Bliss on Big Sand Lake

Tom and Linda Van Bruggen are perfectly at home in a year-round lake house designed by Charles Stinson.

  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    The Van Bruggens owned a cabin on Big Sand Lake for more than 40 years before they commissioned architect Charles Stinson to design their dream home.
  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    Stinson (right) and Tom Van Bruggen outside the home.
  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    The interiors of the home were designed by CRS Interiors.
  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    The home is situated on 900 feet of lakeshore that curves around the point.
  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    The view of the home from the lake is purposefully understated.
  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    Stinson created a natural flow between the dining room, the kitchen, and the living room.
  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    Stinson commissioned Braaten Creative Woods to design the cabinetry.
  • Photo by Paul Crosby
    The Van Bruggens’ children and grandchildren are frequent guests at the lake home.

Charles Stinson’s portfolio is as peripatetic as his passport. Between projects in Germany, Dubai, and Costa Rica, as well as Hawaii, Orlando, and Phoenix, Stinson spends as much time on an airplane as he does at his studio in Deephaven. But no matter how hectic his schedule, Stinson always finds time to work with local clients who share his appreciation for the interplay between light, space, and land.

Five years ago, Tom and Linda Van Bruggen commissioned Stinson to design a new home on a secluded point on Big Sand Lake near Park Rapids. The couple had lived in Wadena for 32 years, where Tom is the primary surgeon at the regional hospital. Every Friday, Tom would head straight to the Van Bruggen’s lake property, about an hour from their home in town. “Tom bought the cabin 40 years ago, and he’s rarely missed a weekend. He loves the lake so much, I call it his other wife,” Linda says laughing.

Even at the cabin, Tom is always on call. “Tom never really takes a day off,” says Linda. “He’s a high-energy person who loves taking care of people. If it’s Sunday and someone needs a tonsillectomy, Tom jumps in the car and heads back to the hospital.”

Once the Van Bruggens' three children were grown, Tom and Linda began talking about selling their home in Wadena and building a new home on their property on Big Sand Lake. One weekend, they were in the Twin Cities during the Parade of Homes tour. The couple walked into a home designed by Charles Stinson and Linda knew she’d found her architect. “As soon as I stepped through the front door, I felt very calm. The home just had an aura, a feeling of positive energy,” says Linda. “Right then, I knew Charles was the perfect person to design our lake home. It just took a few years to convince Tom."

Eventually, Tom agreed and the couple met with Stinson at his studio in Deephaven. “Everything just clicked,” says Stinson. “Aesthetically, we were all on the same page. Tom thinks like an engineer, and Linda is very gifted with a great eye for design,” he adds. “Charles is such a positive person,” says Linda. “He just has an incredible way of finding out how you live and what you want.”

After the initial conversation, Stinson went up to Park Rapids and spent several days with the Van Bruggens, walking the property at various times of the day to understand how the light moved across the land.

Using his trademark colored pencils and 3-D modeling software, Stinson showed the Van Bruggens several different concepts for their new home. Both Tom and Linda gravitated to a minimalist modern home set on a wide concrete plinth with a flat roof and clerestory windows that bring natural light into every room. As the house is situated on 900 feet of lakeshore that curves around the point, the Van Bruggens wanted to ensure that the view of the home from the lake would be understated. “Charles did an incredible job of siting the home on the property,” says Tom. “We’re really impressed by the scale of the home, and the way it just flows with the landscape.”

After dismantling the original cabin, the Van Bruggens donated everything from the furnace and floorcoverings to the windows, appliances, and even light switches to Habitat for Humanity. In his spare time, Tom cleared the property of 225 trees and then split and stacked the wood for family bonfires by the lake. Over the next two years, Stinson and his team worked closely with a local contractor to build the home. In late 2011, the Van Bruggens moved into their new home on Big Sand Lake.

“Tom and I feel like we’re on vacation all the time. The house is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer,” says Linda. “Even with a longer commute, I’ve never been happier,” adds Tom. “When I get home at the end of the day and I see the lake and our house, it just refreshes my soul.”