Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Chelsie Elizabeth Photography
Just 30 minutes North of Brainerd, nestled in the red pines of Whitefish Lake, the home of Kevin and Cindy Roberg is a testament to creative architecture and distinguished design. To create their dream home on the peninsula, the couple assembled their dream team with Travis Miller of TWM Architecture, Brittany Wille of Redstone Interiors and contractor Jake Wille. Together, they would design and build a rustic, contemporary home that would gather the family for generations to come.
History of Donaldson Island
The Robergs chose the property thanks to their good friend and realtor Rob Birkeland. “He felt the location was special, even though the building envelope was a challenge due to setbacks with the lake on both sides of the parcel of land,” said Kevin Roberg.
According to the Robergs, the property had once been owned by Keith Donaldson who was CEO of the Donaldson Companies out of Minneapolis. He had gotten permission in the mid-1900s to link the mainland with what was then called Donaldson Island. “After the road was completed he built the main home and a tennis court. The Donaldson estate was once known as a destination vacation place and became popular for its parties in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Eventually, meeting tough times, Donaldson would subdivide the rest of the land and sell some of the property to others. Where the tennis court once resided, the Robergs envisioned their dream home.
The Robergs met Miller while working on the design for their South Dakota property, Sutton Bay Club through RemWhirl. Miller helped design their home on the property where they would move to in 2012. “When we moved away from South Dakota, we immediately contacted him as we felt he was a good fit for us since not only was he a talented architect, but one who listened carefully to what his clients were trying to create,” said Kevin Roberg. “Plus, we frankly just liked him and when you design a house, it is in everyone’s best interest to get along.”
Setting Goals + Gathering Inspiration
“Kevin and Cindy came to me with concepts and photos of other cabins, pointing out specific aspects that they liked of each one. We dissected the project so I had a clear vision of their goals and expectations,” explained Miller. “They wanted something that was rustic but had a light and airy feel, so it became a combination of rustic and contemporary. They had previously lived in cabins that I would consider more lodge-like. They were log-sided and had a large volume of spaces. This time, they wanted something different – cozier and brighter, but still wanted it to fit with the character of the neighborhood.”
“I’ve always enjoyed what I call ‘mountain architecture’, mixing of style and materials, so I studied a lot of homes you’d see in Colorado or Montana and tried to put my own spin on it,” said Miller. “They didn’t want a great deal of square footage, but at the same time, wanted to make the cabin live larger and be comfortable for their day-to-day activity as well as host family and friends. The lot was the main challenge, getting them the space they wanted and fitting it onto the property with the lake setback and the road setback.” The lot is 1.8 acres with 1.3 of it considered upland due to the West bay’s wetland status. The Robergs have 260 feet of frontage on the East lakeshore and 276 feet on the West wetland side.
For the Robergs, their interior goal was clean lines with warm tones. The main living space needed to suit their needs as they aged and the natural light needed to be captured. “We wanted lots of windows for light so that we could accentuate the natural beauty of our peninsula lake location,” said Kevin Roberg. “Having the morning sunrise on the main lakeside and the sunsets on the back bay side was a plus we wanted to take advantage of every day.”
“Travis was a pleasure to work with since he listens to his customers so well. He is creative yet practical, and constantly keeps ‘value’ of the design at the forefront of what he creates,” said Kevin Roberg. “We had an overall theme of ‘Rustic Contemporary’ and a set of functional criteria – main floor living for Cindy and myself, lower level for family and friends, screened porch that would be our main living area and two large wood-burning fireplaces. Travis was the key to putting everything together and it was a true collaboration.”
For the interior’s design, the team worked with Brittany Wille of Redstone Interiors. “We had also worked with her on our Sutton Bay and Los Cabos building projects. Just like Travis, she was creative yet pragmatic,” said Kevin Roberg. “We had built two other lake homes in more of a traditional log or rustic style and felt that now was a time to separate our cabin from the traditional ones from a style standpoint. We felt the rustic, contemporary style would fit the region, but be more modern in look, yet very warm in feel.” For the rustic collaboration, flooring was chosen in a resawn white oak, with cabinets and beams in rustic alder with a stained finish. To achieve the brighter side of their design, the team relied on enamel-painted, poplar ceilings in a 1×6 shiplap.
Heart of the Home
To carry their signature style to the heart of the home, the Robergs worked with Scott Ivy of Ivy Cabinets on their gorgeous kitchen, incorporating clean lines and rustic alder textures. “He’s a very talented young man who made a rather small space seem larger due to his ability to create a great deal of storage in a limited space,” said Kevin Roberg.
The Roberg’s screened-in porch has already become a family favorite and daily retreat. “It has tremendous views on three sides, comfortable furniture and a centerpiece fireplace that gets used often,” said Kevin Roberg. With the combination of EzeBreeze windows and the wood-burning fireplace, this porch was designed to be utilized nearly year-round.
A late addition to the original design, Cindy Roberg came up with the idea to incorporate a guest suite above the garage. The suite features its own entrance, living room, bedroom and a spacious bathroom. “Travis made it happen and now all our guests want to stay there instead of the main house,” said Kevin Roberg. “We put in a breakfast bar and also a refrigerator so that guests can have their own place to just enjoy. The small deck outside the front entrance also has the best sunset views of the entire property. We call it the ‘Eagles Nest Suite’ since there used to be an eagles nest in a 150-year-old white pine just outside the window next to the bedroom.”
Recent changes to the county’s building codes allowed the Robergs to build up to a 120-square-foot “boathouse” by the lake, as long as it met certain setback requirements and building codes. “We took advantage of this opportunity and built a wonderful combination office, lakeside bar and just plain ‘hangout’ by the lake,” said Kevin Roberg. “It has a bar, large bookcase, refrigerator, ice maker and chairs that make it a great escape when I need to get away.”
“We love the final product and absolutely love our home,” said Kevin Roberg. “We love it so much we created a family cabin trust so that it can remain in our family for generations. Our children and grandchildren love it too and are often sharing the home with us.”
Into the Woods
“To achieve their rustic, contemporary exterior look, we used a product called Rough Rider, combined with timber accents, aluminum windows and a lot of glass,” said Miller. “Rough Rider is a natural wood siding that has an Eternity Finish. The finish process enhances the grain in the wood and accelerates the weathering process, so ultimately it looks like old reclaimed wood but has the characteristics of new siding which provides the protection needed to make it low maintenance.”
For the home’s stunning landscape, the Robergs relied on Reid Price of The Woods Landscaping. “We had worked with Reid on a number of projects over the years and he is very creative, listens well and performs at the highest levels,” said Kevin Roberg. “He turned an old, tired tennis court into a masterpiece, park-like landscape.” Adding to the outdoor appeal, the team managed to save the majority of the mature red pines on the site which helped keep the character of the property.
Meet the Architect: Travis Miller
Miller grew up in Fairmount, N.D., and attended NDSU receiving his architecture degree in 2002. “I had college friends that lived in the Brainerd area and really fell in love with the lakes, woods and all of the outdoor activities available,” said Miller. He has worked for Widseth Smith and Nolting in Baxter, Minn., and RemWhirl in Crosslake, Minn., where he ran the architecture department until starting his own firm, TWM Architecture in 2011.
Find the Finishes:
Architect – Travis Miller, TWM Architecture
Contractor – Jake Wille
Interior Design – Brittany Wille, Redstone Interiors
Cabinetry – Scott Ivy, Ivy Woodcraft
Landscaping – Reid Price, The Woods Landscaping
For more information, contact:
11443 Co. Road 77 S.W., Nisswa, Minn.