A winding flagstone path leads to the cottage nestled among giant white pines and birches in the northern Wisconsin woods. With its rusty metal roof, red-painted trim, and chink-and-log siding, it looks like a stop for Goldilocks.
Step inside, however, and the story line takes an unexpected and sophisticated twist. Rather than three chairs and bowls of porridge, visitors to Jim and Sue Bakke’s lakeside guesthouse are greeted by a 14-foot-long Asian wood table, curved walnut-and-quartzite bar, and a lighted jukebox playing the latest hits.
The 2,265-square-foot main level is an easygoing, wide-open area designed for good times. “Jim and Sue wanted this to be a fun space,” says Mick De Giulio, Chicago designer and friend of the Bakkes. “Nothing could be too serious or fussy,” he adds.
Lake Manitowish has lured Jim and Sue each summer for all of their 33 years of marriage, offering a calm respite from their busy lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Jim is president and CEO of Sub-Zero Wolf appliances, and Sue is involved in countless community and their children’s activities. Nineteen years ago, the Bakkes built a log-style vacation home on the lake four hours north of Madison as a place to relax and enjoy summers with their three children, Robbie, Samantha, and Bryan—now 26, 23, and 18.
As the kids grew up, the lake house began feeling crowded, especially when the teenagers invited friends for a weekend. “We got to the point where all of the bedrooms were full,” Sue says. Plus, many of Jim and Sue’s friends were buying vacation homes in the area, and the Bakkes’ parties could easily attract 20 or more guests.
Jim turned to De Giulio for advice, and the two men headed north in Jim’s pickup to check out the snow-covered site. Suggestions evolved from adding to the existing house (Sue said “no way”) to finally settling on building a separate, modest-sized two-level structure that could serve as both a party venue and guesthouse.
De Giulio devised a main-level floor plan that would allow for easy movement around a bar and into cozy seating centered on a stone fireplace. “The way in which the curve of the bar moves into the space invites people to walk around and move into the area,” De Giulio says. One end of the bar is open so guests can step behind it and easily serve themselves. Large windows span the bar’s length, giving guests seated there postcard views of the lake while enjoying a cold Wisconsin brew.
Ceilings are vaulted for a sense of spaciousness and defined with heavy salvaged timbers. “We wanted a light and airy feel, and to let in a lot of natural light from the lake side,” notes De Giulio. The boards between the beams were sealed and given a crackle finish for a “soft, milk-parlor look,” says Fred Wiedenbaur, formerly a project manager for Benson Builders, which built the home.
The space’s centerpiece is a massive dining table, a 50-year-old slice of wood from a Balinese lychee tree, which De Giulio mounted on a wood-and-bronze trestle base. “We wanted to break away from a North Woods look, so here we’re using a piece of Asian wood,” he explains. A ceiling panel painted with a Navajo-inspired motif is suspended above, grounding the table and adding a sense of intimacy, he adds.
The dining area opens to the kitchen, which is light and casual with butternut wood cabinets stained a cream color. Saddle-style stools with cowhide seats mosey up to a zinc countertop.
When De Giulio spotted red glass tiles at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, he immediately nabbed them for the Bakkes’ project. “Red is Sue’s favorite color, and she wanted that feeling of fun and the unexpected,” he says. The triangular tiles have “just the suggestion of a tepee, but nothing too obvious.”
Manitowish interior designer Veronica McGraw went on the hunt for furnishings and fabrics, mindful of Sue’s vision. “Sue told me two things when she asked me to do the job,” McGraw says. “First, she wanted the house to be fun, and second, that her favorite color is red.” McGraw heeded both points.
On the front porch, the designer created an irresistible snoozing zone, covering a twin bed with black-and-white ticking fabric and piling it with red pillows edged with black-and-white fringe. Wiedenbaur’s construction skills were tapped to safely suspend it and create a delightful swinging bed.
The builders also heeded Sue’s love of red, painting exterior window and door trim with the warm hue. The porch roof is corrugated sheet metal that was treated with chemicals to prematurely age it for a red rust finish. “It rusts to a certain level and then stops the rusting process,” explains Wiedenbaur.
While the main level is all about entertaining (except for Jim’s office next to the dining nook), the lower level comfortably accommodates overnight guests, with two bedrooms, baths, and an open sitting area. The back portion of the house was excavated to create deep window wells that allow plenty of natural light inside and outdoor views. “It doesn’t feel like a lower level at all,” De Giulio says.
The cottage is a standard stick-frame construction, so most of the rough-hewn beams are decorative rather than structural (save one vertical beam in the center of the space). Half logs were applied to exterior and interior walls for a log-home look, but that doesn’t mean the home lacks authenticity. Salvaged heart pine was laid down for floors, and the builders used moss- and lichen-covered stones, which they found in nearby fields, for the fireplace surround and foundation walls. Entry and interior doors and lower-level bath vanities were constructed with salvaged barn boards for a casual and gently aged look.
“The entire property is really magical,” De Giulio says. “It’s one of those projects that just sings.”
Photography: Werner Straube
Produced by Hilary Rose
Designer: Mick de Giulio, De Gulio Kitchen Design, 1121 Central Ave., Wilmette, IL 60091; 847/256-8833, degiuliokitchens.com.
Interior designer: Veronica McGraw, Lakeside Living Design, 5191 S. Hwy 51, Manitowish Waters, WI 54545; 888/250-8706, lakesidelivingdesign.com.
Builder: Benson Builders, LLC, 5357 Hwy B, P.O. Box 267, Land O’ Lakes, WI 54540; 715/547-3941, bensonbuildersllc.com.