Contemporary Country Home on Lakefront Site

The slate was mostly blank when this newly retired couple acquired a lakeside property in Grant, a bucolic town of less than 5,000 people north of St. Paul.

They intended to build a house where they could relax, enjoy the changing seasons, and entertain family and friends. But they didn’t have any fixed ideas about what it should look like: Cape Cod? Prairie style? White, boxy, and modern?

“We really had no idea what we wanted,” he says. “We knew we wanted a quality-designed home, and we wanted somebody to help us decide what that was.”

(Ken Gutmaker)

The front entry’s mahogany soffits, steel, and concrete foreshadow the same materials inside.  (Ken Gutmaker)

To assist them with those decisions, the couple interviewed three designers and ultimately settled on the Minneapolis firm Rehkamp Larson Architects. “From day one,” he says, “they really committed to do what was right for this property.” Firm co-founder and partner Mark Larson was immediately inspired by the site, a wooded point dominated by two high knolls with views to the east and south. “The challenge was how to place the house on the site so it would showcase the lake and the landscape,” the architect says.

The mahagony and steel staircase leads to the lower level and its 2,500-bottle wine room.  (Ken Gutmaker)

Meeting with the couple weekly, Larson and other members of the design team began to develop a design that spanned the rolling landscape without overwhelming it. To break up the mass of the structure, Larson suggested dividing the residence into three sections: a central living, dining and kitchen area; a master bedroom and bath; and guest-bedrooms/garage wing. The two latter sections would pivot off the main area, giving the home a boomerang-shaped layout. “As [the design] evolved, the central principle became wings,” Larson says. “The site, the birds that populated the point, the separate functions of each area in the house—it all seemed to revolve around the idea of wings.”

The result is a residence that harmonizes with its environment. Visitors approaching from the west climb a winding drive, pass through a gate, and encounter a horizontal structure clad in dark zinc panels and siding of reddish-brown Brazilian hardwood. Other durable materials incorporated into the exterior include mahogany, poured concrete, steel beams, and flagstones taken from Iron Range quarries. “We wanted materials that weather really well—that last a long time and have a great patina,” Larson says.

Large banks of windows, allowing for panoramic views, dominate the southern and eastern exposures of the structure. In winter, light floods and warms the interior. In summer, generous overhangs help prevent overheating. “The angle is just right,” the homeowner says. “It stays fairly cool in the house even on the hottest days.”

Banks of windows display the panorama of shoreline and lake.  (Ken Gutmaker)

Inside, the spaces are spare and sleek, the finishes elegant and simple. Polished concrete floors, mahogany stair treads, and black-stained steel panels give the interior a contemporary edge. Large panels of white Carrara marble lend the master bath a sumptuous feel, while a 12-foot span of salvaged white oak used as a bar counter in the lower level echoes the natural world outside. An indoor sauna is lined with western red cedar. A climate-controlled wine room features a zinc-topped table and custom-designed wine racks that can hold up to 2,500 bottles.

The materials are uniformly high-grade, and the craftsmanship required for their installation is apparent. “The team that worked on this house all recognized that they were working for a client who didn’t want them to cut corners,” Larson says. “That was inspiring. It was an opportunity to do their best work.”

Steel trusses suspend the 16-foot ceiling, while clerestory windows stream in light. Custom mahogany surrounds the TV and speakers. (Ken Gutmaker)
The sleek and minimalist kitchen includes a cabinet above the sink that stores small appliances—easily hidden by a door that slides up vertically.  (Ken Gutmaker)

Design elements such as stone, glass, metal, and hardwood give a building a beautiful look, of course. But in a residential setting, they need some softening. Enter Gary Mandel and Shelley Carr of Baker Court Interiors in St. Paul. The interior designers added comfortable furniture, custom-designed rugs, and colorful artwork. A splash of tangerine on the lower cabinets in the kitchen and red wall coverings in the wife’s office add verve and energy to the home. The restrained use of textured finishes and fabrics add warmth, comfort, and a personal feel. “Everything was held back a bit,” Mandel says. “The client wanted a space that didn’t have a lot of clutter. When we added things—like artwork—we were strategic about what we integrated, and where we put it.”

The homeowners articulated a few specific requirements—they wanted a sauna, an exercise room, offices, and a wine cellar—but otherwise were open to the suggestions and recommendations of the design professionals. “They basically trusted us,” Mandel says. “They let the group consensus take them through this whole experience.”

The master bedroom glows with sunlight and vibrant  russet in the furnishings and custom rug. (Ken Gutmaker)

Larson calls that mindset unprecedented and unique. “Almost everyone comes in with some aesthetic preconceptions—an image, an idea—and we start with that,” he says. “But it was delightful to have a project that really stemmed from the site and the program, rather than how it was supposed to look.”

The homeowners, for their part, say they couldn’t be more pleased with the end result—a home they couldn’t have imagined on their own, but that fits their lifestyle perfectly. “We wanted it to be nice and to be a ‘wow! But not from a distance and not even necessarily as you drove up,” he says. “The wow comes as you experience it up close—from the inside and out.”

Architect: Rehkamp Larson Architects, Mark Larson, AIA, Ryan Lawinger, AIA; Interior Design: Baker Court Interiors, Gary Mandel, Shelley Carr
Builder: Hagstrom Builder Inc.
Landscape architect: Savanna Designs

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