Rev. Dr. Paul Svingen and his wife Susan Baldwin don’t believe in coincidences. As part of their belief system, they feel the right people arrive in their lives just when they’re needed. And when it was time to embark on a major cabin remodel, Paul and Susan will tell you all those right people arrived in spades.
Just Looking Back in 1989, Susan had visited a northern Minnesota lake area for a retreat. Later, she brought her husband to the same vacation area for a bicycle trip. Then, as many of these stories start, they rode by the local real estate office and didn’t see any harm in “just looking.”
Shortly after touring a simple cabin with a dock chock-full of goose droppings, Paul and Susan were handing over earnest money for the sale.
“It’s not as though we were planning to buy a cabin,” says Susan, “or that we could really afford it.”
“But,” chimes in Paul, “It was an important step for us. It was the first property we bought as a couple and we made it work.”
Meeting Goals For nearly two decades, they were content with the simple property.
But despite the humble setting – or maybe because of it – the cabin had many visitors. While the couple has a custom-built primary home in a nice development, it never grew into the entertainment venue they expected. “The family just always wanted to come back to the little brown cabin instead,” laughs Susan.
Creating more elbow room for guests was at the heart of the remodel; however, they had additional goals. The project needed to incorporate accessibility as the couple looks ahead to their own retirement years. And lastly, Paul and Susan wanted to keep the project both eco-friendly and local-friendly.
“It was very important to us that we serve our local businesses,” says Susan, who saw this as a major pillar of the project.
But the right builder didn’t show up right away. The couple interviewed a few companies and didn’t find a good fit. “What they showed us seemed more like model homes; we wanted a more seasoned, brokenin feel,” says Susan. “And we’re in a stage of our lives that we wait for what feels right.”
They found what was right while picking up their annual load of free wood chips from a local log home company, Red Pine Homes. Paul went inside the office and inquired if they ever did remodels.
The outfit, known mostly for new construction, readily welcomed the challenge of expanding and updating the cabin while retaining its integrity. “It was important to me to look at the finished project and still see our little brown cabin in it,” says Susan.
After lining up the loan approval, Paul, Susan and the building team moved forward on a plan to grow the 1,000-square-foot cabin to a more comfortable 2,500-square-foot layout.
Problem-solving ... with a Little Help Paul’s unique job doing congregation mediation takes him all over the nation, while Susan remains busy too as a non-profit executive. This meant relying on friends to let workers in and keep the couple up-to-date on the progress.
“Neighbors shared wonderful stories with us,” says Paul, “like how the septic tank crew roared in with 10 guys and dropped the new system in two hours – and it was good to be prepared beforehand for how much the lawn had been ripped up in the process.”
But beyond simply unlocking the door for workmen, neighbors helped in unexpected ways. When it came to the new heating system, the couple fretted over the labor-intensive job of installing traditional ductwork. Then a neighbor suggested a high velocity heat system, which threads small diameter ducts through the floors, ceilings and wall cavities. “That was a solution we’d never have thought of on our own,” says Paul.
Other solutions came from their building team. A set of stairs was relocated, leaving the near impossible task of matching the grain and color of the original hardwood floor. “Our builders suggested not matching it at all and instead installing the wood in a herringbone pattern,” says Paul. “We like it even better than an exact match.”
The next hurdle was finding the big ticket items – the doors, windows and cabinets. “On the drive up to the cabin, I saw a billboard for a new cabinetry place in a nearby town,” says Susan. The firm, Cairns Cabinetry & Design, offered their own twist on things, talking the couple out of pine that would match the floor and going with alder instead. “The contrast is beautiful and made a big difference in the kitchen,” says Brad Cairns.
“There were just so many instances when the suggestion of others made this cabin a better place,” says Paul.
Accessibly Green The cabin’s new layout includes wide hallways to accommodate wheel chairs, as well as a roll-in shower stall. While the office and additional guest space is in the lower level, all the necessities, such as laundry and bathrooms, are located on the main level.
“Accommodating the wider hallways made a quirky little corner, which our builders suggested we make it into photo display,” says Susan. “They even put in lighting.”
Their green goal was accomplished using Energy Star appliances such as the stackable front-loading washer and dryer. Also products such as the exterior’s fiber cement board siding is made with recycled content, has a long life span and will go 20 years without requiring a coat of stain or paint.
The couple also salvaged their old kitchen cabinetry and reused it in the lower-level guest kitchen. “We tried to save as many things as we could,” says Paul.
And when the plan called for cutting down a few trees, the builders were sure to incorporate those into the stairwell leading to the lower level. Dean Yunger of Red Pine Homes says, “If we have to take down a tree or two to build a new place, we do our best to put it into something in the house. It’s neat to do and people really appreciate it.”
Time for a Party! As the project finished up, Paul and Susan did what comes naturally to those in church life. They had a supper to celebrate everyone who had contributed to the home’s remarkable transformation. From the landscaper to the foreman to the painters, all were invited to participate in a house blessing, meal and to leave their final mark.
The inside of the wooden door that hides the cabin’s electrical panel was signed by those gathered to commemorate the first event at the newly named PineStone. It’s a place the couple hopes, as part of their ministry, will offer solace to those who need quiet respite amid the great northern woods.
Contributing editor Lucie Amundsen attended Paul and Susan’s open house in Backus, Minn. She had so much fun, she can’t wait to get back to Backus.