With These Hands

The Atwaters’ dream home was built on Eagle Lake in Fifty Lakes by family and friends

WRITTEN BY EMILEE MAE STRUSS | PHOTOGRAPHED BY PETE PALONY

“We got married at nineteen-years-old and left that small town as soon as we could,” Laurie Atwater said about her hometown, Fifty Lakes. She met her husband, Troy Atwater, at a small café in in Emily, where she worked. He would leave her a daily five-dollar tip for a simple burger basket. Eventually, they would share a home, the same last name, and three children.

The Atwaters moved to Saint Cloud, Minnesota, and lived there for twenty-one years. The two wanted more possibilities and the chance to start a life somewhere else. They didn’t realize that their hearts would eventually bring them right back to where their very own story began.

Well, close to where their story began—Outing, Minnesota. They moved into a quaint 900-square-foot house with their three children.

“My father-in-law was battling cancer, and we were traveling north often, so we decided to return to the area,” Laurie said. “We realized here that we enjoyed a more simplistic lifestyle.”

They were happy, however, the Atwaters realized their home would need to grow as their children grew up and began their own lives. The announcement of their first grandson on the way sparked the search for a bigger home. What they found was perfect, but it wasn’t home. Not yet, anyway.

“My husband called and said he found the perfect lot for us on Eagle Lake in Fifty Lakes,” said Laurie. “It was perfect. It was beautiful; right along the new Golden Eagle Golf Course, but I wasn’t interested in building a home.”

She said no at first. Her husband suggested that she talk to her brother, Jerry Anderson, about building the home. Anderson is co-owner, along with Garney Gaffey, of Classic Renovations. Established in 1995, Classic Renovations is a company focused on building homes around stories. Anderson agreed to the project and worked hard alongside his son, Jesse Anderson, for creative ideas and mindful craftsmanship to build their home.

Laurie sat down with paper and pencil and started sketching.

“I couldn’t believe we were going to do this,” Laurie said. “I would draw a wall somewhere and then come back later and erase it. Change rooms and the layout.”

Building the Fifty Lakes home became a full-on family affair. Troy found strong beams abandoned from another home built in 1896 on the north side of Mille Lacs lake. Anderson inspected the beams and approved them for use in the Atwaters’ new home. Gaffey’s brother, Mike Gaffey, found original barn wood from 1902. Photos of the original barn, from which the barn wood was collected, now hang in the master bedroom.

 “It was such a beautiful process,” said Laurie. “I didn’t want the project to end because it was so much fun seeing everyone all the time.”

Laurie’s sister, Cindy Boettcher, helped her paint the entire house, which was no small feat. They used eighty gallons of paint to complete the entire project. Every brushstroke, every nail pounded, and creative idea put into motion was completed by the hands of close family and friends.

The Fifty Lakes home project began in August of 2016, and they finished the project in May of 2017. Contrary to their 900-square-foot home in Outing, this home’s structure allows for their family to grow. And grow and grow. The Fifty Lakes home is 5,000-square-feet and built for the entertainment of all ages.

“Our youngest, Dalton, is sixteen years old, and we made his room a man-cave downstairs,” Laurie said. 

Jesse built a Murphy door into his bedroom. The wall appears to be a shelf; however, it opens into a closet if you push on it. The home is host to several nooks for the kids with a play area in the basement and a working movie room.

And the style? Rethink up-north rustic. The home is rough cut from the bottom up. They have pipe for stairwells and four-foot crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The cabinets are a soft crème color contrasted with slab concrete countertops.

Laurie’s favorite feature is the window seat in the master bedroom. Under the stair cove is a child’s hideout and play area. In the summertime she puts fairies in the garden and looks forward to decorating the home for Christmas months in advance. The house, although a significant amount of work, Laurie says, was all worth it. It’s their family’s home, built by none other than their very own.

WHO DID WHAT: 

  • General Contractor | Classic Renovations—Co-Owners Jerry Anderson & Garney Gaffey
  • Crew | Jesse Anderson, Brad Bryant, Tim Hawley, Patty Anderson
  • Architect | PFS Design Architect—Phil Schott | Merrifield, MN
  • Plumbing | Plumbing Etc.—Pine River, MN
  • Electric | Pine Lakes Electric—Pequot Lakes, MN
  • Stucco | John Franzen Stucco—Merrifield, MN
  • Concrete | Raph Concrete—Pine River, MN
  • Masonry | Set in Stone Masonry—Pine River, MN
  • Flooring | Jerry’s Hardwood Floors—Emily, MN
  • Excavating | Thompson Excavating—Aitkin, MN
  • Roofing | Fiks-Con Roofing—Pequot Lakes, MN
  • Lumber | Build-All Lumber Co.—Crosslake, MN
  • Tile | John Coombs Ceramic Tile & More—Aitkin, MN
  • Fireplace | Up North Fireplace Gallery—Brainerd, MN
  • Glass | Aitkin Glass—Aitkin, MN
  • Cabinets | Ivy Creek Custom Cabinetry—Merrifield, MN
  • Hardware | Ace Hardware—Emily, MN
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