Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography Fargo native Jack Lavelle is no stranger to creating hospitable surroundings. His company, PWI Construction, recently completed the remodel on…
Fargo native Jack Lavelle is no stranger to creating hospitable surroundings. His company, PWI Construction, recently completed the remodel on the last of 7,000 high-end hotel rooms on the Las Vegas strip. While he’s lived in Las Vegas for the past 18 years, Lavelle has since retired and headed home to the more serene surroundings of his lake home on Little Cormorant. Follow along as we take a tour of his “Sugar Shack” project that’s become a family affair.
Sugar Island on Little Cormorant Lake has been a prized getaway for Lavelle’s family for the past nine years. Returning to the area after an accomplished career managing the construction for a long list of high-end hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and prestigious boutiques, Lavelle wasn’t quite ready to hang up his hard hat.
The Making of the Sugar Shack
Four years ago, Lavelle’s family of contractors drew up a sketch and asked Designer Brent Behm of Ruki Modern to assist with the contemporary, lakefront build. Managing the project was Lavelle’s son-in-law, Eric Berg of Eric Berg Construction and son, Ryan Lavelle, of Invecta Construction Management. With a family of experienced contractors at the helm, Lavelle’s lake home became exactly what he asked for – an informal retreat centered around family, friends and fun.
From left, Brent Behm of Ruki Modern, Ryan Lavelle, Jack Lavelle (not shown, Eric and Jessie Berg)
“The whole front of the house is all public space and the bedrooms are just a minimal line of five bedrooms along the back,” said Behm. “It’s a super simple concept- everything is about the social aspect and communal space overlooking the lake. The form of the building really followed the program of the building – the lake view first and then the bedrooms being secondary in the purpose. This is what evolved out of that purpose.”
“Ryan and Eric really simplified the construction and kept the project at a reasonable budget. The guys didn’t have any grand vision of what the exterior should look like, this is just how it evolved after all of the plan elements were met,” said Behm. “The goal for this home was pretty loosely defined, it was mainly about providing as many bedrooms as we could and a large space to entertain. From the back, when you’re driving up, the house doesn’t look like anything extravagant, but it really climbs up toward the lake.”
“I think he’s got the right idea for how to live at the lake. Most people want their bedroom window overlooking the lake. For Jack, he said the opposite, ‘Why would I want my bedroom overlooking the lake? That’s where I sleep’.”
Brent Behm, Ruki Modern
The More, The Merrier
With three grown children and seven grandkids, Lavelle’s lake home is typically hopping with family, friends, kids and dogs. Between the home, the camper he parks in the side yard and the three sheds, his lakeside property easily sleeps 30. Not only does he not mind the crowds, he encourages them. Each summer, Lavelle throws a “Sugar Shack” bash for 150 of his closest friends and family, complete with a food truck and his son Ryan Lavelle’s band, Three Legged Horse, entertaining the crowds.
To accommodate the guests he’s happy to entertain, the bedrooms were kept modest and efficient, tucked away in a quiet corridor at the back of the lake home. “In terms of the bedrooms, it first started out as an idea for a separate building, but that’s kind of what it is,” said Ryan Lavelle. “The five bedrooms, two bathrooms, mudroom and laundry located in the back, can be completely closed off from the common space. Guests who are visiting for the day, usually don’t ever see that part of the home, which isn’t all that common.”
Sugar Shack Shakedown
Residing on acreage equivalent to three spacious lake lots, Lavelle doesn’t waste an inch. One-level living and a commercial-sized deck, with Western Sky rocks from Wyoming, wraps the entire front of the 2,996 square-foot lake home, stretching out to a massive front yard. Entertaining the crowds is made easier with a spring-fed lake on 400 feet of beach, a treehouse, volleyball court, pickleball court, guest sheds, fire pit and enough space to accommodate multiple campers and tents.
Entertaining well is a top priority for Jack Lavelle and his family. Not surprisingly, he’s even designated a theme song for his Sugar Shack retreat. “I lived in Vail for a year-and-a-half and became a fan of the band Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. I’ve decided our theme is, ‘I Need Never Get Old’,” laughed Lavelle. “Now, my kids listen to them and Ryan even learned one of their songs – it’s his band’s most requested song.”
Garden Shed Getaways
The Lavelle family built the three sheds four years ago and the grandkids named them the Eagle’s Nest, Bear’s Den and Butterfly Cabana – the Bear’s Den is where Lavelle prefers to sleep. “The Bear’s Den was originally a garden shed that we made into my bedroom,” laughed Lavelle. “In the others, there are two queen beds in each and they’re for guests and mainly the kids. Jay Ray from West Fargo, did the custom chainsaw carvings in front of each one.”
“We knew we would have a heavy traffic flow in and out between the common space and the exterior space,” said Ryan Lavelle. “That was the factor that helped define this room to make it big, tall and provide the best view possible to see the sky and the lake.”
If the furniture looks familiar to you, chances are you’ve visited one of the hotels that Lavelle has built or remodeled. The majority of the furnishings and materials used in the house were salvaged from remodels in high-end, Rodeo Drive boutiques and swanky resorts.
Lavelle’s daughter, Jessie, and wife to Eric Berg, spearheaded the interior’s design with with assistance from her brother, Ryan Lavelle. Jessie chose all of the finishes including lighting, cabinetry, paint and fixtures, while Ryan added interesting features like the green-stained dooring throughout. Jessie was also tasked with the challenge of figuring out how to place all of her father’s salvaged finds and fuse them with newer decor items.
“Our dining room table came from a designer boutique on Rodeo Drive,” said Lavelle. “They had painted it shiny black, almost like a granite. We didn’t even know what was underneath until we got it from L.A. to my shop in Vegas where I had my guys strip it down and we realized it was wood.”
In the Lavelle lake home, even the kitchen makes use of some unexpected materials. “The granite came from a Las Vegas jeweler that had tried it out as flooring, but then changed their mind when they did the slip testing,” said Berg. “I worked with Granites Unlimited to template, cut and install it for kitchen countertops.”
Low-Maintenance Lake Living
Although Lavelle just recently retired, he still loves to travel, so for the exterior, durability and minimum maintenance was necessary. Everything on the exterior is done in a maintenance-free Azek composite material that was special ordered through Crane Johnson. Since this material had a little more natural variation of color like real wood, the team also used Azek as horizontal siding to distinguish the side entrance.
Due to the height and the way the roof pitches upward, the team used commercial storefront windows to achieve an unobstructed view. “Really, the best part of this design was bringing the outside in with that 30 feet of glass looking toward the lake,” said Eric Berg. “It had it’s challenging times, but it was really rewarding because our whole family now gets to enjoy it.”
Find the Finishes:
Design – Ruki Modern
Contractor – Eric Berg Construction, Inc.
Contractor – Invecta Construction Management
Cabinetry – Quality Cabinets
Chainsaw carvings – Jay Ray (jayraycarves.com)
Aztek siding and decking – Crane Johnson
Millwork – Simonson’s, install by Eric Berg Construction, Inc.
Countertops – install and template by Granite’s Unlimited
Tile – I’ll Tile & Stone
Carpet – Floor to Ceiling Carpet One
For more information, contact:
Eric Berg Construction, Inc.
1257 3rd Street North, Fargo
Invecta Construction Management