Vacation Homes and Cabins

The soothing sound of lake water lapping gently at the sandy shoreline. The breathy trill of a loon carried on a summer breeze to where you sit lazily, book and drink in hand, in a deck chair. We all know that universal yet elusive “on vacation” feeling; capturing it so you can access it at any time is exactly what area designers help you do, whether it’s in your existing house in the middle of winter or decorating your cabin or vacation home.

“We want people to come into the store because you can’t really see, feel or touch online,” says Paula D’Amour, designer at Roughing It in Style, where fresh inventory hits the floor on a weekly basis and is organized into inspirational vignettes. Roughing It has locations in Madison and Harshaw (in northern Wisconsin), and will break ground this spring on a third location in Loveland, Colorado. “We spend a lot of time trying to make the store look beautiful and give people ideas how they can integrate it into their homes.”

For cabins and vacation homes in particular, Roughing It is a natural source both for ideas and products. For the past five years, the company has manufactured its own reclaimed Midwestern barn wood at its facility in the northern Wisconsin community of Phillips. Customers can choose from any number of unique pieces in-house—from tables and chairs to mantels and kitchen cabinets—or customize desired pieces produced from scratch. Reclaimed barn wood is also available by the foot for do-it-yourself projects.

Roughing It offers design services, custom window treatments and lighting to help you pin down exactly what vacation homes and cabins mean to you, from country lodge to rustic elegance to traditional lake homes. With fifteen thousand square feet of retail and warehouse space, it’s an easy source for inspiration whether you’re looking for that one unique piece or outfitting an entire home. This is a store where you can design from the ground up or perfectly accessorize an already furnished space. D’Amour has been known to accompany customers home with their new furnishings and give her input on what they can do to achieve their design goals.

“We really strive to be different and unique,” says co-owner Bo Palenske. “We look for things that you’re not going to see anywhere else.”

Drawing Inspiration From Location

When designing vacation homes and cabins, the key is to create a space using a theme based on the surrounding environment, says Keven Schmidt, president and CEO of Dream Kitchen Dream Rooms.

“I think that a lot of people, when they’re first introduced to designing by area or location, they fall in love with it,” says Schmidt. “If we’re designing for Arizona, you go with flat stones and soft clay. If we’re designing for a downtown Chicago penthouse or a Naples condo overlooking the ocean, we might have a more contemporary vibe. You just get your head into the game of where the home is and then you design to the area or design to the theme.”

A good number of Madison-area clients are designing second homes in northern Wisconsin, Schmidt says, so he incorporates log and pine or other wood interiors, smooth boulders or limestone and other native northern materials, to bring the outside in. Schmidt recently finished a vacation home in the iron-rich Gogebic region, where he utilized the materials and history unique to that area to create a masterfully rich, warm and inviting space. There’s a reason, after all, that you wanted that second home in that particular vacation spot. The key is to honor what’s outside, within.

“You go everywhere from the local bar to the local antique store and you just hunt things down,” he says, citing a table made with actual iron ore billows that he sourced locally. In the home’s great room, a three-sided fireplace stretches to the ceiling, faced in stone boulders. Floors are Spanish pine, and the walls and ceiling are knotty northern pine.

“When designing a second home you want it to be really different from your first home,” says Schmidt. “This is an opportunity to have fun and relax, to really get into the theme and go with something interesting and different. Probably the most common mistake people make is buying a cabin and just leaving it all drywall and not designing it.”

Practical Considerations

Since vacation homes and cabins are not lived in year-round, the focus on ease of care is important, according to Denise Quade of Denise Quade Designs. Wood and tile on the floor allow for easier cleanup. Having more than one kitchen—perhaps one on the main level and one on the lower level—eases meal planning for multiple families. And the more bathrooms, the better, say experts.

Another practical yet unique and fun opportunity with cabins and vacation homes is to create a bunk room. It can serve as an efficient and multipurpose use of space, whether accommodating a whole mess of kids, hosting all the guys on a fishing or hunting week, or creating camaraderie on a girls’ weekend that harkens back to those nostalgic slumber-party days. And sometimes cabins or vacation homes are in a state of transition, a metamorphosis from their original intention to a new use as the years go by.

 “Many clients purchase a second home as a hunting shack or fishing locale for the avid sportsmen, and later move up to something the whole family can enjoy,” says Quade. “But sometimes, by default, these spaces have been furnished or accessorized with discarded belongings from back home.”

In short, owners have made do with furnishings that weren’t ideal but sufficed for infrequent visits. Now it’s time to upgrade.

“I am currently working with a few families who have decided to move up to a larger place on a northern lake and remodel or build out to allow for comfortable year-round getaways,” says Quade. “In this case, new furnishings and remodeled kitchens and baths are in order.”

Quade preserves that cabin or lodge feel with more sophisticated casual materials and furnishings. Knotty wood ceilings, Wisconsin fieldstone or limestone on the fireplace, knotty alder, rustic cherry or Heartwood Maple cabinets—maybe even painted cabinetry to lighten things up. Cathedral ceilings allow for lots of glass exposure to the lake side of the home, bringing in sunshine and capturing the view that brought you here in the first place.

“The main thing is to keep it casual and never fussy,” says Quade. “Don’t forget you’re here for vacation time.”

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