It pays to listen to your neighbors. After all, they often offer up great barbeque recipes, fishing tips and advice on keeping the deer out of your garden. And if you’re really lucky, a great neighbor may lead you to heaven on Earth. At least that’s how it happened for the Schmidt family.
Back in the mid-1980s, Louis and Carolyn Sue Schmidt and their daughter Kelly listened longingly as their neighbors bragged about the little piece of paradise they owned on Sugar Lake in Minnesota’s North Woods. “They raved on and on about how pristine and beautiful the emerald lake was,” recalls Kelly Robinson, the Schmidts’ now-grown daughter, who lives in Chicago with her husband Scott. “Finally, curiosity got the best of us and we drove up there. Our neighbors were right. The lake was amazing!”
As luck would have it, when the Schmidts were visiting with their neighbors on Sugar Lake, the man who owned the cabin right next door approached Louis and Carolyn Sue and said, “I’m thinking of selling my cabin. Would you folks be interested in it?”
Kelly’s mom, who had quickly grown smitten with the area, jumped at the chance for her family to purchase their own little piece of paradise. Carolyn Sue passed away 13 years ago, but Kelly recalls how much summers at the lake meant to her mom.
“Mom lived for going up there,” says Kelly. “She loved to fish. And she especially adored the fantastic view of the lake.”
Same Spot, Fresh Digs
A few years back, the 75-year-old cabin’s roof and flooring began to deteriorate. Rather than repairing, the family opted to rebuild and expand the place. Ultimately, they nearly quadrupled the size of the original structure – going from 1,000-square feet to 3,717, complete with an unfinished basement. The thing that most pleased the family was that the builder saved the big trees around the house, enabling them to keep their fantastic view.
“We are bordered by trees but still have a clear view of the lake,” explains Kelly. “It’s private but open.”
Kelly and her dad had considered building a traditional log cabin but ultimately chose to erect a timber frame home that would provide additional insulation and quiet.
For the uninitiated, timber framing is a specific type of post & beam construction in which square timbers are connected with traditional mortise & tenon joinery and secured with hardwood pegs. Louis and Kelly hired Paul Kessler to design the home and Sam Gebhart and his sons Mike and Dan to build it.
“Often homeowners choose timber frames because of the beauty and aesthetics of the logs, as well as the structural strength,” says Sam Gebhart, who has been building timber frame homes for over 20 years. “Plus, these [particular] homes are very energy efficient and eco-friendly because of the structured insulated panels (SIPs) and use of native timbers.”
Kelly and her dad have many fond memories of time spent at the cabin, one of which is linked to the building process itself. In the old cabin, in Carolyn Sue’s bedroom, there hung a crucifix which the former owner had left. So after the place was torn down, Kelly asked Sam to set the cross underneath the foundation of the new house, right in the center of the home.
“What makes this place special is that mom bought the original cabin,” says Kelly. “And it still feels like it’s her home.”
Eventually Kelly plans to finish the basement, adding bedrooms and a workout room. But she’s in no hurry. For now, the family is doing just what their old neighbors used to boast about: They are thoroughly enjoying their little piece of paradise on Sugar Lake.
Freelancer Christy Heitger-Ewing has a rescue kitty named “Barney.” At the family cabin, he spends half of his time spying on chipmunks and the other half napping.
Fun & Functional Features of the Home
Kelly loves the look and functionality of a timber frame house. “The wooden pegs that stick out of the walls make the place look like a giant Lincoln log set,” explains Kelly. “Plus, I made use of the pegs by hanging pictures on them.”
Kelly originally wanted to use reclaimed big-plank barn wood for the flooring, but instead she chose Virginia Vintage hand-scraped hickory flooring, which runs throughout the family room, kitchen and pantry. There are several other unique wood features that do not go unnoticed, including the eastern white pine tongue-and-groove ceiling, the character-rich hickory staircase and the thick, chunky stair railings made of pine. Because so many of the cabin’s timbers are squared, Kelly chose warm, round wood for the railings, as well as the fireplace mantels, to balance out the “squareness” throughout the cabin.
The kitchen cabinets are rustic hickory with plenty of organizer shelves and pullouts. The countertops are granite, and a dry stack stone ledge wraps around the kitchen’s island.
Living for Lake Time
Often conversations center on the area’s beauty – something that everyone in the family appreciates, including Kelly’s two rescue dogs Bella and Gidget, who absolutely live for lake time. And why wouldn’t they? Bella, an American Eskimo terrier, and Gidget, a miniature Eskimo, get to lounge on the front porch, sniffing fresh air and taking in the sights and sounds of northern Minnesota.
Of course the dogs aren’t the only ones who jump at the mention of heading north. Kelly, Scott and Louis especially love summers. Louis enjoys taking his small fishing boat out to the deep drop-off situated just a few hundred feet from his dock where he angles for walleyes, bass and perch.
Scott chooses to unwind by grabbing his golf clubs and hitting the links. And Kelly loves to write and reflect while sitting in her big, cushy chair at the kitchen’s desk area.
The family also has a three-person Sea-Doo for those times when they feel like playing on the lake.
Just as the family appreciates their open yet private view, they also love the open yet cozy feel of the indoor space. They designed a main floor layout that lends itself nicely to socializing. For instance, the bar that the kitchen and dining/sunroom share is ideal for continuing conversation during meal preparation and clean-up. This feature was much appreciated several years ago when the Schmidts hosted a family reunion at their new place.
“We also host a lot of fundraising events and neighborhood potluck dinners,” says Kelly. “And I love the fact that we can carry on conversations in both areas so easily.”