In northern Minnesota, deep forests and pristine lakes provide places of solace, recreation and retreat. Here, on the north shore of Devil Track Lake in Grand Marais, Minn., a 1970s chalet-style cabin perches on 2 acres of lakefront property. While many come to the area during warmer months, the cabin’s new property owners wanted to enjoy the house in every season. They worked with Grand Marais-based Taiga Design+Build to update it into a welcoming haven—even through the coldest Minnesota winters.
“We developed a list of improvements for the cabin to be functional year-round; then, I drew the existing cabin in CAD and started playing with ideas,” recalls Anton Moody, owner of Taiga Design+Build. “The home isn’t a straightforward A-frame because center gables alter its appearance, and we looked for solutions to retain as much of the structure’s charm and character as possible. We were set on balancing the cabin’s timeless feel with contemporary functionality.”
The owners named the cabin Minne Stuga; Minne means water in the Dakota language, and Stuga translates to cottage in Swedish. They transformed it into their weekend getaway and a vacation rental property. Approaching from the driveway, the 1970s-kit home looks exactly as it did in 1971. Minne Stuga includes two decks and a balcony outside. Inside, it houses traditional living areas, two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a loft and basement/bunk room. The renovation left 90 percent of the original 1,400-square-foot structure intact, but architecturally sensitive treatments usher in natural light, enhance views to the lake, create more comfortable living spaces and increase the home’s efficiency.
With no insulation in the roof, the renovation started there. Moody chose structural insulated panels filled with closed-cell graphene foam to reflect heat in the summer and keep the cabin warm in winter. The panels added 8 inches of thickness to the roof, so Moody relied on his CAD drawings to ensure the extra width wouldn’t diminish the roof’s original shape.
Prows projected 2-feet farther than the eave off the cabin’s north and south ends. Once the team stripped off the old roof, the new design extended the angled insulation plane above the lake-facing deck on the south side.
“We knew we could add 4 feet to that deck, so extending the insulation plane provided more overhead protection. Now, people can sit and enjoy the firepit outside even if it’s raining,” Moody says. “On the north side, I mimicked the prow but left it asymmetrical. It’s a design cue that brings your attention to the entrance of the house.”
The insulated panels are covered in a synthetic cedar shake with a weathered appearance to blend into the surrounding trees.
The original cedar siding was rotting, so Taiga Design+Build replaced it with thermally modified southern yellow pine in a rich brown hue. The new decking and all handrails also are made from the same type of pine.
“The thermal modification process changes the cellular structure so no water can get in. This allows us to use species of wood generally not known for longevity as cladding or decking,” Moody explains. “It’s a sustainable solution that requires no maintenance and is extremely long-lasting without exterior waterproofing treatments.”
The cabin’s pre-existing wood-tone soffits remain. To accent the underside of the extended insulated panels, however, Moody used wood naturally treated in the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban technique. Shou Sugi Ban wood burning forms a black carbon layer resistant to moisture and insects, preserving the wood without chemicals.
LINES OF SIGHT
All the new high-efficiency windows and glass doors are framed in Douglas fir. Paired with state-of-the-art skylights, they invite light into the space and offer unique ways to interact with nature.
“People spend time in northern Minnesota because they want to connect to the outdoors, but most people up here wouldn’t want to live in a glass cube,” Moody muses. “We needed to find opportunities to bring in as much light as possible in the winter and offer views to nature, yet still maintain an atmosphere of protection. It’s a balance.”
In the loft on the east side, Moody designed and installed a window seat framed in black steel that projects out from the wall plane. Encased in glass on four sides, anyone sitting in the window has a previously unavailable view south to the lake. The special treatment required substantial renovation and finesse.
The current wall could not support the window seat, so the team removed the entire wall and reframed it, taking the opportunity to enlarge the dining-room window in the space below the loft to a 7- by 7-foot opening. The team peeled away the cedar on the pre-existing interior wall to be used in areas of the cabin where renovation treatments required wall touchups.
PHOTOS: Kristian Alveo unless otherwise noted