In the late 1960s, Charlie Lick’s father first dreamed of having a cabin on the point of a peninsula on Clearwater Lake where he enjoyed fishing.
He never got to build on that peninsula, but decades later, Lick and his wife, Jennifer, brought the dream to reality — and built a lake home on the site his father had admired. “We finally got it done, and it’s been fabulous ever since,” Charlie said.
The Lick family has a long tradition of vacationing in the Brainerd Lakes Area. As a child, Charlie, with his parents and sisters, would spend a week at a resort every summer. At some point, his parents decided one week at the lake wasn’t enough, so they started looking at property.
Charlie was 15 when his parents bought land on the peninsula on Clearwater. His father had wanted the lot on the point, but it was too pricey, so they bought a less-expensive parcel and built a log kit home.
“I helped, building the steps, clearing the land and building retaining walls,” Charlie recalled. “It was a lot of work.”
A few years later, Charlie’s father was walking their dog and ran into the land owner, who still owned the lot on the point — and was now willing to slash the price. Charlie’s father couldn’t resist.
“They thought about rebuilding, on the point,” Charlie said. “But it was so much work.” So the family continued to enjoy the log cabin they already had.
Years passed. Charlie and Jennifer and their three children, now young adults, continued to go up to the family cabin from their home in Hopkins.
“We’d been sharing the family cabin with my two sisters,” he said. They also shared ownership of the point, which still had no buildings on it. “I’ve been dreaming of building there. The view is like up in the Boundary Waters.”
In 2011, as a 25th anniversary surprise for Charlie, Jennifer hired architect Meghan Kell to create a sketch for a new cabin on the point.
“[Jennifer] wanted to get him inspired and excited” about moving ahead with the project, said Kell, principal, Kell Architects, St. Paul.
Early in the design process, Kell had asked Jennifer about her memories of being up at the Lick family cabin. “I remember my mother-in-law feeding the hummingbirds,” Jennifer said.
That’s when the cabin got its name, Nenookaasi, the Ojibwe word for hummingbird.
Hummingbirds suggest “light, playful, carefree enjoyment,” the desired mood for the cabin, noted Kell, who illustrated her sketch with the Ojibwe hummingbird symbol, two entwined, in honor of the couple’s anniversary.
“We had the logo before we had the house,” Charlie said. Jennifer’s gift became the catalyst that finally sparked the cabin, after buying out his sisters’ shares of the point.
Designing the cabin was a yearslong process.
First they had to get a setback variance for the pie-shaped lot with rolling terrain that included a wetland.
Without a variance, “the site was completely unbuildable,” Kell said.
“You would have had a cabin 13 feet wide,” said Charlie.
Kell had to “jump through a lot of hoops” to help them get the variance, Jennifer said.
Variance finally secured, they began refining the design.
The Licks wanted a lake home with a relaxed, low-key vibe and a light, airy aesthetic.
“The family cabin is all wood, with big beams,” Charlie said. “We wanted cabin-y but a little more modern. Simple, low-maintenance cabin-y.”
Initially they had Kell design a two-story home with a separate sleeping house for guests. “We wanted the potential [to host] large groups,” said Charlie. They also wanted a screen porch.
“The family cabin doesn’t have a porch,” Charlie noted. “It has a deck, but when the bugs come out, everyone has to leave. A screen porch was a gotta-have.”
The porch was detached in the initial design. But in the end, to contain costs, the Licks opted for a one-story cabin with three bedrooms, a bunkroom in the basement and an attached porch.
“We took some pauses, and re-evaluated, to make it work within one structure and spend money in the right spots,” said Kell. “They didn’t need as much as they thought.”
The kitchen was always a top priority. Both Charlie and Jennifer enjoy cooking, with each other and with extended family members.
“It’s all about the food at the cabin,” said Charlie. “Everybody cooks together. We host a lot of big dinners with neighbors.”
The main area of the kitchen is designed for food preparation, with a cooktop on the center island, a vegetable sink and commercial appliances. There’s also a small, separated “cleaning kitchen” for washing dishes and keeping dirty ones out of sight. And Jennifer wanted open shelving in the kitchen and the pantry, so guests can see what’s there and feel welcome to help themselves.
Casual and low-maintenance
The floor plan is casual — the kitchen, dining area and “lodge room” with stone fireplace are all open to each other. There’s a vaulted ceiling, lots of windows and a crisp, fresh interior, paneled in off-white shiplap.
“It’s airy and spacious inside — lofty, meant to feel like you’re up in the trees, with tall windows that look out to the lake,” Kell said.
Finishes were chosen to be tough and low-maintenance.
The flooring on the main level is engineered birch with a distressed rustic look. “It’s good for dog claws,” said Jennifer. “Nobody worries about scratching anything. I didn’t want the kind of place where people worry about taking their shoes off.”
The kitchen countertops are soapstone, which also can take a beating.
“The soapstone and flooring are meant to get beat up,” said Kell.
Downstairs in the basement bunkroom, which accommodates four queen-size bunk beds, the flooring is heated polished concrete.
The couple’s bedroom echoes the lodge room, with its vaulted ceiling, off-white shiplap and windows on three sides. “It feels like you’re outside,” Kell noted.
Jennifer, who loves the color blue, chose it for their painted bed, their kitchen cabinets and the exterior cladding of the windows.
The cabin has two bathrooms, one on the main floor and another downstairs in the bunkroom. There’s also a shower by the lake “that we can use in a pinch,” said Charlie, when they have a lot of guests. Near the lake shower is a sauna.
“I always wanted a sauna,” said Charlie. “It’s been fun and really popular — a social gathering spot."
There’s even a game room above the garage with a pinball machine, pool table, shuffleboard, dartboard and TV. “If it’s raining, we go up there,” Charlie said.
Now that Charlie and Jennifer have their own place at the lake, they go up much more often. “We’re up most weekends,” said Jennifer. During the pandemic stay-at-home order, she lived at the cabin full time; Charlie joined her when he wasn’t working.
“I like it up there,” she said. “We celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas up there. It’s become our family’s gathering point. I wish he [Charlie’s father] were alive to see it.”
One of the neighbors, who knew Charlie’s father, paid the cabin a special compliment, Charlie said. “The first time he walked in, he said, ‘Oh, your dad would’ve loved this!’ ”
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
What: New cabin on Clearwater Lake in Crow Wing County.
Size: About 3,000 square feet.
Design team: Architects Meghan Kell and Dan Wallace, Kell Architects.
Cost: $290 per square foot.