Located on Roy Lake near Nisswa, Minn., this weekend getaway is a trompe l’oeil dream home that would pique anyone’s interest. Once deemed an unbuildable lot, the site was one of the last lots available in the Gull Lake chain, and not without reason. Never one to turn down an impossible project, the homeowner’s hometown friend and college roommate, Chris Hawley of Chris Hawley Architects, gladly accepted the challenge.
An Uphill Battle
For CHA, turning an arduous hill into an award-worthy design took a bit of architectural mastery. “We were able to design this on a really steep site with some crazy topography and only 100-feet of lakefront. Getting the septic system and everything else to fit was a real challenge,” said Hawley. “There are basically four levels; the roadside where the bridge is, the lower level platform which is the main house, then the fire pit level and the last level down by the lake. They’re all tiered, so the fire pit is somewhat buried in the hill – it’s quite the perch where he can take in some awesome lake views.” To distinguish the varying levels, the team used split-stone, boulders and retaining walls.
In order to navigate the hillside, CHA had to do a lot of topography and the bridge became necessary to the design. “If you were to measure where the setbacks are from the lake, and look at the buildable area for the site, you would find about 16 feet of grade change from where you would typically have a house from the front to the back,” said Hawley. “To make this an efficient design, we had to tier it just to get the parking to work and make sure it still looked like a home from the roadside.”
If you sat down and made a list of all of the things this home needed to have, then told someone how much space they had to do it in, most people would politely decline the challenge. “It seems like an impossible task, and we certainly pushed the constraints of the lot lines, but it worked out so well and achieved everything he wanted with a really seamless design,” said Hawley. “It also helped that the homeowner was so open-minded, he loves great design just as much as I do.”
Bridging the Gap
If you’re lucky enough to be invited, you’ll have to walk the plank…so to speak. As a visitor, guests park in the driveway, walk over a charming cedar bridge and enter on the second floor.
“Guests have their own little entryway and there’s two bunk rooms and a secondary master bedroom. His mom and dad stay in the secondary master with a murphy bed that can be converted to an office,” explained Hawley. “When the homeowner arrives, he pulls into the garage and walks down the stairs to the main level where his master suite and the main living areas face the lake.”
The extraordinary exterior ties contemporary grey steel and black metal panels, with warm cedar and naturally rusting elements like the corten retaining walls and fire pit. The roof line is a gable with a pitch-break which was altered mid-way through the build to accommodate a bump-out for the second level rooms. The bump-outs gave them an additional two feet for the murphy bed on the second floor and the bunk beds. From left lakeside is the master bedroom, kitchen and great room, all with a remarkable view of Roy Lake.
“A really cool feature for guests is when they’re walking over the bridge, they can see all the way through the window to the sputnik lighting and the lake,” said Hawley. “Then you come downstairs and you’re struck with the larger view of the lake. Spatially, it’s a really fun space to be in. I love how three-dimensional his home is – it’s not like you are on an upper or lower level, you are living in a spatial volume. The interior is pretty wild when you consider how all of the rooflines fit together. ”
Throughout the lake home, reclaimed wood extends to accented areas from the great room ceilings to the powder room, master bedroom and sliding barn doors. Giving the home a modern and minimalist flair, the homeowner chose heated concrete flooring, mid-century modern lighting, colorful artwork and industrial metal elements to define the spaces.
A fun find for guests is the reading alcove underneath the stairwell. If you follow CHA’s work, you’ll recognize the cushion and upholstery work which is always done by Chris Hawley’s mom.
The fireplace in the great room is wrapped in steel-panels with four symmetrical boxes including wood storage, fireplace and media storage.
The stairwell to the second level bunkrooms feature vinyl plank treads with steel risers to coordinate with the raw steel paneled fireplace wall.
“The idea was that the homeowner wanted a really intimate space, but the irony of the design is that even though the rooms are on the smaller side, he can still have up to 40 people over and they will all have a place to sleep,” said Hawley. “In the upstairs alone, he can have 12 people between the bunk rooms and secondary master. Then he has additional space like the alcove under the stairs, living room and main level of the garage which can serve as an overflow room.”
Park at the Top, Party on the Bottom…
For CHA, one of the project requirements was to create ample lake storage. What you see from the roadside is actually a pre-cast two-story garage, and the roadside represents the top floor. The homeowner parks on the precast deck, just like a parking garage made for two cars.
Below, on the lakeside, the main floor of the garage acts as storage and an occasional entertaining space. “His garage, facing the lake, can have 20 to 30 people there for entertaining and it becomes kind of a party room with heated floors and a sauna right next door,” said Hawley. Here, you can take a sauna and run straight to the lake. The homeowner loves cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, so this is a year-round lake destination for him with plenty of storage for his outdoor hobbies.
“It’s a classic Minnesota way of thinking to build a lake home and then want a Morton building for storage across the road. With this precast garage, we designed it connected to the house and it just looks much better since it’s integrated into the home’s design,” said Hawley. “It’s basically a concrete box, but a huge, practically indestructible space for him to store everything he needs.”
“You have to pour concrete to build a garage like this, and in most cases, people will work really hard to cover it up. We thought it was an awesome raw finish, so let’s just let it be the finish. It’s very contemporary, but I think it works well with this design,” said Hawley.
“He has a nice condo in the city, but he tries to spend as much time at the lake as possible, so this is more of his weekend home right now,” said Hawley. “We made sure to design it so that down the road, it can become more of a year-round residence. In my mind, his lake home is the best of everything, but it’s nice because nothing is super fancy, there’s not a lot of high-end finishes – it’s just really well put together.”
Find the Finishes:
Architect – Chris Hawley Architects
Builder – Vercon, Inc. (Baxter and Menahga, M.N.)
Landscape architect – George E. Prine III, DIG Garden Design
Landscape designer – Jamie Lipke, Backyard Reflections
For more information, contact:
Chris Hawley Architects
2534 University Dr #3, Fargo