For a family that grew up summering on the same lake in northern Wisconsin for generations, it was bliss when a neighboring cabin became available. The low-slung 1960s structure needed an architectural overhaul, overseen by Susan Nackers Ludwig of LNA Design, along with a strong eye for interiors, captured by Victoria Sass of Prospect Refuge Studio. The team was tasked with defining the next generation’s summer camp, which was achieved through a mix of bright hues, heaps of oak and a touch of nostalgia.
“This place had classic summer camp vibes,” notes Sass. While the original idea was to remodel, the team ended up needing to tear it down and work off the foundation to start from scratch for a new 3,500-square-foot structure. In reimagining the architecture, they added two new wings: a kids’ bunk wing and an adults’ wing, using lots of wood in lighter shades for the interiors and a moodier blackish brown on the exterior. “I wanted it to be like a geode: dark outside, then when you crack it open, there’s a glowy surprise inside,” adds Sass.
White oak went in just about everywhere in both riff-sawn and plain-sawn format as the material ages well and lends to the rustic natural camp feel. Some of the collaborators on the project expressed concern that all the oak was going to look like plywood, but Sass assured them, saying, “Trust me, it’s not. And if it does, it’s going to be like the best-looking plywood ever.”
That trust paid off. White oak graces the wide plank floors, ceilings and trim as well as the cabinetry, paneling and closets. The kitchen is done head-to-toe in warm wood with very modern lines and finished with chic cylinder oxidized brass lights by Long Made Co. and Capo barstools by De La Espada, nodding to the house’s midcentury heritage. Nearby, a bar sports oak cabinets and shelves with twin mini fridges for grab-and-go drinks, complementing the ease of life at the cabin.
To offset any chance of oak overload, Sass gave relief with white paint and natural stonework throughout. Indestructible slate tilework went into every entry and exit point to ensure easy cleanup for all the wet, sandy feet running in and out sunup to sundown. “The days are long, hot and sticky, and everyone’s in and out of the water a hundred times a day with towels everywhere,” Sass summarizes. “There’s a constant stream of sandwiches, kids are roaming around in a pack, and parents are doing as little as they possibly can.”
As such, worry-free materials were key in creating this carefree northwoods retreat. Every bathroom is heavily tiled, and the primary shower is no exception. Small mossy green tiles — handmade, hand-glazed and hand-cut by Minneapolis-based Clay Squared — wrap floor to walls to ceiling in a beautifully indestructible way, a wonderful value at summer camp. After all, no one wants to think about things chipping or staining or feeling too precious.
The great room — which is outfitted with “unbreakable” furniture like Lawson-Fenning armchairs and a giant, cozy Sancal sectional — is light, bright and airy, while the screen porch is a dark and moody respite for games and movies, where Grandma’s water skis hang on the paneled wall. Nearby, screened sliding doors easily open up the house to the front deck with uninterrupted lake views, complete with inviting modern Gloster rocking chairs and more tones in light woods, whites and grays.
“Since it’s such a flowing space, we kept the colors neutral so there was a thread of natural,” explains Sass. This allowed her and the clients to have some fun experimenting with color and pattern in all the upholstery and accessories.
Much of the design and color palette was inspired by an ad Sass admired from British clothing brand Boden that embodied the joyful exuberance that is summertime. “It was the classic two or three kids running on the beach, the sun shining, and a great balance of natural materials and bright, preppy colors,” she shares. “It’s a lot like the homeowners themselves, who are immensely gracious, full of positive energy, and fully in line with that image of health and kindness. It’s about living life fully with great joy and enthusiasm.”
Armed with this snapshot of contagious summertime happiness, Sass gave more corners of the home her signature peppy, cheerful play on pattern, some with extra high doses of that enthusiastic joie de vivre. In the kids’ room, for example, bunks are dressed in bright Schoolhouse quilts, while an oak ladder leads to a checkered curtain where a former crawlspace was turned into a magical peekaboo nook.
More cabana stripes and checkerboard motifs come into play in the Nordic Knots entryway rug, on the porch sofa upholstery and in an all-plaid powder bath. Here, a dizzying display of squares makes up the Pierre Frey wallpaper that runs right into the hand-laid tilework from floor to ceiling to walls. “I just kept saying, Keep adding the plaid!” Sass laughs.
Adding to the vintage allure, the homeowners’ decades-long collection of ticket stubs is framed while a budding collection of album covers graces a bedroom wall. Heirloom artwork in the bunkroom has been handed down for decades, while new work by Minnesota artists (reflecting the family’s home base) is peppered throughout the abode, including a piece called “Protect” by Native American artist Dyani White Hawk in the dining room. Here, a custom table made in collaboration with Gather Table Co. is ready to seat up to a dozen in cocoon-like Gubi Beetle chairs for long, lingering family meals. It’s just another tradition that will be carried on with a twist at the newest cabin at the lake.