Growing up with log homes certainly helps when planning your lakeside vacation retreat. Just ask Jim and Ruth Brostowitz, whose 3,900-square-foot beauty built by Hiawatha Log Homes in the northern Wisconsin woods was more than 30 years in the making.
Their log-home journey began in 1976 after Jim graduated from college and bought a large piece of land on a lake in northern Wisconsin. There Jim and his dad and brothers built a simple 20-by-40-foot log cabin where the guys could hunt, fish, and hang out. “You just have to have a log home when you come up north,” Jim says. “It runs in the family. My great-grandparents were homesteaders in a town not far from the property. They lived in a log home they built themselves.”
The lake is still very much as it was 30 years ago. “It doesn’t have public access, which keeps it fairly quiet,” says Jim. “All of the homes tend to be situated back from the water, so the most you can see is a pier from each neighbor’s property.”
Jim and Ruth brought their young children to the cabin, where roughing it was part of the fun. As years passed, plans were laid for a new home to be built so the family could spend more time there, rather than just summer vacations. Some friends had built an impressive log home in the area, and the Brostowitzes looked up the builder — Jeff Visner of Visner Design/Build and a contractor for Hiawatha Log Homes. They contacted Visner and plans for building a new log home were underway.
“The Design/Build approach is an efficient, detail oriented and a properly budgeted method of building,” explains Visner. “We create a 40-phase timetable and develop a plan.” This gives clients a logical sequence to the construction process with target dates and costs. “We then have 15 ‘star dates’ where the customers and I review the progress and fine tune the details, such as materials, colors and design,” Visner says.
“We found Jeff Visner to be very helpful, especially with the little touches,” says Ruth. “Some ideas may not have been part of the original plan and budget, but Jeff’s experience paid off. We had never had a home built before, so we wanted to make sure the home was a success now and in the future.”
Visner made the suggestion, for example, to enlarge the master bathroom and allow a view over the lake. “I wasn’t convinced at first, but I’m very pleased with the final outcome,” says Ruth. “I can sit in the bathtub and see the lake or I can stand at the bathroom sink with the mirror reflecting the view.”
Some of the ideas were transferred from the Brostowitz’s primary home. “I wanted a big open kitchen with a large island,” Ruth says. “I also wanted lots of closets, including a drying closet — a closet in the laundry room with a heat duct.” The drying closet is an ideal spot for hanging wet swimsuits or snow gear at the end of the weekend, rather than letting them sit in the dryer.”
As a vacation home, functionality was critical. “My main goal was to have a home that was easy to maintain, so we built in lots of storage space,” Ruth says. To that end, the laundry room has space for outdoor gear, a large hall closet for household essentials, and each bathroom has a closet for cleaning supplies and ample towel space.
Ruth went one step further with her time-saving approach by replicating the layout of the kitchen cabinets. Dishes and utensils are in the same place as they are at their primary home, which makes the weekly move from one home to the next an easier transition.
Intelligent planning and building with an experienced contractor was critical to the success of building their lakeside retreat, Jim says. “Many homes on a lake build a large deck that surrounds the whole back of the home,” he says. “We chose to carefully place our deck off to the side. We didn’t want to block the view and didn’t want to shade the lower level windows from the sunlight.”
When decorating, Ruth chose colors from nature such as forest green, cranberry red, and black accents. She chose neutral tones for the floors, counters, and cupboards, letting the bold color come from the furniture, curtains, accessories, and area rugs. “Tastes change over time, says Ruth, and this neutral base will let me easily change my decor by just changing a few items,” she says.
The kids chose their own outdoor theme for the bedrooms. Rick canoed the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, so he picked canoes and moose. Jenny was drawn to black and red checks similar to her bedspread pattern and went with that theme, opting for several black bears as her “roommates.” The master bedroom is accentuated with pine cones and highlighted by a deer motif.
Part of their future plan is to finish the lower level themselves. “It’s actually a stress reducer,” Jim says. “We enjoy the process of planning and creating new space.” The project includes areas for a family room, workshop, game room, and bathroom.
“We thoroughly prize our time up north and cherish the stress-free living this log home has provided us,” says Jim. The quality of the materials and beauty of the logs gives us peace of mind and relaxed living.”