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A view of the home from below. The great room has all the large windows in front, and the three-season porch is on the right.
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Todd and Pam Robinett’s vacation home has a 30-foot stone chimney with a see-through fireplace and sculptured cedar trees working through the stone.
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A woodland critter in the sculpture.
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The sitting area in the great room features a unique coffee table.
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The stairway uses cedar railings that contractor Chad Linden made and spindles that Todd Robinett found online.
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Pam and Todd Robinett.
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An upstairs bedroom has handmade bunks.
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The entrance to the master bedroom, which is to the right, and the master bath to the left. Chad Linden suggested the log archway.
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A three-season porch off the kitchen has the feel of being outside. The windows here and in the dining area are easy to install, lightweight vinyl that still insulate well.
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A view of the deck and the three-season porch.
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The front of the house has a deck that overlooks Lake Superior.
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The master bath with birch trees “growing” out of the floor. The branches are actually embedded in the cement slab under the house.
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The sign announcing the Robinetts’ home.
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The kitchen island features an enormous tree stump for its base. Chad Linden, who worked on the home, logged the stump from his own property. The barstools with the moose design were found on Craigslist.
When you step inside Todd and Pam Robinett’s vacation home in Lutsen, Minnesota, you can’t miss it.
The 30-foot stone chimney towers to the full height of the vaulted ceiling. At eye level, the see-through gas fireplace frames your first view of the windows revealing Lake Superior.
It’s a sight guaranteed to impress, but that’s only the beginning.
Big Lake and Great North Woods inspirations abound in the decorating details and atmosphere that make this home both comfortable and unique.
Everywhere you turn, you’ll find log archways or pine walls and ceilings. One bathroom is accented with birch branches “growing” from the floor. Even the kitchen island sprouts from a real tree trunk.
Meanwhile, the living room takes advantage of the outside décor, which means the wall of 30-foot, southern-exposure windows opens onto a Lake Superior vista.
For Todd and Pam, the vision was to build a home with sweeping views of the Lake, anchored in the woods yet close to the amenities that Lutsen offers.
They also knew that with a five-hour drive, they could not make the journey every weekend. So to reduce costs and to keep the house happily occupied, they decided to rent it out when they aren’t there. “We had rental plans from the beginning … so our design decisions often had questions like ‘How will renters use it?’ and ‘Will this work with renters?’” Todd says.
The three bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms in the 2,400-square-foot home accommodate most all occasions, whether a gathering of their own friends or use by paying guests. The small details, though, more than the ample space, delight the Robinetts.
From sketching the first design draft to the final furnishings, the couple remained at the heart of the project, but the real genius grew out of collaborations.
A friend recommended Chad Linden Construction and Cabinetry in Two Harbors, Minnesota, and it quickly became clear that Chad was perfect for their job.
They brought him their design ideas centered on a log-style home.
“Chad told us, ‘Whatever you want to do, I can do it,’” Todd says.
The first challenge for Chad was a building material new to him.
At a log home show, the couple learned about Great Lakes Laminators in Montague, Michigan. The company produces an engineered log – real wood with a foam-core interior. Because the water has been removed from the wood, the logs do not shrink and settle as they dry. The core provides better insulation than just logs. On the outside, though, the look is natural log.
Working with Great Lakes Laminators, Chad finalized an exterior design that made the best use of the engineered logs. They were custom ordered.
“Every log has its place,” Chad says.
He was impressed with how easy the logs were to use. “The challenge with this house was its angles. It required careful cutting, and each junction took about an hour to complete.”
The Robinetts, too, were pleased.
“We have been very happy with these logs,” says Todd.
The exterior look of the home meets their expectations; the interior may well exceed them.
Take, for example, the enormous tree stump that forms the base of the kitchen island. Chad logged it from his own land and asked the Robinetts if they would like to use it. A brainstorming session ensued, and the stump found its new home in the kitchen.
“Fate gave us a good shape,” Chad says. One flat side is hollowed out for a cabinet in the back. For the top, Woodruff Lumber in Duluth mirrored the contour with a two-inch surface made of birch. It quickly has become a favorite gathering space.
The stairway banister also harkens to Chad’s land. He carved the supports and handrails from cedar logs he’d harvested a few years back. Todd found spokes for the railing, which allows a clear view through the structure.
It was a joint decision of the Robinetts and Chad to buy the pine kitchen cabinets at Building Materials Outlet in Eagan, Minnesota, and Chad personalized them. Over the sink, he added logs to the end cabinets from his pile of cedar. For a final touch, he carved miniature shelves of hickory in the shape of leaves.
Using rough logs at some hallway arches was another of Chad’s suggestions.
“We were very flexible with a lot of ideas, and we really trusted Chad,” Pam says.
Pam took the lead on finding furnishings. Using a kit she found online, she laid out their floor plan on vinyl grid paper and used sticky pieces representing furniture to determine their placement.
“That was especially useful in trying to configure the furniture in the great room,” she says. From there, their hunt began. They frequently discovered new or used furnishings on Craigslist, finding log beds, an eight-person dining table, dressers, armoire, bar stools, entertainment console and screen porch furniture.
“It’s amazing what you can find on Craigslist if you have time,” Todd says, adding that is how they found their 5 acres of land, too. “We would keep a lookout and go find things.”
The building project took 15 months, so the Robinetts collected furniture and rented a storage unit in Two Harbors as a staging area until the home’s crawl-space storage was completed.
The search for interior elements was a lot of work and a lot of fun. Best of all, each piece fits with the northwoods style of the home.
The fireplace – the home’s true pièce de résistance – grew first from Todd’s hard work and later from some joint imagination.
Todd ordered natural fieldstone and did the stonework himself, with help from his friends, working top to bottom.
The fireplace still needed something extra, Todd felt, though he didn’t know exactly what. So he tapped his longtime friend, the owner of Christopher Tully Studios in Orono, Minnesota.
Todd suggested hanging lanterns and a few well-placed tree branches. That gave Christopher what he calls his “lantern moment” – a vision of two cedar trees working through the stone, reappearing high up to hold fairy-tale lanterns.
Having done projects for nature centers and libraries in the Twin Cities, Christopher had the skills to sculpt his vision. He started, as usual, with an 18-inch scale model. “That way I can easily change things along the way.”
After Todd and Pam approved the design, Christopher constructed a full-sized replica of the fireplace in his studio. Using water-based clay, he created the trees, branches, leaves and fanciful woodland animals, all hallmarks of his work.
He then cut the sculpture into about 40 pieces to fit into the kiln for firing. Final on-site assembly involved a painstaking process of filling the cuts with epoxy and sand for the look of a solid piece.
The full project took about 11 months; the installation alone totaled 200 hours.
It gave the room more woodland ambiance. “It feels like sitting on a big rock ledge outside,” Todd says. “At night, the lanterns give off a soft glow, like a nightlight.”
When the house was completed, the Robinetts signed up with the VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner – website and have kept the space occupied.
“We hire locally for cleaning and maintenance,” Todd says. “Great services are available nearby, which has made the entire process easy, and we have met some amazing people who live along the North Shore as a result.”
The trick, says Todd, is making sure they get enough North Shore time themselves. “We really have to think in advance to make sure we get our time, too. The spur-of-the-moment theme that I tend to live by doesn’t work so well. Pam is a much better planner, so she typically blocks off dates well in advance.”
Pam, you can be assured, makes time for her shoreside home. It is, after all, just what she imagined.
“When it was finished,” Pam says, “it was exactly what we thought it would look like.”
Molly Hoeg does freelance writing, while occasionally gathering ideas for her own Duluth home.