Where: Danbury, Wisconsin
Designer: Fiddlehead Design Group and M. Valdes Architects
St. Paul architect Marcelo Valdes has a few rules when approaching a new project, and this one is key: Discover and develop the heart of the home. “It puts the focus on what needs to happen first,” he says. “We look for the magnet—where everyone wants to go when they walk in the door.” When he collaborated with Jen Ziemer, Fiddlehead Design Group’s co-founder, on her family cabin in Danbury, Wisconsin, the magnetic pull was clear from the start—it was the lake, naturally.
Valdes used the water as a springboard for the entire design. The lake is in view the minute you enter the front door, and it glistens from every vantage point radiating out of the center of the construction, where he designed a big open kitchen and several seating areas for Ziemer’s extended family. “I have two boys and 10 nieces and nephews, so I needed space that worked for a crowd,” Ziemer explains.
A multilevel island features a black granite-topped workstation, a kauri wood dining level with bar stools, and a lower bench area for the kids. Three additional dining tables on the first floor provide ample seating, and one, the most popular, has prime positioning on a three-season porch with a stone fireplace.
Ziemer didn’t want a traditional-looking cabin—she was drawn to Valdes’s ability to mash up modern and rustic aesthetics. The house captures the form of a historic A-frame shape, but with fresh materials and colors: a galvanized steel roof and charcoal exterior walls that contrast with the warm wood beams of the front porch.
“Marcelo created this amazing shell, and then we filled it with comfortable, eclectic decor,” Ziemer says. It’s a very Fiddlehead look: Ralph Lauren meets Anthropologie meets Northwoods with an edge. The best example might be the wacky moose mount over the mantle made by local artist Al Wadzinski, containing Ziemer’s dad’s work boots and her brother’s baseball cap—you just have to look closely to see them. Ziemer also kept durability in mind when choosing rugs and upholstery because of the constant foot traffic in and out.
“This lake is kind of like its own country club,” she says. “We know everyone, and we practically live here half time.” Add 20 regular houseguests, and that’s a small village to entertain. But Ziemer and Valdes made sure the cabin was designed with plenty of room—and a whole lot of heart—to accommodate them all.