Transforming Tradition: An Alpine Log Home in Minnesota

A Minnesota couple uses log accents to replace a family cabin with a North Woods lodge.

Tim and Liz Amdahl were sad when they realized their summer cabin on Minnesota’s Horseshoe Lake no longer met their family’s needs, but they were reluctant to leave. "Liz’s father has owned property on the lake since Liz was a child," Tim says. "A special plus for me is that my brother, who is also my best friend, has a cabin for his family here. When we are at Horseshoe Lake, we are surrounded by family members who contribute to the joy of the occasion."

Their first thought was to renovate the cabin. They’d just completed a two-story garage with sufficient space on the lower level to store their boat and other recreational toys. They finished the second level into a guest apartment and hired an interior designer to decorate it in a North Woods theme. Because the apartment turned out so well, the Amdahls told John Dotty, whose Dotty Brothers Construction had built the guesthouse, that they wanted him to jack up the cabin to dig a basement and then add a screened porch.

Dotty told them their plans would be quite costly and still not give them the home they wanted. He urged them to start over from the ground up. As difficult as parting with their cabin would be, they knew it was the right decision. They also knew they didn’t want full-log construction, although Tim admits he and Liz had long admired the look and feel of the old log lodges in northern Minnesota. "So," he says, "we decided to incorporate logs as accents."

Pine beams span the ceiling of the lower-level workout room, which features commercial-grade carpet to stand up to the wear and tear of an active family.

They looked for plans they liked until Liz spotted a rendering by architect Donald A. Gardner that suited them. They purchased the plans on Gardner’s web site and began modifying them. Dotty, whom they hired as their general contractor, completed the interior design to meet their specifications, including the shapes of all the windows.

Gary Severson, the owner of Structures International, who has been designing lakefront homes for more than 30 years, redrafted all of the home’s elevations and planned the locations of the Norway red pine accent logs from Whitefish Log Works, which also provided handcrafted, random-width white pine siding to give the exterior its log look. "In order to create the look and feel of log construction, the roof system had to be designed to hold the weight of the log trusses," Dotty explains. "Once the trusses are assembled and bolted into place, they have the appearance of a structural truss. We also added full-round logs in the ceiling and at strategic places on the walls."

Pine logs provide the framework for the screened porch, which features natural slate flooring, weather-resistant wicker furniture and a wood-burning fireplace, which allows the Amdahls to use the room year-round.

The finished home boasts 7,000 square feet, highlighted by a view of the lake through floor-to-ceiling windows in the great room. To one side of the great room are the kitchen and a casual dining area that seats 12 people comfortably. Attached to the kitchen is the screened porch that prompted the initial overhaul that led to the new home. A mudroom connects the house to the three-car garage. Also on the main level are the master suite, Tim’s office and a guest wing featuring two bedrooms and a shared bath. The lower, walkout level includes a second master suite, a family room and a workout area.

Palladian transoms and floor-to-ceiling windows trimmed with half-logs flood the master bedroom with natural light. A cathedral ceiling gives the space a luxurious feel.

  In addition to determining the log placement, Structures International played a key role in designing the kitchen and fashioning all of the cabinets in the home.

Kathleen Frances Interiors, which decorated the Amdahls’ guesthouse, chose all of the home’s interior finishes, including flooring, stain, stone, lighting and fixtures. Frances chose furnishings to establish a casual yet elegant Old-World style and created an old textured look by faux-painting the walls to highlight their texture and add depth. Because the home’s two-acre lot enjoys 225 feet of lakefront, the family spends a great deal of time outdoors, so exterior finishes were important. Local landscape designer Jens Back blended the home into the surrounding native vegetation, signaling a rustic feel by interspersing boulders, shrubs and foundation plants. He also created pathways down to the lake.

Having built a new family summer home, the Amdahls make the most of their time at Horseshoe Lake. Fishing for walleye and largemouth bass and swimming are favorite activities. Their son, Mitch, likes to wakeboard, and Tim favors the area’s premier golfing. Joined by home-from-college daughter Tiffany, the family also enjoys trail riding through the woods or going for a run on the nearby Paul Bunyan Trail, which stretches 100 miles through northern Minnesota. "When evening comes and everyone is ready to relax, we often set up a portable outdoor movie theater next to the fire pit and take in the beauty of our surroundings," Tim notes. He and Liz agree their lakeside home turned out to be a far more suitable summer home than the cabin it replaced.

It quickly established itself as an Amdahl family legacy, especially now that older daughter Jessica and her husband, Rick, have presented Liz and Tim with their first grandchild. "Out of all the places we have traveled to, this is our favorite," Tim says. "We never intend to sell. This will be a home for our children and their children."

The custom-built dining table seats 12, with extra room at the breakfast bar. The pine tongue-and-groove ceiling and red pine log accents mounted on faux-painted walls convey the look of an old North Woods lodge.

Home Plan Details:

Square Footage: 7,000

Bedrooms: 3

Bathrooms: 3 full, 1 half

Log Provider: Whitefish Log Works, Crosslake, MN (218-692-2997;

Builder: Dotty Brothers Construction, Pequot Lakes, MN (218-568-6160;

Designer: Structures International, Nisswa, MN (218-963-3401;

Interior Designer: Kathleen Frances Interiors, Brainerd, MN (218-454-0810; )

Log-trimmed arched transoms in the front entry mimic interior arches to tie the spaces together.

Landscape Designer: J&B Outdoor Creations, Brainerd, MN (218-821-5577;

Dining room table: Century Furniture (

Breakfast bar stools: Lorts Furniture, Brainerd, MN (623-936-1437;

Dining room chandelier: Fine Art Lamps (305-821-3850;

Windows: Loewen (800-563-9367;

Wicker porch furniture: Designer Wicker by Tribor (803-531-1615;