A True Family Retreat

by Jackie Jenson

Nestled within the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and its more than 13,000 acres of water and 100 miles of shoreline, Cross Lake perfectly encapsulates the beauty and serenity of the Minnesota northwoods and the lake life it reflects. Offering up great boating, fishing, skiing, and swimming opportunities, this northern Minnesota hide-a-way is the backdrop for the Stuhr family retreat.

With ties to the area dating back to the 1950s, their newly constructed year-round lake home is filled with newness and nostalgia, an impeccably designed getaway for the intergenerational family it serves.

“Our family spent the 60s and early 70s visiting my grandparent’s lake home on lake O’Brien, a small lake located a couple miles east of Cross Lake,” recalls Craig Stuhr. “My grandparents, Bud and Ruth Stuhr, purchased their lake home on O’Brien in 1950 and Gordon and his brothers, Stu and Jim, spent their youth there.”

Then, in the 70s, Craig Stuhr notes his parents, Gordon and Carol Stuhr, purchased their own lake home on Upper Whitefish, part of the Whitefish Chain of Lakes.

“This [cottage] was an old resort cabin purchased from the Red Cedar Lodge which was selling off its land and cabins,” relays Craig Stuhr. “The family spent their time here until the fall of 1994 when business interests took them out of state.”

Although the cabin was rustic, to say the least, Stuhr notes it was a great place to enjoy all the amenities the lake had to offer – namely its pristine fishing, boating, water skiing, bonfires and the like. In addition to its ideally situated location, the old family place was able to house the entire Stuhr clan due to the cabin’s open concept interior.

“Our cabin was a traditional resort cabin,” starts Stuhr. “It had a very open floor plan that could fit everyone. When we decided to come back [to the area], we wanted to re-create that 1950s open cabin feel,” he relays.

Although it took some time to return to this part of Minnesota –15 years to be precise – Stuhr and his brother Corey revisited the Whitefish Chain of Lakes area in 2008 and 2009 on a mission. The goal was simple: find the ultimate lake spot to build a family retreat.

“We wanted to try to recreate the experiences we had growing up for our families,” relays Craig Stuhr.

Strategically situated in the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, eventually Stuhr discovered a half acre-parcel of land on Cross Lake in 2010. The lake lot would be the perfect place for his wife Peggy Jessen and their two children Patrick and Kristen, parents Gordon and Carol, brother Corey and his younger sisters Melissa, Suzanne and Brynne to take advantage of Minnesota lake life once again.

With a site selected, the Stuhr families shifted gears and spent the next two years deciding on their exact priorities for their dream lake house, as well as refining the resulting house plan to accomplish that goal.

“We loved our old 50s cabin but no one really wants to go back to live in that time,” explains Craig Stuhr. “We wanted to maintain the nostalgic feeling but include a few upgrades.”

The eventual home plan, created by Bercher Design and Construction out of Baxter Minnesota, includes a variety of amenities and design elements that represent a number of Stuhr family must haves. The plan was a combined vision for what they wanted their lake home to look like, and how the shared retreat would be used to maximize their enjoyment of the lake.

“A family friend suggested we talk to Bercher Design to come up with our house plan, and I could not have been happier,” says Stuhr. “They were very attentive to what we wanted.”

With lots of family input and help from Bercher to sort through all the ideas, a collective blueprint came together.
At approximately 5,000-square feet, it was a custom home plan designed specifically for the Stuhrs and the piece of property it would sit on, notes Bercher Design and Construction president, Brent Gunsbury.

“We wanted a cohesive design that reflected the strong opinions of each of the three main decision-makers: Gordon, Craig, and Corey,” says Gunsbury. “I think our process captured each person’s thoughts and desires which were then integrated with our own ideas to create something truly special.”

Consisting of three bedrooms, an open floor plan, a sweeping two-story great room, large lake windows and vistas of the water from all angles, the subsequent two-story structure also came complete with a separate master suite that feels like a self-contained cabin within a cabin. Just one of the unexpected but appreciated touches the local design firm included to maximize use of family space in the abode.

