“It’s not your traditional lake view,” admits Paul Walser, “but we like it.” He’s speaking of the unique 1910 Wayzata cottage he and his family purchased three years ago, perched on a verdant slope of land above a busy marina, public beach, volleyball courts and a bike trail. “It’s so lively, we even see weddings sometimes.”
The house began as a small cottage—more of a cabin, really—though you wouldn’t know looking at it today. That’s one of the nuggets of this renovation: The home looks like it has always been there. “We wanted to keep the flavor of the house,” says Becky Walser, “so when people drive by, they won’t think we wrecked it.”
The Walsers had long envisioned a house on the lake. Says Becky, “My husband always was a boat-baby. All our vacations center around water and sailing.” The Walsers have four boys and a girl; the oldest is 19, and the girl is the youngest at 13. And in buying this house, they pictured a weekend getaway for the family with an eye toward something more permanent as the kids got older.
Becky credits their designer, Cathy Iverson of Market of Fleas, for the residential love match. A Wayzata resident, Iverson had been eyeing the cute cottage on the marina herself. When she showed it to the Walsers, they loved it, too. Two weeks later, Iverson bumped into a local realtor who told her that the house was just put on the market. And they did not hesitate; obviously, it was meant to be!
That was in 2008. For the next two years, the Walsers spent weekends enjoying the cottage until Paul decided it was time to expand. Becky reports, “It didn't lend itself to seven people comfortably. We wanted to use it more, but there was no place to get away from each other. We didn’t want anything grandiose—we love the tidy, small spaces—but we needed our own bedrooms, bathrooms and recreational areas.”
The Walsers loved Iverson’s work on their Edina home, so they brought her in to transform the lake house as well. In turn, Iverson hired someone she trusted for the build-out: Hendel Homes, a residential renovation and new construction company. According to Iverson, “I chose Hendel Homes because of their attention to detail. I’d worked with them before and knew they’d deliver the kind of quality I want.”
Rick and Amy Hendel, the namesake behind Hendel Homes, are a husband-and-wife team. Rick started the business in 1995 after working as a laborer, carpenter, field supervisor and project manager. He was so smitten with architecture and construction that he tossed aside his pre-med studies to devote himself to the building industry.
According to Rick, "Cathy pushes us, which we like because it makes the end product better.” Iverson maintains that the “push” is a two-way street. “You can’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to each other in a healthy working relationship,” she says. “We respect each other’s’ vision, so we fit well as a team.” Rick and Iverson also share a commitment to keep things historically accurate.
The Walsers trusted this team so much so that they simply handed over the reins and let them run with it. “There were three essentials for Paul: the master bedroom, the office and the rec room for the kids,” reports Becky, “but with those instructions, we said, ‘Here are the keys, see you in three months’!”
Although the finished house had to look as if it had always been there, that didn’t preclude massive changes. “We promised the former owner we wouldn’t tear it down,” says Iverson, “but also we decided to make it whatever we could make it.” They broadened the footprint of the house, and replaced the siding, the windows and the roof. They added a bay window, sliding glass doors and a deeper porch extension for al fresco dining. Iverson states, “The house couldn’t simply be bigger; all the architectural details had to be true to 1910. And it had to be functional as well as charming.”
The plumbing and heater were consolidated beneath the basement staircase for openness. The siding was replaced with a smaller, more historically characteristic size to match the proportions of the house. A new roof with milled cedar shakes and smaller reveals took over the old hand-split shakes. Rick used German Rheinzink for a new roof lining, which has the rustic look of lead but is non-toxic. Reclaimed wood salvaged from barns and warehouses added charming floorboards and ceilings on the interior. New trim, windowsills, pillars and solid-wood paneled shutters secured with vintage hardware added to the overall authenticity. “They uncovered so many things,” marvels Becky, “it reminded me of peeling back layers of an onion.”
A big challenge for Iverson was not only physically fitting five kids into the house but creating a cool space where they would want to hang out. She devised a special den of amusements in the basement, complete with a ping-pong table, shuffleboard, a wide-screen TV and beanbag chairs. The décor is whimsical with a wink: a panel of collaged license plates creates a baseboard and a rubber floor adds both physical and visual softness.
Benches made to look like old car seats run along one wall, but they weren’t part of the original plan. Once the renovation was underway, the Hendel crew was shocked to discover the house didn’t have any footings. The solution was to dig out the basement and suspend the 22-foot shuffleboard from the ceiling while they completed construction. The new footings created an eyesore of a ledge, but Iverson turned the ledge into a bench and the stumbling block turned into a bonus.
Iverson paid equal attention to the kids’ rooms. For the boys’ room, she fashioned a set of vintage oars into bunk beds suspended from chains. She papered girl’s room with delicate yet stylish pink and silver flowers; the overall effect is clean and white. Iverson often mixes vintage pieces with contemporary, high-tech elements. The office doubled as a guest room, but it was small, so Iverson installed an ingenious European “Zoom-Room” bed which rolls behind a shelving unit via remote control. “I don’t like to say no,” says Iverson. “My first response is always, ‘Why not?’ I’ll dig out all the options and possibilities first.”
Keith Johnson contributed handmade, antique-inspired furniture to the Walser project. Rick often relies on Johnson, and praises him as “the type of cabinetmaker for whom you can draw something and he can build it. He understands the whole process, from the details and the proportion to the final execution.” Like Iverson and Rick, Johnson is willing to customize, accept a challenge and try something new. “Keith and I go over details down to the eighth of an inch,” says Rick. “We call it ‘micro-detailing.’ All our little germinations add a whole other level of detail.”
Most of Rick’s sub-contractors are regulars with whom he stays closely involved. “That way we know it’s going to be on time, within budget, with the details we want,” says Rick. Everyone agrees that it’s a thrill to see it all come together. Iverson says, “Seeing the vision emerge from what was in my mind to the finished product is beautiful!”
Becky agrees, adding, “Cathy creates an energy, and every room is fun to be in. She also constantly reinvents things. I love telling people the light fixture used to be a fruitcake mold!”
Iverson haunts antique stores and rummage sales, picking up whatever strikes her. The sink in the upstairs bathroom sink fashioned from a vintage 7-Up cooler, while the grill on the porch is rests inside an old Coca-Cola cooler. Iverson also brought in old signs and furniture from the Walsers’ farm in Wisconsin, and the 10-foot dining table came from an antique store in Michigan. “She has incredible vision,” continues Becky, “and you just have to let her go. People like Cathy are so valuable.”
One of the few specific requests by the Walsers was for a fireplace on the ground floor. The Hendel's incarnation is both striking and unique: Made from tumbled, antique East Coast granite, the mortar-free rocks fit together like a puzzle. The shallow “Rumsford” firebox creates a maximum outward projection of heat. Another special request? “Paul wanted a walk-in closet,” reports Iverson. “He’s never had one. That’s all he wanted—a walk-in closet.”
And how happy are the Walsers with the renovation? “I think the house is now complete,” says Becky. “It was beautiful before, but now it’s more of a home where we can live, not just spend a weekend.” Iverson stresses, “The goal was a comfortable, lake-home vibe for both family and guests. The challenge was to make it functional while maintaining the charm.”
If you’re considering a renovation, Becky offers the following advice: “Bite the bullet and get it all over with at once. We weren’t going to do the whole basement at first, but now I’m happy I won’t have to revisit bad plumbing and asbestos problems.” She also stresses the importance of hiring a good contractor. “Hendel Homes has great knowledge of old homes and of architecture, but they also make sure that the house is stable, healthy and well-functioning environmentally.”