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When Tom and Nicole Wolfe decided to build their dream getaway lodge on the south shore of Lake Superior, they knew they had to think big. Really big.
The Minneapolis couple have five children, ages 6 to 14. Tom has nine siblings and Nicole counts “about 30” cousins among potential visitors.
“We wanted a place for our family – and other families – to come together,” Tom says. They figured they’d need a place the size of a barn to fit everyone. So that’s what they built in Maple, Wisconsin.
The Lake Superior Barn looks rustic outside, but is an exquisite creation with modern amenities, thanks, say Tom and Nicole, to the efforts of TimeWorn of Atwater, Minnesota, and its reclaimed woods.
The Wolfes worked closely with TimeWorn owners Jared and Amanda Groebner in designing the home and deciding which woods to use. Much of the wood came from a 100-year-old barn once sitting on a field in New Ulm, Minnesota, but material from at least seven other barns, several homes and cabins, and even telephone poles made its way into the Wolfes’ home.
“The process was fun, exciting and long,” Nicole says of designing and building their house. “It changed many, many times. Jared is amazing, a true artist. The ideas he comes up with are quite spectacular.”
The Wolfes spent the two years during construction sleeping in a white-canvas teepee on the property when they visited. To enjoy the remoteness of their 320-acre parcel surrounded by the Brule River State Forest, as well as their Lake Superior view, they designed a retreat with no television (save one for watching DVDs) and no Internet. Just plenty of games and the great outdoors.
The 4,250-square-foot barn-shaped structure has three levels – a game room downstairs, a main level great room with a 30-foot vaulted ceiling and two loft rooms with beds and bunk beds that sleep six each. It also has a grand deck, and a kitchen that looks out on Lake Superior. The four bathrooms are “camp style” with a toilet and sink separate from the shower rooms.
An outdoor shower allows those who take advantage of the 40 feet of pure sand beach a place to shower off before coming indoors. For relaxing after a day of hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, there’s a wood-fired sauna and hot tub.
“I love to cook,” Nicole said, so it was important that her kitchen offer a view of the Lake and a place for family and guests to gather around as she works in the kitchen. To maximize the Lake views, the couple opted for a “kitchen store” type pantry over hanging cabinets and installed a huge island that seats eight. In the kitchen, appliances are hidden behind barn wood doors, and all the pulls and handles are from old buildings.
What isn’t made of reclaimed wood came from other sources.
“We found our lights at a farm supply store,” Nicole says.
For the Wolfes, part of the fun of decorating and design was “always waiting to see what was around the next corner,” Tom says. Each room was designed based on whatever interesting woods TimeWorn found.
“One bedroom is covered in hand-hewn log skins,” Tom says. “In another place, we have a redwood floor that came from a cattle tank. Some of the roof boards that are on the walls are as wide as 26 inches – pretty cool. They come from old-growth forests no longer available.”
Old telephone poles became building materials. The pantry shelving, bunk beds and dining room table are made of reclaimed wood.
The floors feature rough-sawn antique oak planks varying from three to eight inches wide. The nice thing about that, especially with lots of wear and tear, says Tom, is that “if it gets beat up it just adds to the character.”
The walls are made of old roof boards. “When you close the doors there are holes from all the nails,” Tom says. “When the light comes through, it looks like stars. You could shoot arrows in these doors and not hurt them, so I don’t worry about damage.”
Perhaps that’s one reason they’ve felt comfortable renting the space to others when the Wolfes – both former elementary school teachers turned real estate agents – aren’t in residence.
It’s also one more reason they love their barn home. The construction materials already have had a lot of use. “It’s user-friendly,” Nicole says. “People with kids don’t have to worry so much about ruining anything, and it’s more of a true vacation for everyone.”
Former newspaper editor Claire Duquette enjoys freelance writing from Washburn, Wisconsin.