Dreams Worth Waiting For
by Erin Hemme Froslie
Watching the sunset from the second-story deck of their lake home, Tom and Francie Peterson are certain of one thing: Dreams do come true.
The couple, originally from Little Falls, Minn., knew they wanted to move to a lake when they retired. For the Petersons, delightful summer evenings are the culmination of 10 years of planning, researching, imagining and even some sweat equity. The final result is an easy-to-care-for home that allows them to enjoy their retirement while providing ample space for friends and family to visit.
“There are moments we stop and think, ‘here we are,’” Francie says. “It’s a dream come true for us.”
Tom and Francie spent three years searching for the perfect spot for their dream home. The couple hopped on their motorcycle and explored different properties in the region. Tom assured Francie they would know the perfect lot when they saw it. They found it on Lake Geneva in Alexandria, Minn.
They were drawn to the Alexandria community, which has activities that don’t end even after summer lake dwellers leave. They also liked the lot. “We liked that there wasn’t drastic elevation, but there was enough for a walk-out basement,” Tom says. “We also appreciated that it was surrounded by wooded areas.”
The Petersons purchased the lot within 24 hours, but took another eight years to begin building. During that time, they researched design ideas and went online to search for blueprints. They moved a camper to the site temporarily so they could set out lawn chairs and watch the sun set.
By the time the couple sold their banquet and catering business in Little Falls, they had identified the perfect plan for their lake lot.
Their wish list was fairly simple: a walk-out basement, big windows that took advantage of the lake view, maintenance-free construction and space that was usable all of the time. In addition, the couple wanted rooms to accommodate their retirement hobbies: woodworking, mechanical tinkering and sewing.
“We really were on the same page from the beginning,” Tom says. “We didn’t have to do a lot of negotiating between us.”
They found a building plan online. An architect friend revamped some of the details, and the Petersons knew they would have to work with a builder and general contractor to get the home to fit on their lot. They chose Gottwalt & Gwost Construction, which specializes in construction and remodeling in central Minnesota. Tom and Francie knew the owners, Jody Gottwalt and Chris Gwost, through their banquet business.
“I was nervous about the building process. To me, building is a miracle. Chris and Jody were so easy to work with. They walked us through each phase, but never overwhelmed us with the process,” Francie says.
Gottwalt & Gwost identified a way to angle the home so it would fit properly on the lot. They also recommended ways to bring costs down since the original estimate came in over budget.
“Our goal was to keep things realistic while saving some of the details so it could still be beautiful,” Gwost says.
For example, the Petersons wanted to build a maintenance-free deck off the upper level of the home. Gottwalt & Gwost recommended they build a concrete deck, which would be maintenance-free and less costly than composites. In addition, it created a weatherproof cover for the patio below. “It’s basically a deck on steroids,” Gwost says. “As long as the engineering for adequate support is there, the deck will last forever.”
The deck quickly became a favorite feature in their home. “Not only is it easy to take care of, rain doesn’t fall through the flooring, so nothing on the lower deck gets wet,” Tom says. “It’s really, really nice.”
Gwost also persuaded the couple to choose steel siding instead of painted engineered wood siding. The siding cost the same, but steel doesn’t require new paint every few years. “Our goal is to make people aware of the end result of the product they choose,” Gwost says. “We have experience with different products, so we can guide them once we know what their ultimate goals are.”
The Petersons’ Lake Geneva home is two levels, one of which is a walk-out basement. The home features three bedrooms – a master suite on the upper level and two bedrooms in the basement, which are filled when the couple’s three grown daughters visit. Their oldest, who is married and has a daughter, will be moving back to the Alexandria area soon. The Petersons’ other two daughters, one of whom is married, live on the west coast.
“So when they come, they’re here for a vacation,” Francie says. “When we built, we wanted to make sure we had room for them to stay.”
The master suite includes a master bath with his and her sinks and a walk-in shower and a walk-in closet “big enough to live in.” The room’s view overlooks the lake, meaning the Petersons wake up and fall asleep looking at the water. The suite also gives the couple some privacy when guests stay. During a recent Fourth of July gathering, 14 people stayed at the home.
“And it worked out perfectly,” Francie says.
The main level also includes a guest bathroom, a mudroom, a living area, office, gas fireplace and the kitchen.
An open floor plan and numerous windows ensure visitors can view the lake from the moment they open the home’s front door. It also means that anyone working in the kitchen isn’t cut off from the social activities, something the couple with catering experience made a high priority.
A large center island with a tan-gray-blue granite countertop and distressed gray-blue paint offers extra workspace. The island complements the other cupboards and countertops, which are knotty alder and black-green speckled granite, respectively. A double oven makes prepping for guest meals easier. A large pantry with a sliding pocket door makes supplies and equipment easy to access when cooking and easy to hide when company comes.
Tom and Francie, with the help of Tom’s parents, installed the wooden floors in the upstairs living area and downstairs bedrooms themselves.
While the upstairs floor plan is open, the downstairs offers a cozier getaway perfect for the winter months. There’s an entertainment center, wood fireplace and reading nook. The sewing room is where Francie works on quilts as gifts for family members and coverings for the lake home beds. The laundry room and a room for the geothermal and mechanical systems also are downstairs.
Throughout the lower level, stained concrete floors provide an economical and low-maintenance flooring, perfect for lake life. Added grouted stress lines make it look like tile.
The basement is also where the home’s conversational piece resides: a boat bar. Tom and Francie saw one in the Nisswa, Minn., region long before they ever built a home. At the time, they said it would be fun to have one someday. Once they started building, Tom happened to find the 1961 fiberglass boat on Craigslist.
“I thought it might work,” he says.
He bought the boat and started tinkering with it in the home’s detached garage where he has a workshop for woodworking and other projects. He flipped the steering wheel from one side to the other, got the boat lights to work, and built the bar stand. When the couple couldn’t find hanging lights that worked, Tom found some wall sconces that he could convert. Bar chairs found online complete the look.
“We messed around with it for quite a while,” Tom says. “But it was fun. It’s what everybody talks about.”
Patience and fortunate timing also led to a more publicly visible feature of the property. The couple had been looking for a door for the front entrance, but couldn’t find anything they liked. After construction began on the house, they found the perfect arched door at a local lumber store. Not only did the arch match the arch details on the back patio, but it was a display model deeply discounted.
Tom bought the door and quickly discussed the option with the contractor. The builders were already framing the front, but the contractor said they could still reframe that area to accommodate the 10-foot-high door.
“It all worked out fine,” Tom says.
The Petersons love lake life for the simple fact that it encourages them to be outside. Francie nurtures vibrant flower gardens and a good-sized vegetable garden. Tom enjoys tinkering in the detached garage. A bathroom in the attached garage allows both of them to clean up without bringing grease and dirt into the house.
While they enjoy evenings by their lakeside fire pit, nothing beats time spent on the water.
The couple learned to wake surf when they moved to Alexandria and now enjoy going out a few times a week. “We call it our ‘chill’ activity. It’s not as hard on the body as water skiing and wakeboarding, but it’s still exciting,” Francie says.
In fact, the couple has had fun teaching members of younger generations how to enjoy the sport. After all, lake life should be fun, welcoming and carefree — just like the Petersons’ home. ~L&H