A Future Lake of Memories

Filed in Feature Homes by on December 26, 2013

lebakkenWhen Craig and Sue Labakken purchased a lake home on East Battle Lake in 2005, they were familiar with both the area and lake living. Although Craig wasn’t raised in this part of Minnesota, his great-grandparents emigrated from Norway and settled on North Turtle Lake near Underwood.

Craig had many relatives from Otter Tail County and as a youngster spent a great deal of time at the lake cabins of aunts, uncles, and grandparents. The fun-filled days left their mark, “I grew up going to shoreline Restaurant in Battle Lake,” he says, “and I wanted my children to have lake traditions too.”

Sue was no stranger to lake living, either. She spent time at her parents’ lake place on Lake Miltona near Alexandria, where visits were much-anticipated events.

The Lebakkens – Craig, Sue and their two young children – eventually bought a cabin on Wall Lake from Craig’s great uncle. They delighted in time away from the Cities, where they had a home in Edina. They started building their own lake-living traditions.

Before long, though, twin boys came along, and the place on Wall Lake became too small. “When the sun was out, all was well,” Sue says, “but when it rained, we were on top of each other.”

lebakken3The Labakkens purchased a place on East Battle Lake and spent a summer getting a feel for what they’d like to improve. By 2006, they were ready to make the house their own. They engaged Jeff Nicholson, an architect with Quartersawn, a design and build firm in the Twin Cities. The families had met through their children, who attended the same school.

The Lebakkens had three main goals: improve functionality, orient the house to the lake and create a home with a warm, cabin-like feel. Jeff set about to design space that would accomplish their goals within the footprint of the original house.

To increase the functionality of the space, Jeff proposed opening the wall between the living and dining rooms and moving the kitchen from a corner to the middle of the house. The arrangement would create an open floor plan on the lake side that stretched the length of the house.

To orient the house to the lake, Jeff designed an expanse of glass – large windows and two sets of double French doors – along an entire wall and added a deck that ran parallel to the windows outside the house. The Lebakkens could enjoy the lake from the inside and out.

lebakken6With the new floor plan, the kitchen took center stage. Sue tells about the day they met for an early morning design review. The architect said, “I’m thinking about a 12-foot island in the kitchen.” Sue said, “Wow!” and her daughter promptly took the drawing and counted the stools to make sure there was one for each family member.

The former kitchen is now a sitting area, created in part because of the need for more storage. A bank of cabinets along an inside wall provides a home for everything that would otherwise accumulate in a heap on trips to and from the lake. Full-length windows and a French door bring in light where refrigerator and counters once stood. Sue loves the light that slants in through the trees in the late afternoon.

Meals are often a buffet affair with family serving themselves from the kitchen island and then moving through the French doors to eat on the deck. Dining space adjoins the kitchen, however, for occasions when family and friends want to congregate around the big farm-style table.

Traffic flows easily between the dining and living areas and light fills a space that was once fairly dark. The living room is anchored by a stone hearth and fireplace around which family and friends gather comfortably for conversation and fun.

Noticeably absent is the main attraction in most family gather areas – a television. I ask the Lebakkens about it, and Sue smiles. “We don’t have one,” she says. “Craig’s savvy with technology. On the occasions we want to watch a movie, he sets up a projector and screen for a DVD or streaming movie.”

lebakken1“Mostly though, when we’re not outside, we’re playing games,” Craig says, pointing to a table in the large living room. Scrabble is a family favorite board game, but they also enjoy cards and puzzles.

Sue smiles again. She remembers her sister’s warning before their first visit: “Aunt Sue and Uncle Craig don’t have a TV.” By the time the visit was over, Sue recalls, one of the children said, “If we ever get a cabin, can we not have a TV too?”

Many design decisions went into creating a cabin-like feel in the remodeled home. Sue liked the warmth that knotty-pine created in their cabin on Wall Lake, so they chose knotty-pine for ceiling and wainscoting. The architect suggested a stain for the wood that looked aged rather than bright and new. The floors are cabin-grade knotty maple.

The Lebakkens chose a stone that added warm tones and a cabin feel to both the hearth and the exterior of the house. Lisa Hansen and Jena McFadden, interior designers from the Twin Cities, keyed off colors in the stone as well as walls and ceiling to arrive at subtle forest and pumpkin shades for the walls. Swedberg Wood Products in Alexandria built cabinetry from knotty alder in rich brown that is not only practical but beautiful. Furniture and accessories complete the comfortable, family-gathering atmosphere.

lebakken4Despite the cozy feel, the home at 3,300 square feet is rather large. Sue says she’d passed it over several times when looking through multiple listings because of its size. It was Craig’s godparents, who live down the road, who encouraged them to make an appointment to see the house.

Now the appreciate the size, because the love having plenty of room when family and friends visit. Two bedrooms downstairs and three upstairs ensure sleeping accommodations for all. But Sue adds, “On warm summer nights, the kids are often out sleeping in a tent.”

In addition to bedrooms and family space on the first floor, Craig has an office. As a software designer and his own boss, he can work from the lake as well as at their home in Edina.

Craig knew early in his career that he wanted to start his own company. After the twins were born, he and Sue decided it was time to make the move. Dane Prairie Systems, named after the township where the Wall Lake cabin was located, represents the dream of lake living  and early retirement. The Internet company sells software that Craig designs and Sue tests. (The two met while working for the same software company.) Craig’s brother is involved in the business, too, making it truly a family affair.

The Lebakkens spend long weekends at their home on East Battle and longer get-aways when school and sports activities permit. Now that the older children are 13 and 10 and the twins are 7, life is getting more complicated, Sue says.

To ensure time at the lake is fun and relaxing, Craig and Sue have kept landscaping simple. On the street side, Swedberg Nursery in Battle Lake installed paver-brick paths and native plants and shrubs that require little care. On the lake side, a grove of trees fills the view between house and water. Craig mows a swath of grass between the deck and the trees, but mostly lets nature take over. Sue says she’s noticed wild flowers growing where grass once struggled.

Summers are spent on the water. Although water craft abound – kayak, canoe, paddle boat, ski boat – the kids spent most of their time swimming this summer. Craig says, “We put an inflatable raft out and they love swimming and jumping.”

lebakken5During the winter, Craig shovels off a place on the lake side for an ice rink, and the kids spend time skating and playing in the snow. Last year, Sue says, they built a gigantic snowman that was still there in the spring.

Their lake place is a haven – a time for family, for friends, and life apart from the activity and noise of city life. Craig loves the solitude and the silence when night falls – nothing but sounds of frogs and owls and loons and the morning sounds of birds.

Sue loves the fact that there’s no schedule. “I may go several days and not even drive the car,” she laughs and points to a clock with scrambled numbers. “We can eat when we want … maybe a late breakfast, no lunch and dinner on the grill at dusk.”

Now that’s lake living.

by Reba Gilliand, a freelance writer from Battle Lake

Photography by Bryan Wendland

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