[Artist & Author, Darcy Simonson]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography and drone images by Micah Zimmerman, Amdak Productions
Sometimes when we explore the story behind one home, we're unexpectedly introduced to another. Back in January, we featured an interesting treehouse-inspired living concept created by local graphic designer, Chris Hemmah and Ruki Modern. As Hemmah shared his lifestyle between Fargo and Palm Springs, we were also introduced to his love - local artist and author, Darcy Simonson. Although Hemmah may have had some influence on her desert abode, Simonson had embraced a lakeside lifestyle all her own in the Minnesota Northwoods. This month, we headed to the most serene environmental lake we've ever laid eyes on and took a tour of Simonson's personal retreat and lakeside art studio. Follow the wind chimes, loon yodels, and wildflowers down to glass waters, and we'll tell you the tale of how a charming fishing cabin inspired artists, authors, teachers and personal healing.
Making the Move: From City Life to Wildlife
While Simonson had grown accustomed to the manicured lawns of Fargo's historic Hawthorne neighborhood, three years ago, she made the decision to downsize, planting her roots in the serene settings of an 800 square-foot fishing cabin on four wooded acres. Each year has been a creative journey for Simonson, her three grown sons, and her eight-year-old Labradoodle, Leo. It's taken her from an extensive rebuild of the Amish-built cabin, to last year's workshop addition, then finally completing the project this summer with a finished landscape and patio. Her life is split between the desert and this Northwoods escape, staying all summer and periodically throughout the winter, with one of her sons as the year-round caretaker.
With acres of nearly untouched nature, Simonson looked to her 21-year-old son Cole, to help her embrace the land and wildlife. His interest in nature was one of the reasons why she bought the cabin she's aptly named Wildflower. "Cole is really ecology-minded, environmentally aware, and all about wildlife - he keeps reminding me that the important thing about living out here is to create space for the wildlife; leave trees downed, keep the natural grasses - so, that's what I'm striving to do."
"Mother Nature is the boss out here - I'm trying to live with nature, rather than engage in a futile fight against her. I feel like I am a guest in her home."
A Backwoods Backstory
"This cabin is pretty special, so my goal in remodeling the property was not to compromise, but to expand upon the previous owner’s vision and love of this place," explained Simonson. "I was thinking about John Klassen, the previous owner, and I remembered a card he left for me that said, 'It is fortuitous that we met, and that you are now the owner of the artful little cabin in the woods.' This place has an interesting legacy, and my goal is to build upon that legacy of creative spirit that lingers from the previous owners."
“It is fortuitous that we met, and that you are now the owner of the artful little cabin in the woods.”
"This cabin has been a sacred space for all of us, from the Mennonite music teacher and canoe artist, John Klassen, the woodcarver, Barry Kutzer, and the Hutterite author and History professor, Victor Peters who built the cabin in 1978. That trio makes me smile," said Simonson. "John was a student at MSUM when Victor was there and they became good friends, so John would caretake the cabin for him. He asked Victor if he could buy it because he and his family lived in Winnipeg when he wasn't teaching, so they were rarely here. Victor said, 'No, but if I ever were to sell, I'd like the cabin to go to you.' Then a week or two later Victor unexpectedly died and his wife sold the cabin to John. I bought the house from John and two weeks after the closing, he passed away, also unexpectedly. So, we've decided I can never sell the house," grinned Simonson.
Remodeling & Restoring
Originally, Simonson was planning to move the old cabin by sliding it from its foundation, but after considering the mass of granite underneath, her builder, Tom Opdahl, advised against it. "I was going to rebuild a contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home, but Tom brought an excavator out to look at the plans - he said it could cost more to do the foundation than to do a rebuild," said Simonson. "The risk would be high and they could end up moving a piece of stone as large as the house."
Changing courses meant Opdahl would have to work with the existing footprint to alter the layout, raise the ceilings, and expand the space, taking it from 350 to 800 square feet. Inside the remodeled cabin, she points out where the original structure ended and how the loft was lifted, creating a more manageable ceiling height using pine from the original cabin. Any materials they could salvage were then incorporated into the new construction. The cabin was also given an upgrade with four-season heating and cooling as well as the addition of a Wi-fi security system.
Carving out the Kitchen
When Simonson first moved in, the cabin's kitchen was composed of merely a sink and a few feet of counter, so carving out space for a proper kitchen and island was a must. To do this, she worked with Opdahl on the cabinetry placement and Dakota Timber Company to create the white-washed, raw edge island with inset granite workspace, sourced through Northern Stone.
What is now an open-concept family room off the kitchen, was once completely walled off and considered an open porch. For the flooring, Simonson chose a rustic red oak, sealed with earth-friendly WOCA Master oil from Denmark. Red Oak interior trims and flooring were not her first choice, but as it turned out, red oaks are a major part of the forest there, so the choice was the most appropriate. "I have never appreciated oak until this remodel," said Simonson. "I like how it furthers the outside-in feeling of the cabin creating a cohesive environment."
Throughout her space, Simonson's style is centered on her passion for art, displaying many pieces from her own collections as well as the previous artist owner, John Klassen, and caretaker, Barry Kutzer. Although in her small home she prefers smaller pieces with a lot of punch, she has a couple of larger lithograph pieces, from the Russian artist Yuroz, which can be found in the family room and master bedroom. Guests can also peruse an array of works by David Norstad, Kathy Luther, Carmen Bruhn, Jesse Emerson, Kim Jore, M. Johanna Christianson, Maynard Hemmah, Amy Richardson, Paul Kellet, Charles Beck, Rando, Grain Designs and Jon Offutt.
