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Trading Spaces: A Lakefront Wisconsin Cabin

Wisconsin empty nesters downshift from a large city abode to a cozy cabin by the lake.
by Chris Wood | Photos by Joseph Hilliard

Don’t tell Stephanie and Jim Smith about space. For 18 years, they spent summers on Wisconsin’s North Lake in a 1960s two-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage with their three sons with one prime directive: Any fights and we drive home.

A loft awaits the arrival of Jim Smith’s vintage pinball machine collection. The TV, like all electronics, is tied into the cabin’s audio visual system, allowing access to all music, video and computers from every television in the house.

Although Stephanie says they only had to head back home once, space in their 7,500-square-foot home in Brookfield has always been equally compromised by Jim’s collection of 37 pinball machines and 18 upright arcade games. With their youngest son headed off to college, the Smiths decided to move permanently to North Lake, demolish the cottage and fulfill a dream of owning a log cabin by the lake.

It’s a natural dream for the couple who met in 1977 when their families were vacationing on Green Lake and have been sweethearts since their junior year in high school. “We’ve literally been on the lakes since childhood,” says Stephanie. “Since I was 4 years old, I’ve been coming up here. Jim’s family members were all builders on Green Lake, and the lake is our year-round lifestyle: We sail, we fish, we garden, we water-ski in the summer, snow ski and ice skate in the winter.”

When Jim ran across an article in a log-home magazine three years ago and read aloud to Stephanie about the guy who would come home to his log cabin and feel like he was on a North Woods vacation with the stress melting away, there was only response: “I think the time is now,” Stephanie recalls.

Built in 2010, the Smith cabin features half-log walls and siding over structural wall panels from Great Lakes Components with post corners. Logs were provided by Wilderness Log & Timber Co., and the builder was Gary Tenfel of Custom Craft Carpentry.

Pine clapboard substitutes for half-log wall profiles, and a pedestal sink keeps the smaller bathrooms airy and less confined.

One of the major challenges was incorporating as many design elements that the Smiths could fit onto the 2,500-square-foot site footprint, which in Waukesha County includes all attached construction, like decks, garages and even overhangs. Such restrictions prevented, for instance, the use of butt-and-pass corners on the 50-foot-wide lot.

“When we were done, there was not a single niche that’s not being used — they thought of everything,” says the builder, who used structured panels here for the first time and considers himself a total convert. “They had to make a lot of particular decisions on space, but from there, the construction process was really smooth.”

Credit the pre-planning to Stephanie, who used her experience as a former real-estate agent and also as a miniatures enthusiast to construct a scale model of the cabin with a removable roof, and modular walls and furniture to help design the floor plan. Space consciousness is evident in the bathrooms, where double sinks give way to a single pedestal basin, and a kitchen area that boasts granite counters and stainless steel appliances, but is able to functionally blend into the great room by using a bar as a dining area to visually separate living areas without the bulk of walls or additional construction. That and lots of windows, including quad-pane Pella Designer windows and four vintage portholes recovered off the coast of Key West.

With the Smiths about to close the sale of their Brookfield city digs, the only thing left is to figure out where to put Jim’s pinball and arcade machines, three of which have already been tabbed for the cabin’s loft.

The Smith cabin is all lit up with exterior lighting controlled via an iPad application. Overhang had to be calculated into permissible square footage, necessitating for fewer but bolder architectural statements, including an eaved portico for the entry door.

“We’re probably going to do a bigger garage in the back and portion it off to condition and put some of the games back there, but we’ll still be limited in our square footage,” says Stephanie, adding that space will be even more important when the Smith boys start coming back to the lake with their own families. “We figure the boys will never mind coming back for vacation if we live on the lake, and if you’re familiar with lake living, you know there are always toys to store in the winter, but this cabin is proof that you can do it. It’s amazing because people think they can’t do a log home on a 50-foot lot. Well, guess what? You can do a nice log home on a 50-foot lot.”

Home Plan Details:
Square Footage: 2,500
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2.5
Appliances: GE – Profile and Monogram (800-626-2005;
Architect: Sunarc Studio (262-567-5755;
Builder; mantels; railings: Custom Craft Carpentry (262-534-6280;
Cabinet hardware: Stone County Ironworks (800-223-4722;
Cabinetry: Drexler Schleiss, Inc. (414-462-5690;
Carpet: Mohawk (800-266-4295;
Chinking; stain: Sashco – Log Builder Caulk; Capture in Bronze Pine (800-767-5656;
Countertops: Midwest Tops (414-463-5734;
Door hardware: Emtek (800-356-2741;
Doors: Western Building Products (
Front door: Simpson Door Co. (800-746-7766;
Home system: Russound (866-888-7466;

Knotty pine post-and-beam construction makes a bold statement, while design maximizes space and provides for a smooth visual transition between living and dining areas. A porthole provides an interesting view from the upstairs bedroom.

Interior decorator: Roughing It In Style (866-774-0827;
Interior tongue-and-groove stain: Sherwin-Williams (800-474-3794;
Kitchen sink: Delta Faucet (800-345-3358;
Landscape designer: Johnson’s Nursery (262-252-4988;
Log provider; railings: Wilderness Log & Timber Co. (800-707-0449)
Masonry: Tom Lynch Masonry (262-534-9141)
Murphy bed: North Pole Log Furniture & Cabinets (262-352-7911;
Overhead doors: Haas Door Company (
Plumbing: Kohler (800-456-4537;
Railings: Ryan’s Rustic Railings and Furniture (877-757-3329;
Roofing: GAF – Prestige High Definition 30-Year (877-423-7663;
Stone: Halquist Stone (800-255-8811;
Tile flooring: Lea Ceramiche (704-522-6300;
Windows: Pella – Designer Series (800-288-7281;

Published in Country's Best Cabins
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  1. freelance writer

    Evangeline32DeckerNovember 5, 2011 @ 2:17 pmReply

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