It all started with a boat and a fish. Three years ago, Andrea and Aaron Switz bought a Sea Ray cabin cruiser and docked it at Tonka Bay Marina in Excelsior. It was a quick escape for the couple and their young children, Nevin, 8, and Sephina, 6—only 30 minutes from their home base in Minneapolis, but still enough distance to unwind from the city.
“It was such a fun summer,” says Andrea. “We would pack up our overnight bags and spend almost every weekend sleeping on the boat.” At the time, the big carp that would come up to the boat or the dock at his grandma and grandpa’s house fascinated Nevin. “We told him that it was the same fish that would come around looking for him,” she says. “He loved that.”
The carp cemented the real estate deal that made Lake Minnetonka the family’s second home. One July day, a colonial in Cottagewood popped up in the real estate listings and Andrea went out to look at it the next day. “Sailing guns were going off, and kids were out on the water in their kinder prams,” Andrea recalls of that picturesque morning. The white house with its expansive green lawn and view of the water felt reminiscent of the Hamptons or Cape Cod. “I walked down to the dock, and there was a carp. It was like a sign telling me to put in an offer,” she says.
Built in 1885, the house is one of the originals in the area, a decade older than the landmark Cottagewood General Store, which has been a community cafe and fixture for more than a century. Jefferson Avenue is named after the first homeowners, the Jeffersons, who built the summer cottage for their family of nine, as well as a horse stable and a boathouse, which are no longer.
Another family who lived in the house, the Bowers, were avid sailors, and the six sons schemed a business, Bowers Sails, in the attic. One of them, Gordy, went on to become an Olympic sailing coach and is the sailing master of the Lake Minnetonka Sailing School on Light House Island, where Nevin, Sephina, and countless other kids learn their “starboard” from their “port” every summer.
Signs of that sailing heritage are peppered throughout the décor. Anchors hang from the white walls in the three-season porch with its charmingly uneven blue stone floor, and in the dining room, two gold-painted clamshells are the table’s centerpiece. Nevin’s sleeping porch is like a snug ship with its rope hammock, three sailboat trundle beds in a row, and window treatments made from old Bowers sails. Connected by French doors, Sephina’s room is wallpapered with a Lake Minnetonka map that Andrea brought to Murals Your Way; it was an antique she found at the James J. Hill library in St. Paul. “Our house is on there,” she says. “The kids love pointing that out.”
The structure was in good shape when the Switzes bought it, but it had been remodeled over the years and the couple wanted to bring it back to its roots and make it more livable. Architectural designer Chris Eiden and contractor Michael Hayes worked closely with Andrea, who had learned a lot about the process from building their first home on Lake Calhoun. She took this one on as a full-time job for the next six months and picked out every detail, from the farmhouse sink to the toile bathroom wallpaper, and relied heavily on online sources such as One Kings Lane and Nautical Home.
“Andrea has these visions of what she wants,” says Eiden. “She would bring me photos of 1930s kitchens, and then I would figure out how to make it work.” A pair of ivory-and-nickel Heartland refrigerators, striped sink skirts, and china-as-artwork give it a retro feel. There are authentic marks of age, too, such as the butler floor button in the den and the original maple floors that they scraped down and refinished.
Andrea chose easy-to-wash white-slipcovered sofas in the den and indoor-outdoor rugs so she didn’t have to worry about dirty feet all over everything. “It’s a nice contrast to our house in the city, which is more European and fancy,” says Aaron. “This house is easy and all-American, and the kids are outside all the time, so when they come in barefoot and filthy we don’t care,” adds Andrea, who converted what used to be the side entry coat closet into a science room for Nevin, a mad scientist in the making, who stores hydroponic planting kits and an ample supply of insect, frog, and fish catching apparatuses in the cupboards. The walls are chalkboard paint, and the sink is in regular use when the kids help mom with the vegetable garden.
That room was Andrea’s first lab, and, along with Nevin’s passion, sparked the scheme for the Switz’s popular yogurt business–the Yogurt Lab—that they opened together in December of 2011, months after the first summer they spent in Cottagewood. With six shops in the metro area now, the couple is excited about their most recent opening in Wayzata. “It’s so convenient,” says Aaron. “Now we can take the boat over to get our fix.”
In Cottagewood, residents take their boats to town about as much as their cars. If you do drive, “it might be one of the few places where people drive under the speed limit,” Andrea teases about the small-town mentality. Here, families spend their Friday nights at a barbecue at the Cottagewood General Store, and every day on the water. “We’ve thought about adding a pool,” says Aaron, “but we’re afraid that the minute we do, the kids won’t be as interested in the lake anymore.”
But that’s unlikely. Above a white-slipcovered sofa in the den, Andrea hung a big dreamy canvas photo of the family with the lake as the background. It was taken right after the Switzes purchased the home. The four of them are dressed in white and the shot catches them midair as they take a leap into the water from the back of the boat that first brought them there. It’s the kind of leap that looks like fate.