A Timber Frame Home in the Tall Trees

by Jackie Jenson

Timber framed and filled with character in every available nook and corner, there is a home nestled among a tall grove of trees on Cormorant Lake that offers up family coziness as well as a newly-created rustic charm.

“My husband grew up loving lake life having spent every summer weekend with his family on a north woods lake near Mahnomen, Minnesota, so we knew we wanted that for our family too,” explains the Cormorant cabin lake owner.

Originally the idea was to construct a new home on the lot of the couple’s old cabin that sat on a smaller lot on the west side of the lake. The notion to build their dream home on the sunset side of this iconic lake was not their original choice.

As a young family with young children, the couple first rented a cabin on Cormorant Lake. After two years, they decided to purchase one. Then for the next 22 years, they found themselves settling in on the west side of the lake, raking up decades worth of fond lake memories of water skiing, boating and the like.

“We had planned the perfect timber frame home for that lot,” starts the homeowner. “We loved our neighbors, the sandy beach and the elevation of our old cabin.”

Then life stepped in and presented a new idea about where their dream house should go.

“We had purchased a lot across the lake from our cabin several years back,” notes the homeowner. “We would ski there and pontoon over to watch the sunsets, but we hadn’t seriously considered building over there.”

With an odd elevation consisting of hills, low spots and an eight-foot drop from where their driveway would eventually be, the homeowners said they didn’t think of the lot in any long-term home fashion. But after a now-infamous pontoon ride, a new thought was introduced into their home building plans.

“We were just taking a simple pontoon ride over to the lot when my dad surveyed the lot and quietly suggested to his son, ‘You’d be crazy not to build your lake house on this lot.’”

“This kind of caught us off guard but got us thinking,” notes the couple. “He definitely saw the potential over here.”

So after a lot of dirt work—something the homeowner had much experience with being a contractor—the couple decided to create a new dream home on their unique lot with 150-feet of frontage across the way.

“Once we really looked at the lot and realized we could build here, we changed our idea for a house too,” says the homeowner.

It was at that point the Cormorant Lake couple decided to really change up their lake home plans and build a timber frame house with a walk-out lower level. As big trucks rolled in to construct a network of large, interlocking timbers, the build presented itself as very different from the get-go.

“They put the timbers in place on a perfect Minnesota lake day. The sky was so blue that it seemed magical,” describes the homeowner. “The timbers are amazing and it was fun watching the house take shape along the way,” she continues. “I took over 800 pictures after just the beams were in, the day of the timber raising, as each was put into place, the house looked like a piece of sculpture.”

To get that perfect picture, the one that seems to sum up their project in one click of the camera, the homeowner says she laid face up on the floor underneath the point where the timbers come together and shot upward.

“I still remember that day, and we see those timbers whenever we are in our great room today. I love it.”

It took two years to complete their timber frame home project: One year to design and 369 days to build. Blue Ox Timber Frame Homes out of Alexandria was in charge of constructing the exceptional lake home with its massive timber beams, utilizing a number of local timber frame home experts from the Alex area, namely builders, electricians, and plumbers.

“I didn’t realize until we got into the build how different a timber frame building process was,” explains the homeowner. “The wiring, for example, has to be mapped out before the timbers are put in place,” he adds, noting that once the frame is up, the electrical wires go in a case in the SIPs or Structural Insulated Panels. The panels are numbered and placed together on site at the home like a giant puzzle within the network of timbers. This home had 212 intricately cut and numbered SIP panels. The SIP panels have an incredible R-value.”

“The electricians were great, and very precise,” notes the contractor homeowner. “Originally, I thought I could use local subs for the job, but I quickly saw they had a special skill set,” he adds. “They also gave us some great tips for lighting of the interior and exterior timbers that we just love.”

Placing the electrical network before much of the home was constructed meant the electricians had to do the rough-ins such as the pendant lights as the timbers and panels were installed.

‘’The wind was howling the day the electricians sat atop a very high section of ceiling beams to make sure that the position of the lights were just right two-stories below. They were amazing to watch,” the homeowner explains.

The distinct timber frame build lends a certain rustic charm to their sunset side, lake home. A sprinkling of lake and woods-themed collectibles such as fishing lures and rods also gives the house a homey, north woods touch. Its soaring two-story ceilings also provide one-of-a-kind places to put a number of these keepsakes. In addition to collecting various nostalgic water skis and fishing equipment, snowmobiles are also on the collectible list. One of the more distinctive mementos is a vintage, red, 1963, rear-engine, Polaris snowmobile that sits atop a closet nook in the couple’s entry, greeting all who enter.

“People always ask me if I am OK with the snowmobile in my entryway, thinking that I would be mad, but it was my idea. I thought it would be a great place to display one of my husband’s great collectibles,” she explains.

“And the electricians installed special lighting on it so it really looks like it belongs there,” adds her husband.

Today, their one-of-a-kind timber frame lake home is a study of water and wood. With its exposed beams, inviting lake view, and two-story entry, great room and kitchen areas, one can not help but feel like they are stepping into a north woods retreat. To enter this Cormorant Lake home is to enter an inviting cabin filled with current, rustic charm.

“We really wanted to blend a modern feel into our lake home and use our collectibles as accent pieces.”

With that said, the couple has also included four, stone-clad fireplaces; knotty alder cabinetry in the kitchen; and especially designed rough-finished barn doors in the bonus/game room to ensure their home is a pastoral yet modern wonder. Special touches such as end tables made from wood dock sections and a metal sculpture mimicking their landscape of maple trees solidifies the fact that this house pays homage to its Minnesota lake roots.

Complete at 4600 square feet, this updated timber frame home has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a cozy sunroom, lower level bar area and a walk-in pantry. It is also designed floor to ceiling to entertain friends and family. The second floor features an additional bonus game room/guest room. A standalone shop fashioned with cabin living quarters consisting of a kitchenette, two bedrooms, bathroom and living room with deck area for the in-laws ensures this Cormorant retreat is always ready for four seasons of lake fun.

“Even as our kids are getting older, our youngest is 25 now, we designed this home to be a place for our family to come to for years to come,” says the homeowner. “And my folks literally get to drive into their cabin in the shop,” continues her husband.

They credit Ben from Blue Ox for lending his vision to the project, helping them to create a true home for their family for years to come. Ben also suggested this building site over the existing west side cabin site.

“We have a room for each of our three kids and space for grandkids as they come along too, and that is what this house is about: family,” he concludes. ~L&H

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