Three things make you a true Minnesotan: an inherent love for all foods on a stick, the ability to endure harsh and terrible winters and escaping to the family cabin every free weekend of the summer. When faced with selecting the perfect parcel of land the Minnesotan usually first looks for lakeshore property, but when confronted with steep land prices Kristen Paulsen, architect and faculty at the University of Minnesota, decided to take the lake cabin one step further and situate her cabin of choice in the middle of Lake Vermillion.
More specifically on Ely Island located near Tower, Minnesota which surprisingly is the cheapest way to get lake property. But building on a small island comes with it’s logistical challenges. How do you build on it? Can you get electricity? Is plumbing possible? Kristen’s answer to these dilemmas was to keep things simple, work with basic Minnesotan materials and simple vernacular forms and throw out anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. She began the planning by spending a summer with her family camping on the island to get to know the landscape composed of granite bedrock covered in thin soils and forests of wispy pines and poplars. Kristen realized that their cabin should maintain the unique experience of camping. Upon arriving home she sat down with the family and drew out all of the essential items they would need for a summer in the North Woods.
After defining bare essentials for cabin life she decided to break the program into three key elements: sleeping, bathing & eating. Each programmatic necessity was given a piece made up of 14:12 gabled black roof and bleached cedar siding. Kristen’s design chopped a basic Minnesota cabin into three elements that she carefully positioned on a clearing along the hill. She explains the simplicity, “the section is always the same -- you just slice off the amount you want depending on program and site conditions”. By breaking the house apart they avoided removing trees and created a spirit that was radically different from their historic Minneapolis home. Each structure is connected via a deck, each cantilevering from its respective cabin and at times the decks grow to become an outdoor living room, carefully designed to provide beautiful views of the lake, the forest and the sky.
Instead of traditional foundations each little building is bolted to the exposed bedrock with a black steel frame. The interiors are simple and elegant, lined with a similar wood as the exterior. The overall effect is a series of linked structures that dance across the natural hillside, inspiring a Swiss Family Robinson-like playfulness. The entire system is well thought out and beautifully executed; by letting simplicity drive the design Kristen’s family was able to develop their ideal lake cabin from only $150,000.
This miniature complex is truly greater than sum of its parts. Simple repetitive forms, natural materials and careful site planning form a quietly nestled Mod Minn(ie) and a unique and inventive retreat for a family on a budget. Most importantly, it reminds us that sometimes artistic invention is more important than luxury, and that a family of four can live large in less than 700 square feet.
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