A Great Lakes retreat by Kansas City designer Julie Arnold honors its Native American and Nordic heritage.
Words by Jessica Bahr | Photos by Julie Arnold
hen explorer Samuel de Champlain encountered the Great Lakes in the early 1600s, he was astonished to find that the vast expanse was, in fact, not an ocean. Because the lakes weren’t saltwater, he called them la mer douce, “the sweetwater sea.”
About 400 years later, the waters also captivated Kansans Kail and Becky Katzenmeier. The two began to spend vacations near the shores of Lake Superior and soon started renovating vacation-rental properties in the Lutsen, Minnesota, area. Their latest—SweetWater Cottage—borrows Champlain’s term of endearment, and its peaceful design by Julie Arnold of Place Interiors honors both Native American and Nordic cultures of the surrounding area.
The Katzenmeiers knew they’d found something special with the original property and its proximity to the lake. Most new-construction homes in the area have setbacks that don’t allow building so close to the water. SweetWater Cottage is so near Lake Superior that, from certain angles, it appears to float on the water.
The beauty of the property was undeniable. However, the original cottage’s interior left much to be desired. “We wanted a peaceful retreat for guests,” the Katzenmeiers say. “But the dated interior, especially the kitchen, was closed off from the lake view. We knew we needed to open up these views and allow for larger group gatherings.”
A mutual friend introduced them to Julie, a Kansas City-based designer whose signature aesthetic—and penchant for contributing her own hands-on efforts and original artwork—matched the homeowners’ heart and vision for the cottage. Julie accepted the challenge to open up the dark, dated home and infuse it with warmth, reassuring hues and inviting textures.
Julie looked to Minnesota’s rich Native American culture and Nordic immigrant heritage to guide her design decisions. The two cultures complement each other in their reliance on natural materials and careful craftsmanship, evoking a connection to the earth and an invitation to the hygge lifestyle.
The term hygge is derived from a Danish word meaning “soul” or “consciousness” and is the pursuit of simplistic contentment, comfort and connection—an especially fitting descriptor for this cottage.
“The concept of hygge played a large role in the inspiration, along with the natural surroundings of the lake and the pine and birch trees,” Julie says. “The intention was to create peaceful, reflective spaces that embody a connection to the surrounding boreal forest, Lake Superior and also a connection to others. The right selection of finishes, artwork and found objects throughout the home keep the interior calming to the eye. Pure but not too minimalist.”
The Katzenmeiers wanted comfortable spaces for their guests that feature the natural surroundings and provide an open living space for families to gather, relax and cook. So, the first task of the redesign was clear: remove the hulking stone fireplace that divided the kitchen and living areas.
But an open concept can also feel cold and disconnected, a direct opposition to the concept of hygge. “I really had to figure out how to make that open space still feel cozy,” Julie explains.
She solved the riddle by, yes, removing the fireplace wall but also by adding a wood-burning stove. In the updated living space, a newly vaulted ceiling allows the light to pool from either side of the house. In contrast, the ceiling in the kitchen area remains intentionally lower to distinguish the spaces and create a sense of comforting compression.
This genuine care for the heart and soul Julie infused extends beyond her design at SweetWater Cottage. It’s core to her business. She regularly gives from the proceeds of her work to a nonprofit she feels is connected to a particular project. From the original art she painted for SweetWater’s dining room, she gave to Friends of the Boundary Waters, an organization supporting stewardship for Lake Superior and the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. Julie’s Place Interiors also regularly collaborates with the HALO Foundation, which provides homes and a sense of family to impoverished youth.
As for the homeowners, they couldn’t be happier with the overall calming and renewing effect they feel throughout SweetWater Cottage: “There is truly an inspired sense of Scandinavian influence, rooted in the area’s history and calming energy that wouldn’t have been possible without Julie’s disciplined restraint and skilled design eye.”
Interior Designer: Place Interiors, @place_interiors
Lodging Rental: NorthLight Lodging, capstone3d.com
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