A long-awaited dream cabin retreat gets built.
Story by Gina Chiodi Grensing
Photos by Rick Hammer, courtesy Lands End Development
Boy, did Gayle Litchy have patience! Her 25 years of persistent waiting culminated in finally being able to live her longstanding dream of owning a cabin by the lake.
“I’ve had this dream for as long as I can remember,” Gayle says. “I probably was influenced in large part by my parents’ lake home, which they built in 1976.” But Gayle’s dream cabin wasn’t going to come already constructed.
“I’ve always had an interest in someday building a custom home. I really liked the idea of being able to figure out the spaces you want, the materials to use and then finally decorating, all while trying to stay within a certain budget.”
Love at first view
After scouring the real estate circulars that are found in gas stations and grocery stores for quite some time and getting tips about properties from family, she found the spot – just over an acre of land on Kimble Lake in central Minnesota.
“I fell in love with the spectacular south-facing view because of the high elevation and the nice shoreline for swimming,” says Gayle.
At the time, she was working for the Minneapolis Public Works Department and owned a small one-bedroom condo in the suburb of New Hope. Scrimping and saving over the years, not even buying a house in the Minneapolis area, resulted in her dream of a 1,656-square-foot, two-bedroom retreat she now occupies full time as a retiree.
“I saved and saved and saved,” says Gayle. “I sacrificed for all the years I worked for the city, 39 years, to save money to eventually build my lake home.”
Gayle often visited her land, which is about 2 hours and 45 minutes from her home, where she could indulge her gardening passion, “My parents have a lake home on North Long Lake (about 25 miles south), so I would often stay with them and just come up for the day.”
Work on her dream cabin began four years ago when she chose Lands End Development, a custom home designer and builder located in Cross Lake, to bring the cabin to life. Her list of “must-haves” wasn’t too extensive. “I wanted lots of windows, a fireplace and nice finish materials.” A bathroom on each the cabin’s three floors was also a must.
“She wanted a real cottage feel,” says Matt Balmer, co-owner of Lands End Development. “There are coffered ceilings, bead board, natural wood and just a blend of textures. Most of the materials were sourced locally, which helped keep costs down.”
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“The biggest challenge was getting everything to fit into the small footprint, adds Jeff Balmer co-owner of Lands End and Matt’s brother. “But we enjoy those challenges.”
Also prominent in the cabin’s design was Gayle’s love of plants and nature. “I wanted to save a large red pine tree that was in the middle of the buildable area,” she said. “It worked out that the tree became the focal point between the house and garage.”
Other site considerations included the fact that the property is a bluff, which made setbacks crucial.
“I was forced to build approximately 125 feet back from the lake and 30 feet back from the top of the bluff,” Gayle says. Allowing space for the septic and well condensed Gayle’s buildable space even more. However, these things did not deter her.
“I needed to keep the footprint small and use three levels to get the spaces I wanted. It worked out perfectly. So instead of worrying about the fact that I’m getting older and it might be harder to live on different levels, I look at it as a way to keep me fit. And, I love the size, shape and the way the house ended up sited on the property.”
The 672-square-foot main floor is an open floor plan with a living room, dining area, kitchen and half bath.
Gayle’s master suite lays claim to the second floor. The walk out basement has a bedroom, small family room, laundry closet, bath, office nook and mechanical room. Plus, Gayle wanted bonus space above the garage. That’s where two built-in beds, a sitting area and a large table for crafting is located.
“I enjoy many, many crafts including making mosaics and baby quilts,” she says.
Living at the lake
Gayle is somewhat of a snowbird, though not going to the deep southern part of the United States for the winter.
“For the most part, I live at the lake, even though I still have my condo in New Hope and use it often, especially in the winter.”
The Twin Cities area is where her parents (who are now in their mid-80s and spend six months at their lake home and six months at their city home), most of her large extended family and many of her friends live.
“It’s easier for me to visit them than for them to come to the cabin in the winter,” Gayle says.
However, when at the cabin, Gayle is busy. When not crafting, she enjoys hiking, snowshoeing and biking.
“Mostly I love gardening and making my outside as beautiful as the inside,” she says.
