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When Kelly and Kevin McGauley walked their dogs, they often chose a route along White Bear Lake, past some vacant land where two homes had burned to the ground several years earlier.

Sometimes they talked about buying one of the lots if they ever came up for sale. But Kelly, owner of Leona Rose Interiors, wasn't sure she wanted to build.

"As an interior designer, I never had a desire to build my own house," she said. "I couldn't see creating something I wanted to live in long-term and putting so much energy into it. It's a little different decorating for yourself."

But the lure of the lake was too strong. When the property came up for sale, the Mahtomedi couple contacted the builder/owner, BCD Homes, and bought one of the lots.

Kelly had a strong vision for their new home. "I wanted California contemporary style," she said, including a flat roof. "I know enough to know that not every builder is capable of building that. So I asked, 'Will you? Can you?' " The builder assured them he could.

To design the home, the builder directed the McGauleys to PLAAD (Practice of Lasting Art, Architecture & Design), where architects Mark Stankey and Matt Byers have experience designing modern homes for Minnesota's harsh climate.

They also shared Kelly's vision for what a lake home could be — not just a home on a lake but a home designed to embrace the lake completely, while maximizing the width of a somewhat narrow lot that had been subdivided to accommodate two houses.

"The overall goal with the architecture was to maximize the connection to the lake," said Stankey. "That's the main reason they built the house."

The connection to the lake begins as you approach the home. A glass cube flanked by concrete masses topped with clerestory windows and metal banding serves as the entry, with the door set to the left rather than center. "You see right through the living room to the lake," said Stankey.

The one-level street front is "quiet and restrained," according to Stankey, with "less important" spaces in the front of the house, including the garage and closet in the owners' suite. Inside, the home opens up to the main living spaces, which offer sweeping views and access to the lake.

Large, stackable sliding windows on the back of the house maximize the connection to the lake. "You can make the walls disappear in summer," said Stankey. "You can blur and dissolve the boundary between inside and outside."

There's even a glass-walled powder room. "It's unexpected and really beautiful," said Kelly.

Wish list

Kelly also had a strong vision of the staircase she wanted to connect the main level to the walkout lower level, with its media room and bar.

"One of my big wants was a floating metal and wood staircase," she said. And she wanted it without a "stringer," a visible metal support mechanism. The team found a way to support the staircase through the walls. The media room has a glass-and-steel enclosure that frames and shows off the staircase. "It's one of my favorite aesthetic features of the house," said Kelly.

In keeping with their clean-lined modern aesthetic, the McGauleys also wanted no trim throughout the house and doors that were flush with walls, with concealed hinges. "It's really difficult to accomplish but executed to perfection," Kelly said.

The owners' suite is on the main floor, right off the main living area, behind double doors. Both McGauleys work from home, so there are two offices, one on the lower level, lake side, for Kevin; one on the main floor in the laundry room for Kelly.

"As a designer, I need lots of work surface," she said. So the countertop was extended over the washer and dryer. She can also pull a drape to hide the appliances.

In addition to the owners' suite, there are three guest bedrooms on the lower level for the couple's four young adult children, ages 20 to 23. "We are a blended family," said Kelly. "I have two sons, and my husband has two girls." The younger three are in college and live with the McGauleys part time, while the eldest has moved out.

"They are always welcome," said Kelly. "But none has their own bedroom." Last summer, when all four were living at home, she put a twin bed in a large closet to accommodate everyone. "I came up with a schedule — each one had 22 days in 'the hole.' "

The three guest bedrooms are themed. One is the "Urban Retreat," with black walls and concrete floors. "It's industrial and masculine," said Kelly. "The Loft" is white on white, with an airy, lofty feel, while the "Library Retreat" has a built-in twin bed with a trundle below and a rolling ladder to access bookshelves containing childhood memorabilia. "We hope to have grandchildren," said Kelly.

Adding warmth and texture

Within the open floor plan on the main level, different ceiling heights and finishes were used to define spaces, said Stankey. Clean, modern walls are juxtaposed with stucco masonry that mimics concrete, adding tactile texture.

"California contemporary can be cold, sleek and uninviting," said Kelly. "My goal was to have it very warm, comfortable, relaxing and inviting."

The flooring on the main level is oak in boards of random widths with an oiled finish. The kitchen cabinets are walnut with a dark stain. The island base is metal, and the countertops are soapstone.

"With our family, we need finishes we can live with," said Kelly. Soapstone and oiled wood floors are "living finishes" that develop a patina, as opposed to hard, polished surfaces that she considers "more off-putting." When recommending such finishes to clients, she says, "It tells the story of your life. It's perfectly imperfect."

Having a kitchen she loves has resulted in Kelly spending a lot more time there, even before the pandemic. "When we built it, I said, 'I don't cook. We go out.' Now I cook all the time. I bought cookbooks. Being here in this house, you don't want to leave. It's like you're at an amazing resort every day."

Her favorite thing about their home is the way it makes her feel. "I feel welcomed, home and relaxed," she said. They love sharing their modern home and lake life with family and friends. "It's built for people to enjoy. Even hard-core traditionalists love being in the house."