Architect Charles Stinson and his wife, Carol Eastlund, have been enjoying the outdoors together since they were small children living in Red Wing with parents who were best friends.
"We grew up camping and boating together. We were river kids," Stinson recalled.
As adults, the couple continued their love of camping in northern Wisconsin, where they owned a campsite, and at an RV resort in Palm Springs, Calif., where they made friends from all over North America.
They enjoyed those getaways. But Stinson, owner of Charles R. Stinson Architecture + Design, longed to live on a lake, surrounded by nature year-round.
"I've dreamed since I was a kid of living on the water," he said.
Ready to downsize and live on one level, the couple decided it was time to sell their longtime home in Minnetonka and build a new one that would fulfill that dream. Their search for a site led them to a 1.3-acre piece of land on Lake Minnetonka's Shady Island, a remote woodsy spot in Shorewood.
There was a rundown house already on the site, "with critters living in it," Stinson said. But the secluded setting was perfect. "You feel like you're way Up North."
They wanted their home on the island to have a relaxed vibe — "a year-round home in the spirit of a summer home," said Stinson — where they could enjoy outdoor activities with their young grandsons.
Eastlund was seeking a casual, informal floor plan and "beachy colors — like a comfortable beach house — a place where the family can come hang out," she said.
The couple also wanted to create a welcoming retreat where far-flung friends could enjoy lake life along with them.
"The goal was to have it be like a camp — a cool camp — so friends from Canada and the West Coast can come camp out," Stinson said.
An early visit from out-of-state friends kicked off the design for the home.
"I sited the dock before the house," said Stinson. "Friends were coming from the West Coast to see the fireworks over Lake Minnetonka. We had to get a dock and a boat, and I had to decide on the direction of the dock."
He stood on the shore with his arms extended straight out and turned back and forth until he felt the best orientation between land and water. Then he repeated the exercise to confirm his choice.
While he was turning, he noticed a boat offshore with a woman in a swimsuit who was mimicking his gestures. "We all laughed," he said.
But the project had begun. Once the dock placement was decided, "then we knew where the house was going to go," he said.
'You can never compete'
Stinson is known for his modernist houses with strong horizontal lines, clean, simple forms and expanses of glass to bring the outdoors in.
"Keeping the architecture simple, it gets out of the way and lets the view do the work," he said. "You can never compete with the beauty of the outdoors."
He designed the home with deep roof overhangs to protect it from intense sun, and with carefully placed windows to provide views, light and cross-ventilation.
A floating deck surrounds the house, creating multiple spaces for outdoor living. "You feel like you're on a ship," he said.
An early version of his design was larger, but Stinson ultimately reduced the home's size to 2,750 square feet.
"It was an opportunity to show you don't need a big house," he said. "It has flexibility for larger groups but is comfortable for two. We didn't oversize it."
There are just two bedrooms, but there's also a sunroom that can double as a "sleeping porch" for guests. "You can close it off, and the kids and grandkids can crash there," Stinson said. The home includes a shared studio for himself and Eastlund, where he draws and she does office work for his firm.
Instead of a garage that blocks the view, the home has a carport that you can look through to see the lake. "Neither of us really like garages," said Stinson. "It's just a space that gets dirty. It's so much cooler with a carport."
Eastlund requested a gravel driveway. "So you can hear the crunch-crunch" of visitors arriving, Stinson said.
There's also a campsite with a view of the lake and utility hookups for campers, as well as an outdoor shower and bathroom — "for the kids to use when they're coming from the lake," Stinson said.
To build their new home, Stinson turned to his son, Jason Stinson, owner of Stinson Builders, who has been his collaborator on various projects.
"There's a lot of mutual respect," said Jason. "When you're a contractor, building someone's house is very personal. You see how they live, and how they want to live. It's a unique process to go through with your parents — a fun collaboration."
His father had the vision, said Jason, while he pitched in with problem-solving, including ways to make the home more energy-efficient.
"I was adamant — if you have this much glass, you need all triple-pane windows," Jason said. The home also was built solar-ready for later addition of solar panels, and has a Tesla battery system to accommodate an electric car.
Jason also helped source materials, such as the Wisconsin-milled ash that was used for siding on the exterior and for ceilings, flooring and built-ins inside.
"With the ash borer, everyone's clearing their ash so there's a plethora of it," he said.
The wood gives the home warmth and texture, even during the winter, he added. "There's a coziness."
Since the home's completion, Jason and his family have been frequent guests. "We hang out there all the time," he said. "It's a really fun space to spend time."
The house "expands in summer," he said. "The deck is like an outdoor living room. We eat every meal out there."
Charles said the grandchildren are "outdoorsy kids" who enjoy swimming, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, campfires and just enjoying nature.
At one family gathering, Charles, who loves to watch the sun rise, arose before dawn to make cocoa for the grandchildren so they could join him in watching. "We were going to wake up the kids," he said. "But they were already awake in their sleeping bags, waiting."
Stinson and Eastlund enjoy sharing their home with loved ones, but they also love their home when it's just the two of them.
Eastlund loves the kitchen, with its openness, Cambria-topped counter surfaces, energy-efficient Gaggenau appliances — and no upper cabinets to block the view. "I didn't like to cook before, but I like to cook now," she said.
Stinson savors the views of nature throughout the home. "We see the wind blowing, the snow, the rain, the light. It's never the same. The view is like a Monet painting."
During the COVID pandemic, "it's perfect to be here," he said. "It slowed us down to enjoy all the wildlife, the foxes, the bald eagles. We go snowshoeing and take nature hikes."
Their home is "a dream come true," and a true retreat, he said. "It connects us to nature and to each other. Home makes a difference."
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784
About this project
What: A modern home on Lake Minnetonka inspired by summer houses and camping.
Size: 2,750 square feet.
Design: Architect Charles Stinson, Charles R. Stinson Architecture + Design.
Builder: Jason Stinson, Stinson Builders.
Interior design: Kim Stinson, Charles R. Stinson Architecture + Design.
Landscaping: Urban Ecosystems.
Cabinets: Braaten Creative Woods.
Wood treatment: Darril Otto, Otto Painting Design.
Technology and lighting: Lelch Audio Video.