How do you combine traditional and contemporary? If these architect-designed lake escapes are any indication, the possibilities are endless.

Playing with scale

A family living in Los Angeles purchased 2 wooded acres in Wisconsin with more than 500 feet of waterfront intending to build a refined rustic retreat. The site, on Katherine Lake, felt like home.

"They love this part of the country. The wife has roots in the Appleton, Wisconsin, area and for many years they vacationed here often and rented a cabin with extended family," says Albertsson Hansen Architecture's Todd Hansen. "They wanted it to have a classic cabin feel."

The cedar-clad cabin was kept to 1 ½ stories with a muted palette, keeping the natural surroundings and lake views the star of the show. Recognizable forms are described in the same breath as contemporary refinements. For example, in the lodge, classic double-hung windows are designed "overscale" to make almost a full wall of glass.

"We kept things familiar but adjusted the scale," Hansen says. The result is both sweeping and comfortable.

Hansen's favorite space is the bunk room. "Each of the seven bunks has its own niche with its own unique built-ins and views. It's very playful but at the same time a refined version as far as the evolution of details."

While seemingly simple in concept, the room's complexity gradually reveals itself — just like the cabin as a whole.

Design team: Todd Hansen, Mark Tambornino, Abigail Merlis, Emily Pressprich

Project partners: Carla Lane Interiors; Corey Gaffer, photography

Asymmetrically 'balanced'

When a property next door to a family's guesthouse on East Gull Lake popped up for sale, it provided the perfect opportunity to build a larger main house. The owners wanted the new to honor the old, requesting that the design echo their longstanding structure.

To accomplish that, arched windows and gables that mimicked those from the smaller house were key.

"It has what I'd call asymmetrical balance. The two forms, when looking at the front and back facades, they're splayed on the lakeside to form a more open gesture toward the water and compressed on the entry side," Mark Larson of Rehkamp Larson Architects says of the angled design, two gables linked by a pavilion.

The lake-facing side of the bigger house is open with glass wrapping around the dining room, living room and kitchen. Its other wing offers privacy with partial glass and an embedded screened porch that isn't noticeable right away.

Knotty pine tongue-and-groove imitate the guest cabin and bring warmth while features like kitchen cabinets give pops of color. A traditional stone fireplace is offset with a contemporary floating mantel while classic wood-lined windows are mixed with occasional black framed ones.

"It has that traditional up north woodsy cabin feel, but it has a modern edge to it," Larson says.

Design team: Mark Larson, John Kirk

Project partners: Spitzack Builders, contractor; Scott Amundson, photography

At one with nature

For years, a family enjoyed camping, canoeing and backpacking in the Ely area. When a plot of land on the shores of Burntside Lake with three buildings became available, they dove in.

The property came with a sauna, bunkhouse and small cabin. They decided to remodel the first two structures but start over from the ground up with the main house.

"The original cabin was a very modest square box on a slab," says Christine Albertsson of Albertsson Hansen Architecture, adding that while building a more solid structure, this new cabin would have a low profile.

"I think a lot of people think that if you build, you should go up to the tree line and that you want the bunkhouse, the sauna in the same building. But the goal with this project was to feel like it belonged in the North Woods," Albertsson says. "We embraced the multiple-building approach. The building itself was a more modest scale because we weren't stuffing so much function."

When building the one-story, three-bedroom main house, the intimate space was designed so furniture could perch up to the windows for optimal lake views. Douglas fir beams and oak floors set the interior tone while the exterior's vintage look took cues from other cabins in the area.

"We chose a dark grayish-brown exterior and dark windows just to blend into the shadows," Albertsson says. "It reinforces why you're out there, which is to be in nature."

Design team: Christine Albertsson; Mark Tambornino

Project partners: Rod and Sons Carpentry, contractor; Waldmann Construction Inc.; Corey Gaffer, photography