A high low get away homeYou don’t have to scrimp on style when trying to be cost-effective
By: Mike Creger, Lake County News-Chronicle, Superior Telegram
There’s a new vacation home on a high bluff over Lake Superior, just south of Two Harbors, that proves you don’t have to scrimp on style when trying to be cost-effective. The owners wanted simplicity in what became a unique boxy structure that uses all of its 1500 square feet of living space wisely while fitting into a rocky landscape.
Working the surroundings to meld with the design was no small feat. We aren’t talking about a typical woodsy log home here.
Project architect Michael Roehr describes it this way: “While thoroughly modern inside and out, the massing and exterior materials evoke a northern agricultural vernacular while the continuous wood wall and ceiling behind the steel hearth is a modern take on the traditional knotty pine interior.”
In other words, this is something different and familiar all at once.
It was a joint effort with the homeowner, architects and local contractors.
The owners are a Minneapolis family of two adult children and their parents who want to spend more time together — whether it be a weekend or a more extended vacation.
Roehr, of RoehrSchmitt Architecture in Minneapolis, worked with the family’s plan for an “efficient and cost-effective” design on seven acres in the Larsmont area. They brought in North Shore landscaping expert Joe Mecklin of Mecklin Contracting and general contractor Dennis Jabs to fulfill the vision. Both are based in Lake County.
“This sort of house was somewhat of a departure for Dennis from what he normally builds, but he rose admirably to the challenge,” Roehr said. “Joe’s knowledge of the local geology was crucial to successfully locating the house on a difficult, rocky hillside.”
Jabs hasn’t worked much with architects; he’s used to tackling projects from design to completion himself. He found Roehr and his partner, Chris Schmitt, easy to work with. “They have a trademark style,” Jabs said. “European, open, with a focus on sightlines.”
The high style belies a “middle of the road” cost for the entire project, Jabs said.
The architects were “open-minded” on using the expertise of the local crew, Jabs said, which made key decisions on locating the home among the infamous Lake Superior ledgerock and scaling back designs based on the wild weather along the North Shore.
Jabs said one original idea was for an open lookout on the third level of the home. He suggested enclosing it from the cold winds and snow that would make enjoyment and maintenance a headache. “This is the North Country,” Jabs said. It was proof of the outside vision meshing with local realities, he said, and it was a collaborative and “cooperative job from Day 1.”
The family has roots in Iran, and Roehr said the home design reflects that heritage. “The house nods to Iranian space in its use of layered screens at a variety of scales to create levels of enclosure,” he said. There is “ample day-lighting with distinctive contrasts in lighting levels and a strong vertical emphasis to how one moves through the space.”
Roehr said he was helped in the vision by the daughter in the family, who is a graphic designer with a degree in architecture. “Her input was instrumental,” Roehr said.
The architectural vision was passed down to the
local contractors to put
“It was a conventional build,” Job said of the guts of the structure.
“Dennis is a good guy to work for,” Mecklin said. “He’s done a lot of work with the contractor since he came to the area nine years ago.”
Mecklin had the challenge of finding a good place to put the home on the seven acres that, like most areas along the shore, was filled with rock, along with trees you’d hate to cut down. “We found a bench in the bluff,” Mecklin said, and it proved the best place to put the house while keeping as many trees as possible. “We wanted it to fit into the natural landscape,” Mecklin said, “and respect the rest of the forest.”
Mecklin also focuses on preventing soil erosion. “That’s a big part of it,” he said.
Most homes in the area require a mound septic system because the soils aren’t absorbent enough for regular drain fields. Mecklin found a way to place the mound in the front of the house without making it too obtrusive.
And he didn’t want to encroach on the neighbors. The saved trees provide good coverage. Large windows provide a 240-degree view of the lake.
The foundation was laid late in 2008 and the rest of construction done in 2009.
Mecklin seeded the yard with natural vegetation. “They didn’t want any grass to mow,” he said, meaning none of the vacation time is spent with tasks reminding one of home chores.
The finished product is an unusual North Shore vacation home that somehow works with its surroundings. Jabs said the only real “eyebrow-raising” feature about the project is the bright yellow exterior accents suggested by the architects. He and the homeowners debated. “The thought was maybe a cranberry or darker color would blend in more,” Jabs said. “We’ll see. It’s easy to change. Just repaint it.”
It’s another example of its simplicity theme.