Door County Cabin Makeover | Midwest Living

Door County Cabin Makeover

Low-budget updates and casual decorating turn an outdated A-frame into a classic North Woods retreat.
  • Seeing potential in 'tear-downs'

    Scott and Laura Humber and their friends Tom and Alita Zabjek stumbled upon a 3-acre Door County, Wisconsin, property with a pair of "tear-down" buildings (and stunning Green Bay water views). Rather than raze the buildings, they split the land, and each friend renovated a structure.

    The following slides show how Scott and Laura turned an aging A-frame into a bright, woodsy cabin (left). Click here to see how Tom and Alita renovated a former art gallery into a sleek vacation home.

  • Before: North Woods basics

    Scott and Laura's home was built by an artist who showed paintings in the next-door gallery. When the Humbers bought it, the 1983 modified A-frame had North Woods touches they liked, but it needed updating. A photo of the house before renovations is at left.

    The Humbers dismissed thoughts of enlarging the quirky 1,400-square-foot cabin. "We were not looking to spend a lot of money," Scott says. "Our goal was that this would become a very cabin-y, casual, unpretentious home."

    The family went to work on the relatively easy cosmetic improvements, such as paint, new kitchen cabinets and updated bathroom vanities. Professionals came in only to install more windows to maximize the Green Bay views that drew the Humbers to the house.

  • Paint makes a big difference

    Outside, paint--an affordable change--made all the difference. "We decided that the cottage wasn't going to win any architectural awards, so we went the funky route," Scott says.

    They painted all vertical elements green to echo the trees; everything horizontal is blue for the water and sky; the sunburst balconies are bright yellow; and the cedar siding is ocher to honor the soil. The rear of the cabin is pictured at left.

  • Relaxing on a new deck

    Text: The 1,000-square-foot deck (left) was rebuilt for safety and given a new cable railing that allows unobstructed water views. The row of Adirondack chairs reflects the home's Crayola color scheme. The Humbers love to relax here with their twins, Jameson and Griffin; son Benjamin lives in Chicago.

  • Catch-as-catch-can design style

    Inside, Laura's no-apologies, eclectic design style gives the home a casual, comfortable feel. The cabin's charming gathering space (left) is decorated with bright fabrics and accessories, with a yellow wood sturgeon overlooking it all.

    The gathering space also reflects one of the features the Humbers love most about the house: Fragrant cedar, which covers almost every wall, ceiling and window frame. "It smells wonderful," Laura says. "It's like living in a cedar chest."

    Sanding and sealing that cedar was just one of many DIY projects the Humbers took on.

  • Memories on view

    In the front entry (left), framed family vacation photos from summers past share a playful pictorial of the boys growing up.

    The home's decorative mix includes hand-me-down furniture, family photos and repurposed pieces from secondhand stores and tag sales. "Nothing we have is expensive, but everything has value and a story or memory connected to it," Laura says.

  • Kitchen updates add color

    The compact kitchen (left) got a facelift with blue-painted cabinetry, stainless-steel appliances and colorful tile, plus a one-of-a-kind concrete countertop that features broken bits of blue and green glass and metal washers and shards from the demolition.

  • Lighter and brighter cedar

    To brighten the dining and entry areas, Laura painted the cedar walls white. The cozy dining area is shown at left.

  • The nostalgia factor

    The boys' campy bedroom (left) captures the nostalgia factor the family wanted throughout their cabin. The twins are surrounded by tchotchkes such as vacation postcards, felt pennants from their parents' childhoods, and Native American rugs, blankets and statuary that Laura unearthed at Door County antiques shops and flea markets.

  • Local art touches

    A new custom vanity and blue glass vessel sink (left) were made by local artisans.

  • Porch with a view

    Building codes prohibited the addition of a permanent roof above the deck, so the Humbers added a retractable canvas cover to turn part of the deck into a porch with a view (left).

  • Cabin on the cheap

    Scott and Laura wanted to keep costs reasonable during their work on "Humble Lodge." Here are their tips for a creative, low-budget renovation:
    Keep everything in its place. The kitchen was functional, so when the Humbers replaced the sink and appliances, they saved money by keeping the existing floor plan--then used the same strategy with the bathroom plumbing.
    Do your own demo. As long as the work is nonstructural, even klutzy people can destroy things like a pro. Scott and his boys yanked out cabinets, flooring and carpets. But Scott advises buying a hard hat and face mask for safety. Talk with a professional first to prevent mistakes.
    Skimp on window treatments. Laura skipped high-priced options in favor of matchstick blinds Scott found at a big-box home store for about $10 a window. They mimic the ones Laura remembers from her childhood, in cabins at summer camp.

    (A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2009.)

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