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The Lakeside Minnesota cabin is 475 square feet of award-winning design


Who would accept an uninhabitable, creature-infested 475 square foot cabin as a fun DIY project? A duo made up of a professional interior designer and a carpenter, that’s who.

Stephanie Lalley, design director at Minneapolis-based Lucy Interior Design, and her husband, Dan, were looking for a project when they came across a 3-acre property on Lake Barrow, a body of water quiet in Hackensack, Minn.

The Lalleys weren’t intimidated by the age and condition of the one-bedroom, one-bathroom cabin. Rather, it was a chance to incorporate ideas they had hidden away over the years on how to design for a small space.

“The cabin is 200 years old and was considered a teardown,” Stephanie said. But “we like to repair old houses in our spare time”.

The project has paid off in more ways than one. Along with a lakeside cabin that can now be enjoyed, Stephanie recently received the Design of Excellence Award from the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Minnesota in the residential design category under 1,000 square feet.

Rebuild Blocks

The Lalleys bought the property in early 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

With their work and social life at a standstill, they used that free time to begin the renovation, which involved clearing out the place and lowering the cabin to the poles. They ripped up the floors and removed the roughly cut pine panels so they could get behind the walls to insulate and update the plumbing and electrical systems. Along with subcontracting the rough-in electrical and plumbing and spray foam insulation, the couple did all the work themselves.

They salvaged the pine planks, which Dan then used to build cabinets for the kitchen and bathroom and clad the ceilings in the bedroom and living room.

When work resumed, they worked on the cabin whenever they could, driving about three hours from the Twin Cities on weekends and holidays. With two children aged 5 and 6 and full-time jobs, the project lasted almost two years.

“During the heavy construction, the kids stayed with Grandma, but they came with us otherwise. We camped, swam and explored,” Stephanie said, adding that the property had no running water the first time. year.

Comfortable not cramped

With such a small footprint, the couple made choices to keep the cabin from feeling cramped.

They left the main room ceiling exposed to the original trusses, which adds architectural interest and makes the space feel larger. Painting the entire interior white also brightened up the cabin, though the move was prompted by the fact that the original log walls were smoke-damaged and had been roughly patched with concrete over the years.

“They were beyond catering,” Stephanie said.

She added that using the same color on the walls and ceilings unified the space and didn’t compete for attention with the woods and lake outside, the real star of the property.

Their goal was to help the little cabin be the best version of itself: a simple, cozy retreat in the woods. They thought in inches rather than feet – how to make the compact floor plan work best for everyday living.

They built a bench seat against a wall to provide space-saving seating and clear traffic lanes. Curtains were installed in place of the doors to separate the rooms, eliminate annoying door swings and save wall space.

A simpler life

The couple also kept other functional and understated finishing touches.

The rebuilt kitchen has wooden counters, a matching set of floating shelves, and a small fridge and stove but no dishwasher.

Stephanie said they were fine with hand washing the dishes and it suited the uncluttered nature of the cabin. She thought of everything they would need in the kitchen and created a place for it – dishes on the shelf, a rack for bottles of wine and olive oil, baskets for laundry and dry products.

“You realize when you’re here that you don’t need a ton of stuff,” Stephanie said. “It’s calming.”

For them, the renovation experience was a way to spend time together and make memories. When the project was completed earlier this year, the Lalleys were unsure whether they would sell and move on to a new project or keep the cabin.

Then, a photographer friend that Stephanie hired to take pictures of the cabin made that decision easier. He offered to buy it on the spot. It is now available for vacation rental on Airbnb.

“Now people across the country can enjoy the experience,” Stephanie said. “And a major bonus for us, we can still hire him.”

Tips on designing small spaces

Stéphanie Lalley suggests the following:

• Consider daily use and traffic. Don’t be afraid to rework the floor plan.

• Keep flooring uniform and limit paint colors to avoid difficult visual transitions.

• Consider using pocket or sliding doors or curtains instead of hinged doors.

• Create space for the essentials and design built-ins where possible to avoid “floating” furniture that takes up valuable floor space.

• Choose versatile furniture such as sofa beds and benches with storage.

• Use wall sconces and pendant lights instead of lamps to reduce cords and unwanted clutter.

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