How small was the original floorplan? As Simonson explained, where the loft stairs are now is where the front door used to be. Follow the repurposed dock cleats and rope strung banister to the master bedroom's expanded loft, and you'll see first-hand Opdahl's attention-to-detail. His ornate craftsmanship can be seen in every nook, cranny and hand-scraped stair tread. To utilize every inch, Simonson had Opdahl create storage and display space underneath the stairs. "Nothing in the house is not functional - if I find that it is, it eventually gets moved out," said Simonson.
What was once a low-ceiling loft only Simonson's 5-foot-two frame could stand in, is now the much larger master bedroom with a stunning view overlooking the lake. Simonson's love of art continues with a vibrant Rando painting, Charles Beck carvings, and a beautiful piece by Yuroz.
Just beyond her desk area, Simonson repurposes intricate corbels depicting Hester Goddess of Hearth and Home, and showcases her own art. This is the area that served as the main bedroom while her new closet was once the bathroom. "Tom said I shouldn’t redo the cabin unless I add a new bathroom, too; I'm so glad he motivated me to do it. I went over budget on the project, but I got a four-season home in return," said Simonson.
For Simonson, the three-season sunroom was an afterthought making use of the unused space created from the bathroom addition. "I asked Tom if we could pour a slab and put a screened-in porch on it; he was so good about doing everything that we wanted to do," said Simonson. "John Klassen, who I bought the house from, built these clamshell chairs. He was a really wonderful craftsman."
Workshops & Wildflowers
Constructed by contractor, Gary Schander to mimic the craftsman style of the cabin, Simonson's workshop creates comfortable inspiration. As a career artist and MSUM alumni, she had been showing and selling work for nearly 15 years, but she has chosen to spend the past 12 years focused on her work of helping others through personal growth. After intensive studies regarding behaviors, hypnosis, and meditation, Simonson has since authored a self-help book and audios for both children and adults seeking to live a happier and more fulfilled life.
Although her creative outlet has shifted, she still pursues her artistic side, currently working on a commissioned, Intuitive Essence Sketch in black and white. Nearly all of the artwork displayed in her workshop is Simonson's own work, done in a bright, pastel medium. Sprinkled in are a few select pieces from her vibrant Goddess series which were part of her previous business, The Grateful Goddess.
While the intriguing mannequin bottom that became the canvas for her cleverly entitled, Cardinal Pleasure, was a salvaged find from the old Norby's department store, the table is a hand-crafted heirloom from the previous owner and artist, John Klassen. She also keeps the rocker he enjoyed as a reminder of him.
Recreating Cottage Charm
To design the eclectic, craftsman facade of the cabin, she first gathered ideas, then gave Opdahl free rein to create the rafter tails with corbels and Minnesota fieldstone, as he saw fit. The charm is found in the finite details under the eaves, and durability is achieved through a shaker-style, maintenance-free siding with bug and woodpecker resistance.
Offering a seamless flow between the cabin and new workshop is a connecting patio, perched like a sanctuary on a hill, with a postcard view of the environmental lake below. For a touch of whimsy, Simonson chose a roof cupola with weathervane to top the adjacent workshop - designed to represent her three sons. Off to the far side of the cabin, she's resurrected the old outhouse, and a salvaged dock found in the woods, is now used as a grilling deck.
"I wanted this place to feel like it had always been here, so that in 20 years it will still feel timeless. I didn't want it to feel remodeled or forced, and I think that we accomplished that between all of the minds that were involved," said Simonson. "I raised my boys in a 5,000 square foot log home on the river, which was perfect - it was a great place to raise boys. Eventually, I went down to 2,300 square feet on 9th Street in Fargo. Here, I have 1,200 between the workshop and the cabin, then 550 in Palm Springs - I wouldn't want any more space than this."
"Mother Nature is the boss out here - I'm trying to live with nature, rather than engage in a futile fight against her. I feel like I am a guest in her home," said Simonson. "So when the bears show up and eat my bird food, I am somewhat charmed by their visits. That said, I don't encourage them. When the deer eat my flowers, what can I say? When the pileated woodpecker goes after my favorite tree, all I can do is marvel at its power and beauty - we all have to learn to live together."
"Just about everyone that stands at the top of my hill says the same thing, 'This place is a sanctuary.' That's how it feels to me, and that's exactly what I came here looking for," said Simonson. "It was the same for the previous owners - this little plot of land has been well-loved."
Find the Finishes:
Minnesota Rustic to Desert Glam
When Simonson's partner, Chris Hemmah purchased a lot in an RV resort in Cathedral City, California, next door to Palm Springs, she had no intention of planting her roots. Eventually embracing the lifestyle, Simonson decided to make it her own and design a 550 square-foot "Desert Glam" getaway with unexpected ambiance.
“I helped design my son, Ben’s loft in Seattle, Washington. After visiting the cabin and Palm Springs remodels, he said to me, 'The thing I like about the way you design is that you don't have a style - you look at the space that you're in and you build for that.' I had never thought about it or articulated it, but even in Palm Springs I have this 'Desert Glam', which is unlike me, but that’s what the space called for,“ explained Simonson. "Nature feeds my soul, both at the cabin and in the desert, so I wanted my desert home to feel like air and water. It's hot and dry there, so I have a lot of white and crystals, soft oranges and lake blues. The white signifies air, orange is the earth, and blue is the water. With the cabin - I have never done farmhouse-type design, but that's what the environment asks for. During my personal growth work, this is something that I've taught - everything you do and everything you want in life, is done to evoke a feeling."
[Meet the Artist & Author]
"Through 'Insights with Darcy', I act as a guide into one's often unconscious stories and beliefs, leading them in processes to help release unwanted behaviors and limiting beliefs so that they may lead a joyful and fully-realized life," explained Simonson. "And that is what I continue to do for myself in the artful little cabin in the woods, and the airy cottage in the desert - my sanctuaries.”
For more information on Simonson's works, contact:
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