Project Information

As featured in Midwest Home Magazine in 2009.


The first time they met, the doctor was out in his backyard, struggling to build a deck off his 1985 house in Arden Hills. Bob Michels, a third-generation homebuilder and the owner of Bob Michels Construction in North Oaks, got some nudging from his wife, Mary. “If you don’t get over there and help him,” she intoned, “he’s going to saw his hand right off.” Bob scurried over, introduced himself, and the two men hammered their way through the afternoon. By the time dusk fell, another neighborly friendship had been built over a pile of nails.

Though a deck started their friendship, something much more grandiose solidified it. The doctor, Chuck, and his wife, Carol, were growing increasingly worried about their sloped, narrow driveway that had them pulling blindly into oncoming traffic, what with their teenage son just learning how to drive. And that was just one of their complaints. They dreamed of a bigger office, a floor plan that didn't feel so closed off, and delicious privacy—something that sounded rare and wonderful, having lived for 20 years in a thick cluster of suburban houses just off Old Snelling Avenue. They eventually got it all—the privacy, the customized floor plan, the huge office—plus a 40-foot-high, bluff-top vantage of Pleasant Lake in North Oaks, where only smooth-gliding kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, and sailboats are allowed in the shimmering water. All it took to get there was a vision and a little faith.

“Faith” because they fell in love with a parcel of land that the city of North Oaks considered all but unbuildable. The site, a dramatic slope on Pleasant Lake’s “island” (technically a peninsula, with panoramic water views), needed extensive French wells and retaining walls to combat storm-water runoff and erosion, and two wastewater treatment areas. Stiff setback ordinances kept house plans from creeping too close to the water. With all that factored in, there wasn’t much space for a house on the 1.9-acre site.

Enter Michels. The homebuilder had visited this piece of land before. He’d even sketched a few ideas for previous house-seekers using its incredible vistas as inspiration. When Chuck and Carol called saying they wanted to build a house on the famously difficult plot, he was leery, but excited. “The truth is, challenging sites make for interesting houses,” says Michels. “Putting a house on a flat piece of land, that’s nothing. Put it on a cliff over a lake—that’s something.”

He carefully placed the structure on the bluff, separating and turning out the western-most sections of the house like the back fins on a goldfish. He sketched a 6,000-square-foot rambler, to be built of clear cedar, natural stone, and stucco, with an eyebrow portico opening into a barrel-vaulted foyer. With a few ideas in place, Michels contacted his go-to interior designer, Bruce Kading, principal of Bruce Kading Interior Design of Minneapolis, to polish the look of the house, both inside and out. “The homeowners wanted something clean and simple with wonderful architectural details,” says Kading. He suggested the distinctive Sheetrock straps on the barrel-vaulted ceiling that give the impression of an underlying structure. A Kading-designed entrance sculpture incorporates an “X” design that reappears in two Barbara Barry chairs in the great room. He gave the classic-contemporary house an informal jolt with contrasting materials—smooth flats of limestone on the fireplace mixes with a rough-edged stone base; the kitchen combines tobacco-stained cherry and eucalyptus; the great room’s high-back chairs, covered in a tough, nubby, hopsack-like fabric, contrast with a smooth, tailored bookcase.

Michels and Kading consciously designed a house that would flex with Chuck and Carol’s needs. The main-floor owner’s suite, which sits behind a pair of French doors, will remain a comfortable respite as the couple ages, especially with a laundry room next door. Structural supports to the back staircase will accommodate an elevator chair, if need be. The lower level includes bedrooms for the couple’s teenage daughter and college-age son, as well as a rubber-floored fitness room, Art Deco-style home theater, billiards room, family room, and concrete-topped bar area.

From every window, the home’s peerless site, surrounded by woods and lake, awes. A low-maintenance landscape, designed by Mindy Zittel, landscape designer at Designing Nature in Loretto, and installed by Sam Vandeputte, owner of Sam’s Lawn & Landscape in Wayzata, never detracts from the view. Zittel added a dry stream bed of pebbles and stones to help prevent erosion and complement the architecture, as well as a spread of creeping red fescue that grows about 18 inches long and softly folds over, for a gentle look that never needs mowing. Dean Engelmann, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis, added some exotic conifers, such as contorted white pines, Japanese white pines, and weeping white pines.

All told, the house is one of Bob Michels’ proudest projects, and it earned Bruce Kading a first-place award from the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers in 2008. Best of all, Michels made it happen for friends. “Unique sites yield unique buildings,” he says. This North Oaks home is proof positive of that.


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/ keep in touch

Michels Homes

5959 Centerville Road,

Suite 250B,

North Oaks, MN 55127

Phone. 651-653-1210

Email. info@bmichels-const.com