“We don’t want very nice … we want spectacular.” That’s what the Kenney family told John Boyer of Boyer Building early in their conversations about the renovation of their home in Wayzata.
The Kenneys had bought a small house on Lake Minnetonka that needed so much work to become spectacular and extraordinary that they initially planned to tear it down and start all over. But they soon discovered that modern zoning laws had changed how and where houses could be positioned in the years since their little lake cabin had been built. If they tore it down and started all over, they’d lose their unobstructed lake view. So, they began to explore plan B. They had spoken to Boyer when they were looking to tear down and build a whole new house—now, they went back to him and started talking about what a full gut renovation could do for them.
“We liked their process so much,” Mary Kenney says. “That’s what brought us back to them when we decided to do the remodel.”
John Boyer and his brothers own and run Boyer Building Corporation, a family business that has been part of the Lake Minnetonka community for almost 70 years. The company started as Joe Boyer and Sons in 1950. Not only was John’s father Joe a builder, but his grandfather had been a builder, too. Given the company’s history in the region, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that, in the 1960s, John’s father Joe built the house that Mary Kenney grew up in—a nice coincidence they discovered as they worked on the plans for the new Kenney family home.
John Boyer is a designer as well as a builder. Boyer says the first part of his process involves a lot of listening. Before he begins to put anything on paper, he wants to meet with the clients and hear what they have to say. That was what the Kenneys liked about their first meetings with him.
The Kenneys told him that they wanted a lake house. They had bought the little cabin for the location, after all. They wanted a house that felt like it belonged on the lake and nowhere else. The new house would be smaller than their previous house, but they still wanted to have room for everyone at holidays and for summer family visits. With those basic ideas as a starting point, they got to work.
There were a lot of problems to work through. Keeping the footprint of the old house but opening it up to a more modern aesthetic would take some careful planning. Parts of the house were taken apart and reused in the new plan. Boyer says that he and his carpenters like problem solving and the Kenney house gave them a chance to use their skills.
“We keep a staff of extremely professional and very well-trained carpenters,” Boyer says. The company does about half their work in building new homes and about half in renovations and remodels. And not just big, full-house renovations; Boyer Building also has teams of carpenters that work on small remolding projects like bathrooms and kitchens.
“Remodeling is different from building new houses in a lot of ways. For one thing, the homeowners are often living in the house during a renovation. Professionalism and courtesy are essential in that situation,” says Boyer.
Some of Boyer Building’s employees have been with the company for 30 years. “We like to hold onto guys who keep our customers happy,” Boyer says.
The Kenney family house, while it had its own particular complications, was like other remodels in the area in that the clients felt that they could put money into the house because they are confident that the house will retain its value.
“It’s an area where values are secure,” Boyer says. “Even during big downturns in the housing market, the lake area has not been as seriously impacted.”
People are willing to put money into older houses—especially on the lake—because the location makes it a good investment. “It’s going to hold its value,” Boyer says. Even with teardowns, he says people are willing to pay a premium for the right location when they know that the property will continue to appreciate.
For the Kenneys, the decision to renovate was really the smartest move, and they have been happy with the results. They wanted to highlight the lake view with plenty of windows and to keep the whole design light, bright and open. The white wood paneling in the ceiling of the vaulted living room is a detail that Mary loves.
“The wood gives [the space] a feeling of being so solid and substantial,” she says. “But it’s all painted white, so it isn’t dark and heavy. It just works perfectly with whole design.”
They had a specific vision for what the house should look like—and it was more than just that they were looking for spectacular and extraordinary. But they needed help figuring out how to translate their nautical themes and big-view wishes into wood and glass. Boyer worked on the design with them starting with an open-concept floor plan. All the rooms are spacious, and windows dominate the house, giving it an even bigger feeling. The kitchen is white and airy with cabinets by Steven Cabinets of Minneapolis, who also designed and built the mudroom cabinets.
“[The Boyer team] made me feel confident in what I was seeing and what I wanted,” Kenney says. “They really exceeded my expectations.” Even though she had a strong feeling about what she wanted, she really appreciated the collaboration. “They always brought new ideas to the conversations and helped us clarify what we really wanted,” she says.
And, as with all home projects, sometimes one thing led to another and the scope of the work got bigger and more complicated. A wall gets taken out, and then you see that the ceiling doesn’t look right and, suddenly, you realize that you really want to take out more walls, or that you’d really like to vault the entire ceiling, and…
“John Boyer made it so easy,” Kenney says. “He’d say, ‘Look, don’t worry about it. It’s not that big a deal. You know what you want; let’s just do it.’ And I was able to step back and see that we could do it. Every step of the way I felt like he wanted to make my vision a reality.”
Kenney says she likes the house more and more with the passage of time. “Sometimes I just look out the window at the lake and think to myself, this house really is extraordinary!” she says.