You might not catch it at first — the glass box home tucked into the woods off Maxwell Bay. That’s because the simple rectangular form was crafted to complement the lakeshore site, not compete with it. “What stands out to me is how perfectly it’s designed onto the land,” shares John Kraemer, vice president and director of sales and marketing for John Kraemer & Sons. He had previously worked with the clients on a more traditional house, but everyone was excited to build something totally different on the lake: a 5,500-square-foot modern retreat that fosters a connection to the outdoors.
The property spans nearly 10 acres and brims with the best of Minnesota landscape: rolling hills and bluffs, prairie fields, wetlands, heavily wooded forests, and, of course, iconic Lake Minnetonka. “At the very first meeting, we established that we wanted to blur the lines of indoor/outdoor,” says Charlie Simmons, founding principal and designer at Charlie & Co. Design, who worked in tandem with architect Anthon Ellis on this project. The duo took their cues from the site to celebrate the natural beauty the clients were drawn to.
There was one source of inspiration in particular: a grouping of lodgepole pines. Soaring high into the sky, the trees immediately offered a sense of place and inspired some of the earliest design choices. The slender trunks are mimicked in the verticality of the distressed cedar siding, 10-foot-tall sliding glass doors and trellis-like wooden slats that adorn a stunning skylight in the living room. “The pines are pivotal, because you see them before you even enter the house,” explains Ellis, who positioned the structure as close to the trees as possible (without disturbing the roots, of course). A flat roof keeps sightlines clear, with the trees dramatically exploding beyond the plane.
Once inside, you’re enveloped in natural light and sweeping water vistas. The team stripped away the walls on the lakeside, infilling steel posts with three bays of Marvin sliding glass doors. “It’s 60 feet of dynamic views,” Kraemer notes. But why should walls have all the fun? A continuous skylight spans the entire public area of the main level, stretching from the kitchen cabinetry to the living room fireplace. It’s lined with wooden slats to filter the late afternoon sun while creating interesting shadow play.
Interior designer Jeremy Wunderlich thoughtfully brought a bright approach, selecting light oak floors throughout and applying a soft stucco with a slightly textured finish to the ceiling and certain walls. It captures the magic of the natural light while beautifully balancing rustic materials like the Friesian limestone featured on the fireplace and entry wall and the dark cedar siding that wraps from the exterior into the living room.
A step through the sliding glass doors reveals an outdoor area fit for both entertaining and respite. The patio is equal to the length of the house, with dedicated space for everything from a family dinner to a solo sunbath, and is covered by a deep roof overhang. Down past the pines sits a detached porch that’s open-air most days but, with the flip of a switch, transforms into a protected hideaway thanks to Phantom screens. Farther afield, an organically placed footpath designed by Topo leads to a hot tub built right into the bluffs, boasting a remarkable lake view even while tucked amongst the trees.
Another standout feature is the two-story glass bridge connecting the public and private zones of the home. It’s complemented by an adjoining light well, which ushers extra brightness into the lower level bedrooms and living area and doubles as a sunken garden. The team even planted two maple saplings in the space as a “thank you” to the inspirational site. “It’s a beautiful tie-in of old and new,” notes Simmons, adding that the young trees have already grown past the first story of glass.
Just like nature itself, the design and build process is ever evolving. “We’re constantly working to find solutions that are even better than what we originally planned,” says Kraemer, a sentiment echoed by the entire team. But one thing is certain: Letting nature shine sure seems like a good place to start.