“So what you want is an inn?”

(Sketch above by the very talented Jeff Murphy).

At one point in the design process someone said “So what you want is an inn!” And that really sums up a lot of the resulting design.

This project has been in the works for nearly 20 years. We got serious about it 12 years ago when we began earnestly looking at existing houses and buildable lots. Our priorities included:

  • Safely and comfortably Walk/Bicycle to grocery, pharmacy, cafés and other places
  • Little to no traffic noise or pollution
  • On a recreational lake.
  • Low traffic streets (we sort of failed on this).
  • Traditional architecture.

We found our lot eight years ago – just under 2 miles from a grocery, pharmacy and several places to eat with separated protected bikeways the entire way and it’s on a very clean recreational lake. It is not on a low traffic street but the lot is deep enough and the house far enough away that traffic noise and pollution are not a huge issue.


Driving 10 minutes ‘up north’ to the cabin

The existing house was of quite poor construction from the early 1980’s and was not really worth keeping any part of. We and a lot of friends and family were though able to enjoy it and our niece lived there for a bit.  It was a 10 minute drive or 25 minute bicycle ride to get there from our current house and it is indeed ‘up north’ from our current house. I spent time there nearly every day throughout the year and miss being able to do that. 

Here’s the bikeway that we ride to the grocery, pharmacy, breakfast and dinner.

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Design for our new house began almost immediately after we bought the lot. I can’t say that choosing an architect and builder was easy but we did feel that of those we were considering that we’d likely not be able to make a bad choice.

Rick Hendel and Hendel Homes have a great reputation in the Twin Cities for building quality homes, we’d seen a number of Hendel homes we liked and we liked Rick after talking to him a couple of times so choice number one was made. Some of our favorite homes were designed by Jeff Murphy who has a great sense of traditional architecture, proportion and detail. Jeff had wanted to work with Hendel for some time, so this was a good match. T.J. Majdecki joined Murphy soon after our first meeting and has been a key part of design process.  

After numerous interviews we added some other key team members; Scott Ritter with Topo LLC for site planning and landscape architecture and Kipling House Interiors; Marita Simmons, Krysta Gibbons and Karli Jelen. A number of others have become key team members as well such as Mike Reading with Krause Electric.

It was beneficial being able to sort of live there while we were doing design and I think that impacted the design quite a bit. We got to know how we’d use it both summer and winter and it also made a nice spot for design team meetings.


Needs, Wants, Desires and Budget.

We built our current house in 1989 and it has served us well. Over the years we’ve kept a list of things we might want different which provided a foundation for our new design.

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Friends and Family – We enjoy having friends and family visit for a meal, afternoon or for a few days so this was the key driver of the design. Above is about a third of the 30 or 40 folks we have over for Christmas Eve every year. So, space; a large kitchen + informal dining + family room + dining room, were priority number one. Guest bedrooms with ensuite baths and that are not shared with offices was the other priority number one.

Authentic Detailed Traditional Architecture – We appreciate all architectural styles but wanted a very traditional home. We’ve said that we want a house that looks like it’s 200 years old – but new. Some influences include Cotswolds, Scottish Country Houses, Nantucket, Williamsburg and lodges from Sweden or North Minnesota.

Details are also important to us. It’s easy to think that a little detail here or there won’t matter so can be left off or simplified—but that’s not true. All of the details matter. They’re all important. 

Small Cottagey – Yep, my wife made up a word. We didn’t want our house to look large inside or out but as much like a comfortable Cotswolds cottage as possible. The first plan we worked on accomplished this much better than the second, but alas, there are budgets. We’ve intentionally kept the ceiling heights lower to reduce the massing on the outside as well as keep the inside feeling as cozy and comfortable as possible.

Comfortable – While we like some more formal elements and woodwork we want it to be cozy and comfortable rather than stiff. Again, Cotswolds cottage or Scottish country house being key design directions.


Design Part I.

In the very early planning stages we considered several options for achieving our goals including building a much smaller main house with one or more guest cottages. Besides being expensive (and encountering some pushback from the city) this would also have made a large gathering place a bit more difficult. We also wanted everyone under one roof where spontaneous interactions can happen more easily.

We began with a couple of ideas for a basic structure and placement. One was to have the house with it’s back along the north lot line and face south (take our current main house and turn it 90°). This would have made the ‘front yard’ the same as the lake side yard rather than having them divided by the house. This had numerous advantages but also some disadvantages including that it would have created a worse wall along our northern neighbor’s yard than we have now which is ultimately why it was scuttled.

Another idea was an east facing colonial with a northern garage wing similar to what we’re now building. But first…

Murphy’s first proposal included one idea that was a one and a half story structure inspired by Pennsylvania Farmhouses.


This immediately became our favorite. Their ideas and design for this resulted in a house with the space that we wanted while still feeling like an informal cozy cottage. 




However, as the design progressed, so did the cost. Until it was well beyond our level of comfort.

After much discussion it was determined that to stay in budget we needed a simpler design with fewer corners or complicated angles…

… a rectangular colonial. 


Even with the basic floorpan established there were a multitude of details to work through. Sometimes a wall just needed to be shifted a few inches, sometimes significant areas needed realigning. Here are some of the progressions of the lower level:

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And here is the final lower level plan issued for construction.

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But wait, there’s more (RIP Billy Mays). The manifold for the radiant heat in the lower level was placed a couple of feet north of where it was supposed to be as was the drain for the shower. Oops. They would have moved them but that would have involved ripping up a lot of cement and other stuff. Rather than that we said to move the wall and so shrink the storage room but enlarge the bath. This resulted in some major changes to the bath (below).



Here’s an early sketch of the main level.

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And the final plan below. We wanted to eliminate the door from the kitchen to the porch so that the kitchen wouldn’t become a main traffic path. The door was moved to the scullery and then the E<>W hallway was extended through the scullery to this door. We made the lakeside porch a bit larger which also enlarged the family room. We moved the powder room door to face the main hall to make it easier to tell people where it is. At one point a bay window was added to the kitchen and then taken away. More storage was needed in the kitchen so some upper cabinets replaced a couple of west facing windows.

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An early sketch of the upper level. 

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And the final below. I liked the spiral stairs up to my 3rd level loft office but knew that they’d not be so friendly as I got older so they were replaced with the ships ladder from the original plan. The loft was originally going to be just my office but somewhere along the way grew to more than that and so the ships ladder became stairs and then in a later plan there appeared a large opening between our sitting room and the loft with the stairs now open instead of closed in by walls. My loft office was then deemed such a nice space that it became a sitting room with a couple of daybeds and my office moved in to the southeast gable (with promises of a desk for me to use in the sitting room). 

The resulting loft will be a nice area but also added a fair amount of somewhat unnecessary square footage that will use up heating and cooling energy even when not specifically heated or cooled. Hopefully we’ll be insulated well enough that this won’t prove a problem.

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Lots of discussion on the exterior as well such as these three options Murphy did for the front entry (we went with the one in the lower right).

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And there you have it.