“The plan really came together,” notes Stuhr. “They [Bercher] took our vision and got it down on paper. Then, after hours of going over and over it, we were ready to build.”

With its plan set, finishes were selected to reflect their new lake vision comprised of vaulted ceilings, reclaimed wood floors, and a refined yet rustic looking timber exterior. Then, after a year of planning, the Stuhr lake home project started its construction phase in 2011.

“The construction evokes feelings of a historic and yet updated family lodge,” reflects Gunsbury.

“There were a lot of things that we wanted in the house that would make it look like the old cabin. Things like tall ceilings and red-stained wood,” Stuhr details. “We also knew we wanted to have a timber exterior as a nod to the old resort cabin.”

In addition to the old, however, there were many new features included too. For example, French doors were utilized to take advantage of the ample lake views from almost every room, wood ceilings were incorporated to add a feeling of being up north, and notable tin roof accents on a few of the exterior gables.

“I love the French doors because we can open them up between rooms to let in light and see the lake from different points,” starts Stuhr. “The wood on the ceilings also have the same red stain look that the old cabin had. However, we did not want to over do things, so we do have sheet rock walls and such. We also used a new wood flooring product to give the floors an aged look.”

Gunsbury, notes the flooring was constructed of pine of random widths to mimic the look of reclaimed wood.

“It is new wood, but the technique we use gives it a reclaimed appearance,” explains the local builder/designer.

An avid downhill skier, Craig Stuhr notes he added one particular home highlight, the tin roof, after noticing them out West at various ski resorts.

“I had traveled out West and loved the aged tin roofs I saw out there. I wanted to incorporate that look into an architectural detail in the house,” Stuhr describes. “We settled on a neat product to reproduce the look, a re-used, galvanized tin that would partially rust in pieces but not over the entire roof. I think it turned out perfectly.”

With its many vintage touches – timber exterior and stone-clad fireplace – there was also one late addition to the plan. It was a nod to many Minnesota cabins of old, just not to this family cottage in particular, a screen porch.

Recalls Stuhr: “It took some time to take hold but my wife kept pushing it, and now it is one of the favorite places in the house. We find ourselves using it all the time. It gets a great lake breeze and is a wonderful place just to sit and enjoy the lake even when it is raining. We definitely use it more than we would have an open deck.”

Finishing up all the last minute design elements and wistful touches, the Stuhr retreat wrapped up construction on Memorial Day of 2012.

“I told Bercher I couldn’t be happier with their workmanship, but I was even happier that they would be gone by Memorial Day that year,” recalls Stuhr.

True to their word, they completed the project before the holiday weekend and were vacated from the site by Memorial Day.

The current Stuhr home has approximately 3,500 square feet of completed space with a 1,688 square-foot lower level that remains unfinished. With the build accomplished, the Stuhr family has now switched their attentions from planning a dream house to living in one.

For the past five years now, they have been living lake life to its fullest. In addition to kayaking, hiking, fishing, boating and occasionally water skiing together at their Cross Lake cabin, they have also been passing down their many family lake traditions to the next generation of Stuhrs.

“I have to admit that I don’t water ski much anymore. I’ve let up as I would rather snow ski and don’t want to push it on the water,” states Stuhr. “We do still do all the other stuff though, fishing, hiking, and lots of boating.
We even cross country ski and snowmobile in the winter. We basically enjoy the lake at every opportunity.”

As with all good things, however, some end too soon. Gordon and Carol Stuhr were able to take pleasure in the new family retreat for only a few years. Gordon passed last year and Carol just this past spring. Their warm memory lives on vibrantly in the decidedly family retreat along the quiet shore of Cross Lake.

They will be remembered always, notes Stuhr.

“They truly enjoyed every minute at the lake. In fact, they had more clothes here than they did in their retirement home in Arizona. The lake home was their favorite home,” concludes Stuhr. ~L&H

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