Designed by Dale Mulfinger, Jody McGuire
This new lake home takes advantage of the stunning landscape of Lake Superior. The compact floor plans minimize the site impact. The expressive building form blends the structure into the language of the cliff. The home provides a serene perch to view not only the big lake, but also to look back into the North Shore. With triple pane windows and careful details, this house surpasses the airtightness criteria set by the international Passive House Association, to keep life cozy on the North Shore all year round.
Sited high on a cliff at the edge of Lake Superior the Kohlstedt Keep appears as a mark in the vast landscape. Designed to minimize the alterations of the site while maximizing its prospects, the house acts as a center point to a private peninsula, and provides a cozy container for a constantly changing panorama. From the great room, the views are oceanic; to the west – from the small private rooms – framed moments of the forest pop forward. The clients came to us with a deep commitment to protect the site, to embrace its expressive landscape, to use local materials and engage with the local workforce. They dreamed of a cabin which would feel perfect for the just two of them, but could also accommodate a large crew for extended family gatherings. Trained as geologists, they study the land formations as they watch birds and wildlife and use a telescope to follow passing ships against the ever changing sea and sky.The shoreline along this stretch of Lake Superior is primarily inaccessible, it’s steep and rocky cliffs descend directly into the clear water. The expressive form of the building blends the structure into the irregular language of the land, where the layers of rock shear and shift past one another. The design is a balance between the desire for light and views with the need for the protective warmth of a solid wall.
The house takes its formal cues from its position on the threshold between northern forest and the northern sea. A tall volume to the west harmonizes with a patch of tall slender birch and pine trees. To the east, a horizontal volume takes its cues from the horizon of Lake Superior and becomes a new perch for prospects overlooking the lake. The house was located in a natural depression in the granite, which allowed for minimal excavation. The collection of forms also references to the time added assemblages of buildings that dot our inland adjacent Iron Range. The roof form rises to give the master bedroom with a high ceiling to the north, while the guest bedroom feels a vertical intensity to the south as that room is taller than it is wide – each room heightens your sense of scale as you dwell in a dynamic and compact space while you focus on the landscape near and far. The whiteness of the interior walls provides a neutral foreground frame for the animation of the world outside. Gypsum board ceilings painted white reflect and spread daylight deep into the house so that natural daylight (a most precious commodity on this moody northern shore) fills the interior volumes.
The building form started with a 30’x30’x30’ cubic volume – a thermally efficient and economically compact way to build in our climate. We thought about how to keep the heat in and how the cladding needs to work like a down jacket. The cube minimizes the amount of surface area, which helps us meet those goals. With careful details, this house surpasses the airtightness criteria set by the international Passive House Association. The original cube was then carved to reduce the overall volume of the house and to meet the owner’s program while providing additional access to light and view. Combined with two shed roofs, the diagonal wall gives the house a spatial complexity that is achieved through modest means. This diagonal wall, clad in black granite, both directs a multiplicity of views out to the landscape and directs a division of life within the small footprint. On the main level, the wall divides the secondary spaces (mudroom, bathroom and guest bedroom) from the main open living space (kitchen, living and dining). The geometric stairway sneaks around each side. Upstairs, the wall divides the guest spaces from the owner’s suite.
The shifting volumes and varied rooflines have become a part of the language of this land, and provide protection, comfort and spectacular views amidst this dramatic landscape.
Construction by Dale Torgersen
Photography by Corey Gaffer