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The Kohlstedt Keep

The drama of Lake Superior rivals that of any oceanic system on Earth. Its surface area makes it the largest freshwater lake in the world, in the heart of the Midwest, and its remarkably clean, cold waters are punctuated by sharp rip currents and waves that can top 30 feet. In some places, extrusions of ancient mafic rock reveal the underbelly of the basin, which has been carved by eruptions of molten basalt approximately one billion years ago and the gentle kneading of glacial forms thereafter. 

Land side, the lake’s westward buffer, Minnesota, is covered nearly 33 percent by rich packs of coniferous and deciduous forest that also make it a haven for scientists, environmentalists, and biophiles of all sorts. The lush canopies of the state’s southern portions mingle with prairie and tallgrass aspen parklands before blending upward into coniferous biomes laden with pine, spruce, and tamarack, to the north. 

This region, specifically on the thin, rough boundary between Minnesota and Lake Superior, is the dramatic backdrop for a new residence belonging to a pair of university professors in the geologic sciences. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom home is situated just outside Minnesota’s Finland State Forest, on a jagged peninsula cliff where the rusty hue of water-touched basalt outcroppings disappear into spritzes of emerald hardwoods on the surface of the land. A second home for the couple, the residence recalls a special kind of lakefront living, where the danger of the waterscape renders it untouchable from the site, but far from unappreciated. 

“The north shore of Lake Superior is often highlighted by steep cliffs and rock. That is certainly the case here. This is a peninsula pointing out into the lake and you cannot make your way down to the water,” said Dale Mulfinger, FAIA, principal emeritus at SALA Architects Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota. “This site connects you only to the ethereal notion of the lake and the view, but you’re not going to put a toe in the water. It’s incredibly dramatic [and] it reads of the power of Lake Superior and the majesty of it.”

SALA Architects’ own design philosophy is embedded in the natural environment; it surpasses stylistic pattern to obtain a deep understanding of spaces that nurture the soul, support daily life, and offer re-energizing for the individual spirit and wellbeing. Each project carries a goal for reconnecting clients with who and where they are through spatial design, and in the case of the Kohlstedt Keep, a reconnection to nature in a setting that reveals some of its most basic and profound layers, displayed in the vertical stature of the cliff face.

“There’s this kind of combination of something that is compact and something that is pulled apart and slid, and almost like a tectonic plate,” Mulfinger said. “When you see rock, you see the striations of rock that were created from where it comes from and that’s certainly the case on this site…After all, we’re working for geologists, so it wanted to feel current to something interesting or evocative to them.”

The interior emits a homey warmth instead, with minimal furnishings and delicate light fixtures surrounded by warm gypsum board ceilings that reflect and spread light deep into the home’s inner volumes. A wood burning stove warms the central plane, which addresses the horizon through a lengthy row of windows. From the windowed edge of this extrusive architectural layer sits a final tool for savoring the wild just beyond: a telescope pointed outward onto deep, scaly waters. 


Full text originally published in Great Lakes By Design: Crafted Lodging, 2020

Text: R. Collins | GLBD writer

Photography: Corey Gaffer