She also loves hosting family and friends at her retreat. Of special importance are her grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
“We enjoy swimming, crafting, playing games and sitting by the camp fire,” says Gayle. “The kids love sleeping in the window bed or in the upper garage, and the girls love my big freestanding bathtub.”
This cabin definitely proves that good things come to those who wait.
What a Site
When placing a cabin is a challenge Working with an unusual site layout can be a detriment to your cabin project, or it can be a bonus. It’s all in how you approach it.
Matt and Jeff Balmer, co-owners of Lands End Development, enjoy working with clients who have nontypical sites, such as that of Gayle Litchy.
The Balmers provide this advice for considering a site for your cabin:
The site itself needs to be addressed right away. “We will walk a site with a customer and even go out to land that they are just considering purchasing,” says Matt.
“Every property isn’t for every potential buyer. Some sites have some intricacies, and we need to be sure that we’re on the same page with the customer.”
Have an open mind. “If you look at the land with an open mind, there are ways of making a unique site work,” says Jeff. “We work with the customer to ensure the design works with his or her lifestyle, such as needing stairs for access like on Gayle’s land. She had a mindset that stairs were okay. If she didn’t, then that land would not have been right for her.
“The most unique lots most often result in the coolest final projects. But, those designs are also the hardest to sell to customers. It’s tough to get your mind around.”
Ensure you are aware of zoning parameters for your site, such as setbacks. “With the setback of Gayle’s land on the knoll, we had to look at different layouts,” says Jeff. We worked in a reverse walkout where the walkout is toward the road rather than the lake.”
Work with the topography, not against it. “Oftentimes people will want to level the topography, not considering other options,” says Jeff. “However, that will entail removal of trees. Gayle considered her options with the large pine tree, and we worked it into the design.
“You can tell when people don’t consider the topography in the design,” adds Matt. “The building will look out of place, like an afterthought. Gayle’s cabin looks like it’s growing right out of the earth.”
Overall, make sure you have good communication with your architect and contractor.
“You need to feel comfortable to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of your site and the design,” says Matt. “Don’t wait to consider speaking up about something. Keep the dialogue going during the entire design/build process.”
Creating a Bonus Space For Hobbies
Gayle Lichty is a crafter at heart who feels a sense of joy when using her own hands to create something. “I love making all kinds of different things – it’s an endless list,” she says.
“If I see something I like, I make my own version. My dad taught me many woodworking skills as I was growing up.”
With her extensive and evolving hobby, she needed some dedicated space. So she turned to the garage or actually above it.
With help from Lands End Development who produced the structure, Gayle gained 432 square feet of bonus space for creating treasures. She and her family friend Jeff Motschenbaher completed the inside construction and design work. This helped Gayle save money on her overall dream cabin, one tip to consider when planning a bonus space.
This helped Gayle save money on her overall dream cabin, one tip to consider when planning a bonus space.
Matt and Jeff Balmer of Lands End offer some additional tips for designing a bonus space at a cabin:
- “This is where you can get creative,” says Matt. “Be imaginative on the uses of the space:” an additional sleeping area, a TV/video room, a game room, an office, a home gym, a hangout for the teens.
- “You also can be creative with finishes. Since it’s not used for everyday living, you have more of a license to think outside the box. This space doesn’t have to conform to the design of the rest of the place.”
- “But you have to be practical and consider how the space is going to be heated and cooled,” says Jeff. “Will it be used all year, or can it be winterized to save energy and money?”
Two Small Towns
Twice as much to enjoy!
Kimball Lake is between Cross Lake and Pequot Lakes, Minn., in an area rich with lakes. Take in some of the area’s beauty with a “Sunday drive” along the Paul Bunyan National Scenic Byway, a connection of county roads with breathtaking vistas, hiking and walking trails, recreational parks, lakes and more.
Step back into the 1800s with a visit to the Cross Lake historic log village or enjoy special activities and local fare at one of the many area festivals, like Cross Lake Days or Pedal Pequot.
For more information: explorebrainerdlakes.com
Longstanding contributor Gina Chiodi Grensing is amazed by the many beautiful and unique locations that cabins can be built.