By Kate O’Donnell
Photos by Kate O'Donnell
In 2002 while searching for a cabin, my late husband and I found the property we came to call Silver Cliff. It is on a small lake in Northwestern Wisconsin, and from the moment we first drove in the driveway, we both knew it was what we had been searching for.
The property was beautiful, with a tiny home that the neighbors had nicknamed “The Dollhouse.” Silver Cliff was originally a small resort known as "Silver Lake Resort." In the 1990s, the property was divided and the remaining portion was converted to a private residence that retained the largest of the original five guest cabins.
By then, it was desperately in need of remodeling, as well as an addition to accommodate our family. However, we didn't know what was in store for us.
We had hoped to keep the original house and simply add on to it, but as anyone who has embarked on this kind of endeavor knows, there is nothing simple about it. As we carefully removed the existing tongue-and-groove pine paneling to save for reuse, we discovered that the structure was deteriorating under the paneling. The majority of the problem was around the beautiful split stone fireplace, the best feature of the house, but one that had been neglected for years.
The contractor we hired to build the addition to the “rough-in” stage told us that the little dollhouse wasn’t salvageable. It would be cheaper to rebuild. So it began–what started as an addition became a full-on rebuild on the existing foundation.
Much to the contractor’s surprise, we finished the interior and much of the exterior ourselves. I laid tile and stained and varnished the pine paneling while my husband did everything else. What was the entirety of the original one bedroom, one bath cabin is now the kitchen, dining and great room with the fireplace being the only original item.
We had long been fans of architect Edwin Lundie, who designed numerous cabins on the North Shore as well as Lutsen Lodge in Lutsen, Minnesota, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the Weyerhaeuser Estate, just to name a few. He was a master of detail, and we incorporated many Lundie-style elements into our cabin. Carved pillars, pegged woodwork, and mixed siding techniques are all part of our cabin. We kept a variation of the shutters that were on the original cabin and designed window boxes that we think would impress Mr. Lundie. All are details my self-taught, woodworker husband accomplished when not wearing his business suit.
We worked on it on weekends and vacations, and it took more than seven years, eight dumpsters of debris and numerous truckloads of boulders and product to complete the entire property (as well as the addition of a garage, a guest house renovation, and landscaping). Having done so much of the work ourselves we often forget how special it is until someone new comes to the cabin. While the process was long and arduous and we spent countless hours on the transformation, every one of them was well worth the results.
See also: 9 Cozy Cabins Under 1,000 Square Feet