest instead of creating a cold, stark minimalism.”
The color and material palette continues up the floating steel-and-wood staircase into the primary suite, where a sliding barn door opens to reveal more white-painted brick in the bedroom and a cement bathtub in the bathroom that echoes the composition of the kitchen downstairs. A small meditation room nearby features an A-frame wall with a shou sugi ban charred-wood finish, a favorite element of the owners.
Finishing touches included an elevator that replaced a rarely used stairwell in the kitchen to allow for aging-in-place convenience, streamlined landscaping (“My gardens were out of control!” laughs Karyn), and the addition of a new steel-and-wood pergola on the deck. But best of all? The remodel finally gave the family their dream home, without Mom and Dad having to move.
“The kids were so relieved when we decided to stay here,” says Karyn. “We had taken a family vote, and no one wanted us to move. I was a little nervous we would come back and it wouldn’t feel like home, but no one had that sensation. I think it’s because now it really speaks to who we are as a family.”
Simmons adds, “It was the most extensive gut I’ve ever worked on. At first, I didn’t think it could be done, but Bill and Karyn believed in it. It was their vision—them speaking through me, and it represents who they are more than any other project I’ve worked on.”