Dream Cabins

Cabin in Vadnais Heights
John Christenson for Loll Designs
Paul Stankey, partner and co-founder at Hive Modular, used a mix of clear cedar, James Hardie smooth fiber cement panels, and corrugated steel.

Hold the logs and antlers. Here comes a pile of tricks from the next generation of architects and designers who are introducing a new kind of cabin.

Photo by Chad Holder


Homeowners had hooks made for the hallway's waxed steel panel.

Architect Christian Dean reinterpreted the experience and character of a family cabin by making a new dwelling that is both “familiar and unexpected.” The design team noted a progression from the old “true-log” construction of the first cabin to subsequent evolutions of stick frame structures on site. Over the years the use of logs changed from the primary building material to more decorative features, which prompted the design team to look for new ways to interpret the new construction. Reclaimed Douglas fir joists frame the roof of the main level. The flooring is a distressed wood with pebble tile in the entryway. The fireplace plays off the large floor-to-ceiling field stone fireplaces found in the other cabins on the property in a more ”horizontal posture“ not to interrupt the panoramic views.

Photo by Paul Crosby


Duluth-based architect David Salmela is a Minnesota modern design legend. He can make anything striking and sleek—be it a grand lake retreat or a simple chair—as he did for Loll Designs, winning over a whole new generation of fans. One of his signature staples also happens to be his dream feature: a wood-fired sauna that heats all day, preferably with a window and near a lake to jump in after a sweat. This small square sauna is part of the Yingst Retreat just inland from Lake Michigan. It’s a masonry structure with a sod roof; the sod was stripped right from the forest floor the very same size and footprint of the structure, making it a true, native green roof.

Photos by Steve Henke


This “peek-a-boo” property in the woods is part of an association that was formed when a large, untouched tract, a defunct Girl Scout camp, was about to be sold to a developer who was going to max out the buildable lots. The association prevailed, and in doing so managed to preserve the forest by limiting tree cutting and encouraging smaller footprints. Today you barely see the houses from the lake—an advantage, according to the architect Charlie Lazor. This one-story custom home has 1,800 interior square feet and 600 exterior, built by Mast Construction Co. It rests on posts to leave the land and watershed untouched and put the homeowners up in the tree canopy. “This is where I want you to be, outside, but in an architectural space that frames the sky and lake, as well as being quietly beautiful with a vivid green grass marsh, a rich habitat for birds,” Lazor says. “This is an important distinction as too often lake cabins are all about the lake. I find that unfortunate as it ignores the richness of the natural world that surrounds the lake. A cabin should be theater in the round, and that’s what we sought here. The forest side and marsh side are as equal as the lakeside.”

Photos by Eliesa Johnson


Richard and Bonnie Swanson wanted to create a legacy home for their family and friends deeply rooted in their Scandinavian heritage. After several inspiration trips to Norway and Sweden, the extended family knew they wanted a series of red homes with white trim sitting along the countryside. They initially built a “stuga” (Swedish for small cabin) along the Yellow River near Spooner, Wisconsin, with electricity but no running water, to enjoy the woods, water, and solitude. Next they added a more modern Scandinavian farmhouse, which they call “Solbakken,” meaning “a favored spot on a hill lying open to the sunlight.” The light-filled interiors were also styled to blend tradition with modern design, with whitewashed floors, ceilings, and walls along with Tom Dixon gold pendants and sleek furniture. “Scandinavians add texture, rugs, fabrics, warm woods, and rosemÃ¥ling—a traditional Norwegian art,” says the couple’s daughter Greta Peterson. “We wanted to create that same feeling of a clean-lined, bright, open, simple space that would house a household of Swansons for meatballs and lutefisk on Christmas Eve.”

Photos by Bob Coscarelli


Wisconsin’s Camp Wandawega, one of the most creative retreats in the Midwest, blends whimsy with heart. It’s a retreat for the family who built it and a getaway for anyone in need of an unconventional resort-cabin experience. In the middle of the property, founder Tereasa Surratt created “Tom’s Treehouse“ as a memorial to her father. “Our treehouse is all about repurposing. The bones of the treehouse were constructed of salvaged wood from deconstructed barns, the antler fixture was made of sheds found on the property, even the furniture was found free and flea,” Surratt says. “We chose a tree that had died as its home to show that folks can look at something that has died and see something sad, or you can look at something that has died and see something beautiful.”

Photo by Rick Hammer


“When we were designing the cabin, we were a little torn between the look of an old, dark-wood cabin and the exterior of Vermont farmhouses,” says Minneapolis designer Michelle Fries of BeDe Design. “In the end, we went with a farmhouse-cottage design, with lots of porches.” The main cabin has whitewashed board and batten walls, reclaimed pine floors, and weathered beams on the wood ceilings. An attached guest suite is done in more old-school plaids. A boathouse allows for lakeside entertaining. ”The best part is the size of the cottage—comfortable, but just small enough to give a view from every corner and to coax people out to enjoy the wraparound porches. Then, while you’re out there lounging on the deck, fans circulate the air and move mosquitos, making it super comfy,“ says Fries, who added Sunbrella fabric to protect the chaises from wind and rain. ”It‘s a great spot to be during a summer storm.“

Photos by Steve Henke


“Our clients had owned a small cottage on a peninsula off a lake in central Minnesota for years and enjoyed many summers there with their family,” says Tom Van De Weghe, senior project manager at TEA2 Architects. “With more grandchildren came the need for more space to gather, so they chose to invest in building a new cottage that could host their family for years to come,” says Van De Weghe. “They did not want the new cottage to be large—just big enough for family to gather, but small enough for it to sit comfortably on the peninsula with ample lawns for the grandkids to run.” To form a family compound, TEA2 connected a new carriage house with the new main cottage and an older cabin by linking them via stone pathways with the help of Topo Landscaping. When it came to materials, the homeowners were drawn to rustic handcrafted stone walls, natural wood finishes, and historic elements. Van De Weghe adds: “Honest materials such as cedar and copper will patina with age and last for the next generations of their family.”

Trend Alert: Bunkrooms.Toss the air mattresses. What's really hot now are bunkrooms&digging out attic space, pushing out porches, and maximizing guest rooms. Fill them with twins, tucked in berths, or hanging beds to sleep as many as possible. Here, interior designer Sandy LaMendola layered in the client's great-aunt's crocheted blankets with other bright fabrics to embrace the family's history.