Chuck and Lana Tencate's cottage-style home on Ellison Bay fulfills a dream started decades ago when Chuck's parents rented a cottage in Door County, Wisconsin (a peninsula that sits 170 miles northeast of Milwaukee). "I started coming here when I was 3 months old," says Chuck, a Chicago native. Those childhood vacations eventually led the Tencates to build a year-round residence here.
The winter holidays are especially magical, when the family's cove freezes over and the snow-frosted woods are quiet. With virtually every room oriented toward the waterfront, the Tencates' home captures a blue-and-white tableau of ice, water and sky.
The living room showcases the home's signature paneling as well as a coffered ceiling and a fireplace made of local stone. Much of the home's design was inspired by the local landscape, where white clapboard houses hug the waterfront. "We wanted our house to fit in with the older cottages... like something that started out small and was added to over the years," Lana says.
Previously, they had owned a log vacation home with a soaring great-room. "It looked very grand, but it really wasn't cozy," Chuck says. This time, the couple opted to forgo cathedral ceilings. Instead, they stretched the downstairs ceilings to a uniform height of 10 feet, allowing transom-topped windows to let in lakefront views and make even moderately sized rooms feel spacious and airy.
At Christmas, the painted Dala horses and red tulips on the table show the couple's Dutch-Scandinavian heritage and spirit.
The exterior of the Tencates' home features gables and faux "additions" that create a sense of history. Some tips for achieving a similar lake-cottage spirit:
Use windows as often as possible. Porches and walls filled with windows marry the house to its best views. When a room is "landlocked" in the center of the floor plan, install interior French doors to borrow outlooks from adjoining spaces.
Keep it cozy. Broad passages keep the floor plan open and informal, but each room is well-defined with wide door openings. Unlike a great-room, this design gives each space a sense of privacy and purpose.
Amplify light. High, transom-topped windows and doors bring extra light into a space.
Accentuate with details. Beautiful door hardware and detailed millwork enrich even small spaces with character.
Build instant character. An extra-thick wall between the Tencates' living room and dining room gives the impression that the house was added to -- and creates a feeling of age and stability.
Add texture. In this all-white house, interior texture stands in for colored walls. Paneling, wide moldings, ceiling details and wood and stone on the fireplaces all provide visual interest.
Beside the dining area's built-in cupboard, French doors with transoms open to the enclosed porch. As in the living room, the dining area features planked, white-on-white walls, a decor that reflects both Scandinavian aesthetics as well as cottage style. Cherry floors visually anchor the traditional furnishings and antiques. The dining area is open to the kitchen, handling casual breakfasts as easily as holiday dinners while giving the cook lake views.
Delft tiles accent the dining room's tumbled marble hearth and celebrate the Tencates' "Dutch side" of the family.
White-painted cabinets with inset doors, classic bin pulls, "footed" toe kicks and curvy brackets bring cottage style to the kitchen.
Vintage-look lighting and a subway tile backsplash add to the kitchen's charm all year, though festive touches such as the hand-stitched towels hanging on the oven share a holiday message at Christmastime.
A heated fir floor keeps this porch cozy on all but the coldest days. In summer, wicker furniture replaces the hickory.
The Tencates put their master suite on the first floor, setting aside the second level for their daughters and guests. "Someday we might not want to be climbing stairs," Chuck says. The master bedroom's high wainscoting varies the home's panel theme.
When the Tencates' two adult daughters come home for the holidays, they're welcomed with reminders of their Dutch-Scandinavian heritage, such as these wood shoes filled with imported candy.
Simple, elegant holiday arrangements of soft blue and cream suit an everyday Nordic aesthetic.
Straw ornaments are traditional Scandinavian favorites.
Like the Tencates, many other Door County year-rounders have Scandinavian roots. The peninsula's rugged landscape appealed to the Swedes and Norwegians who settled here during the 1800s.
With the lake and miles of both cross-country and snowmobiling trails near their home, the Tencate family spends many winter days enjoying activities outside.
A version of this story was originally published in Midwest Living® November/December 2005.