A Minnesota Lake House Built on Legend

A Minnesota Lake House Built on Legend


As a child, Ellen Moses spent summers at her family’s 1930s lake house in Detroit Lakes, Minn., where her father used to tell her a story about how the home was built on top of tree stumps.

Ms. Moses, now 55, always assumed that was nothing more than family folklore. But when she called in a contractor to peel up the floor as part of a kitchen renovation in late 2016, she was suddenly faced with proof: The story, it turned out, was true.

“The house was built on tree stumps and logs set sideways,” said Ms. Moses, whose father passed away in 2001. “On top of that, there were a lot of animals living under the house. It was quite a discovery.”

The stumps and animals would have to go, she realized, to make way for a proper foundation. Although the project began with some seemingly simple objectives — renovate the kitchen of the 2,800-square-foot main house and refresh the 800-square-foot guesthouse, a converted garage that had developed a mold problem — it soon evolved into a full-blown gut renovation of both structures.

Ms. Moses, a New York-based ceramist who grew up in Fargo, N.D., was acting on behalf of her mother, Linda Moses, who owns the property and lives there during the summer. The younger Ms. Moses and her wife, Lori O’Dea, live in the West Village and had been spending a few weeks at the house every summer for years and were looking to extend their stays.

“We really love the place and have such a lot of fun there,” said Ms. O’Dea, who works in educational content development at the College Board in New York City.

“We were trying to think about how we could spend more time there,” she continued, by creating more comfortable living spaces for everyone, as well as separate quarters that would allow her to work remotely.

As the scope of the project expanded, Ms. Moses, an avid cyclist, turned to one of her racing teammates, Ceren Bingol, for help. Ms. Bingol, an architect who had just left the Office for Metropolitan Architecture and was on her way to becoming the interim architect-in-residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, invited Ms. Moses and Ms. O’Dea over to her freshly renovated Upper West Side apartment for brunch.

“They walked in and were like, ‘We want this. This would be perfect,’” said Ms. Bingol, whose apartment is a crisp, white minimalist space with extensive concealed storage. “It was both the aesthetic of the apartment, which was lofty and light, but also making the best use of a small space.”

From Ms. Bingol’s perspective, the biggest challenge was the schedule. “They said they only had five months, because they wanted their mom to be in by May,” she said. “Ideally, it would have been a one-and-a-half-year project.”

She agreed to take it on anyway and started working on the plans in January 2017, at the same time that demolition began — a process that required designing on the fly and daily coordination.

“We had phone calls at 7 a.m. every day,” Ms. Bingol said. Then, at night, “I’d have another phone call with Ellen, at 8:00 or 9:00. Sometimes we would talk at 2 a.m.”

Following Ms. Bingol’s instructions, the contractors poured a concrete slab foundation with integrated radiant heating. They added steel beams overhead to open up a wall between the kitchen and living room. They replaced knotty-pine paneling with gray-painted shiplap paneling. They added expanses of storage cabinets, a built-in desk and a new kitchen with cabinets that had a satin conversion-varnish finish, quartz counters and integrated Miele appliances.

The squat brick wood-burning fireplace, which was almost never used, became a point of contention. Ms. Moses wanted to remove it, but her mother and Ms. O’Dea were hesitant. After consulting with Ms. Bingol, they arrived at a compromise: The fireplace was resurfaced in stone, the surround extended to the ceiling and a gas insert added.

“She gave us such a beautiful visual solution to something that was problematic,” Ms. Moses said. Now they use the fireplace more often, because it is much more convenient.

In the guesthouse, which was previously a single large room and a bathroom, Ms. Bingol reorganized the space with a storage wall, creating a separate living room and bedroom, while adding built-in cabinets, drawers and shelves, and a kitchenette.

In her Brooklyn ceramics studio, Ms. Moses made white, green and teal tiles inspired by Minnesota’s lakes for the kitchen backsplash in the main house. For the shower in the guesthouse, she made tiles with the same design, but with black-and-white glazes that recall the night sky.

Construction ran past the May deadline, but by August it was finished — for a total cost of $495,000 — just in time to catch the tail end of summer.

Earlier this month, Ms. Moses and Ms. O’Dea traveled to the property with their miniature bull terriers, Hazel and Enzo, to begin enjoying the first of what they hope will be many extended seasons with Ms. Moses’s mother.

Ms. Bingol’s design “executes on every single point that we wanted it to,” Ms. Moses said, noting that even the under-counter refrigerator in the guesthouse kitchenette has proved invaluable: “It’s fully stocked with kombucha and iced coffee.”



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